Knox College, University of Toronto

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Knox College is a postgraduate theological college of the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was founded in 1844 as part of a schism movement in the Church of Scotland following the Disruption. Knox is presently affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Canada and confers doctoral degrees as a member school of the Toronto School of Theology. The convener of the Board of Governors of Knox College is Stephanie Ling.


Controversy arising from the issue of state control in the Church of Scotland led to the Disruption of 1843 and the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland. In response, several Presbyterian ministers and congregations within the Canadian synod of the Church of Scotland switched their affiliation to the new denomination. Queen's College, a Presbyterian seminary in Kingston, decided in 1844 to remain affiliated with the Church of Scotland, prompting some of its students to defect and establish Knox College in Toronto. Named for Scottish Reformation theologian John Knox, the new college became affiated with the Free Church.

The first class included 14 students and took place on November 5, 1844, in the home of Rev. Henry Esson on James Street, at the present site of Toronto Eaton Centre. For the next two years, Knox College transitioned to larger buildings acquired at Adelaide Street and later Front Street, at the present site of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Scottish minister Rev. Dr. Michael Willis, the founding president of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada (1851), became the first principal of the college in 1857. Willis came to Toronto in 1846 from St. John's Renfield Church, Glasgow, where he followed Thomas Chalmers and took part in the Disruption of 1843. Knox was formally granted its charter from the colonial government in 1858, thereby possessing the authority to confer academic degrees.

In 1861, the Presbyterian Church of Canada was created from the union of the Canadian synods of the Free Church of Scotland with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Knox College absorbed the existing United Presbyterian Church theological college that was initially founded in London, Canada West in 1844. In 1867, Knox College assisted the establishment of The Presbyterian College, Montreal, as the second theological college affiliated with the Canadian Presbyterian Church. Knox College donated some of the books from its library collection, and several Knox alumni served as faculty of The Presbyterian College.

In 1875, Knox College moved to a new Gothic-revival building at 1 Spadina Crescent, and operated as the main seminary for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Towards the end of the century, Knox began encouraging its students to attend non-divinity studies at the nearby University College of the University of Toronto. Knox College entered formal affiliation with the University of Toronto in 1885, and in 1890 became part of the university within a federated governance structure. In 1915, Knox College moved to its present site adjacent to University College. During World War II, Knox College accommodated faculty and students from The Presbyterian College, Montreal, whose building was used for military training until 1946.

In 1969, Knox became a founding member of the Toronto School of Theology. By virtue of an amendment of its charter, Knox College has granted theology degrees conjointly with the university and the Toronto School of Theology since 1978.Ewart College, a women's college of the Presbyterian Church, was merged into Knox College in 1991. Founded in 1897, Ewart College was initially known as the Presbyterian Missionary and Deaconess Training School and then Ewart Missionary Training Home after Catherine Seaton Ewart in 1960. In 2005, Knox observed its 160th anniversary with a visit and lecture by Alison Elliot, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Campus and architecture

Knox college provides a number of facilities to the University of Toronto community, including Knox College Chapel. The chapel is noted for its Hellmuth Wolff organ. The chapel has a large south-facing window that is largely unobstructed by other buildings. As a result, natural sunlight streams in through the window. The glass is such that it softens the light to some degree, but without taking away its directionality. Seating is provided by two rows of pews on either side of the central aisle. There is a front piece in front of the frontmost pews for hymn books of those at the front of the congregation.

Chancel organ

This organ was built in 1915 by Casavant and is original to the building. It is split between two chambers at the front of the room and consists of 26 stops and 24 ranks. The console was replaced in 1959, and in 1974 a four-rank mixture was added to the Great. It has Ventil chests and electro-pneumatic action.

Gallery organ

In 1991, a second, thirty-two-stop, three-manual instrument was added in a new rear gallery. (photo) (photo) It is an historically oriented organ in the North German baroque style, built as Opus 33 by Wolff & Associés of Laval, Quebec. The pipework is modelled on the Johan Niclas Cahman organ at Leufsta Bruk, Sweden from 1726/28. The case, though, is a modern interpretation of north-European style that does not refer to any particular historic instrument.

The key action and stop action are both mechanical. The two bellows can be pumped either by foot or with an electric blower.

Notably, the Wolff organ is tuned to a modified fifth comma meantone temperament devised by Harald Vogel following 17th century Swedish theorists. This same tuning has been used for the Arp Schnitger organ in Norden, Germany.


Knox College is a wholly postgraduate institution, confering four master's degrees and two doctorate degrees. It administers both academic programs for the general-interest study of theology and professional programs for ordained ministry. The basic degree program comprises the degrees of Master of Divinity, Master of Theological Studies and Master of Religious Education. The advanced degrees of Master of Theology, Doctor of Theology and Doctor of Ministry are awarded jointly with the Toronto School of Theology.

  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.)
  • Master of Religious Education (M.R.E.)
  • Master of Theology (Th.M.)
  • Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)
  • Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)


  • Michael Willis (1857–1870)
  • William Caven (1873–1904)
  • William MacLaren (1904–1909)
  • Alfred Gandier (1909–1925; became principal of Emmanuel College)
  • Thomas Eakin (1926–1940)
  • Walter W. Bryden (1945–1952)
  • Stanley Glen (1952–1976)
  • Allan Farris (1976–1977 death)
  • J. Charles Hay (1978–1985)
  • Donald J. M. Corbett (1985–1990)
  • Arthur Van Seters (1992–1999)
  • J. Dorcas Gordon (1999–)

A number of faculty have served as Acting Principal during vacancies and sabbaticals.


2 photos

Building Activity

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