The University of Toronto is celebrating its birthday today, March 15th, marking 189 years since Bishop John Strachan obtained a Royal Charter in 1827 to found King’s College. While Strachan intended King’s College to become the first Anglican institution of higher learning in Upper Canada, the curriculum of the college would provide a broad liberal education. Due to political turmoil at the time, King’s College became the non-denominational University of Toronto in 1849 and was no longer directly associated with the Church of England.
When Strachan was in England negotiating for the original charter, he also worked to build the first library collection for the future college. By 1828 he had agreements with both the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G) to donate £500 each to be used for the purchase of books for the Divinity Library of King’s College. There is no record King’s College ever received anything from the SPG, but the SPCK provided 400 books to Strachan in 1828. And so, it is this group of books that formed the first original library collection associated with the University of Toronto.
Where is the collection today?
In 1852 when Strachan founded the Anglican institution Trinity College, now a Federated College of the University, the University of Toronto transferred ownership of the 400 SPCK books to Trinity College’s Divinity Faculty, the location considered by some to be its rightful home. Over the years many of the books from the original collection were dispersed, but today approximately 200 surviving books are preserved in the special SPCK collection in the John W. Graham Library, Trinity College. Items in the collection are available for research consultation and titles can be located in the University of Toronto Catalogue. Material in Graham Library’s rare and special collections is available Monday to Friday 9-5 .
Additional information about the original collection has been found in the form of an invoice list from two British book sellers issued to the S.P.C.K. for a number of books totaling approximately £500. From the invoice it is possible to the determine the full list of original titles. And occasionally, books from this original 400 do turn up for sale, and are easily identified by the distinctive gold cover stamp with the words: “The gift of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, to the University of Upper Canada, 1828.”
What was in the SPCK Collection?
As one might expect for books intended for a college with strong religious affiliations, the books are theological in focus, and include biblical studies, church history, apologetics, and systematic and practical theology, and also multi-volume collections of sermons and other works of noted Anglican theologians. Example titles include:
- Salnar’s Harmonia confessionum fidei Orthodoxarum & Reformatarum Ecclesiarum (1581)
- Usher’s Britannicarum ecclesiarum antiquitates : quibus inserta est pestiferae adversùs Dei gratiam à Pelagio Britanno in ecclesiam inductae haereseos historia (1639)
- Soames’ The history of the reformation of the Church of England (1826)
Additional recommended resources about Strachan and the history of Trinity College and the University of Toronto
- Full list of Graham Library’s SPCK Collection in the U of T Libraries Catalogue
- John Strachan Fonds, Trinity College Archives
- John Strachan, from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography
- University of Toronto Archives digitized copy of the original charter
Research for this blog post about the SPCK collection comes from John Strachan’s Library (2007) a presentation for the Anglican Libraries in Canada conference by Linda Corman, Librarian Emeritus, Graham Library, Trinity College, Toronto.