Happy Birthday U of T! Where can you find U of T’s first library collection?


SPCK collection in the John W. Graham Library

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.

Bishop John Strachan

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library/ DC-OHQ-PICTURES-S-R-924

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:

Cover stamp Gift to King's College

Stamp on cover of a title from the original SPCK collection donation to King’s College

Additional recommended resources about Strachan and the history of Trinity College and the University of Toronto

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.


King's college communion cup

King’s College communion silver set, presented to the University of King’s College in 1845 by anonymous Anglican donors. Image courtesy of the Trinity College Archives, Toronto

One response to “Happy Birthday U of T! Where can you find U of T’s first library collection?

  1. I have always been an admirer of John Strachan who was such a force for good during the invasion of York in 1813 as well as being a major proponent of higher education in early Upper Canada. I’m so grateful for this interesting article on his contributions to the library through SPCK. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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