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1917: E.H. Oliver and the University of Vimy Ridge

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During World War I, Edmund Oliver, the Principal of Presbyterian Theological College, played a leading role in an overseas “adventure in popular education.” 

Oliver had been one of the University of Saskatchewan’s first faculty members, but left in 1914 to join the affiliated Presbyterian college as principal. In 1916, Oliver enlisted as a World War I chaplain.  In December 1917, the University of Vimy Ridge was established for the Canadian forces in France, with Oliver as president.   The University was intended to be “a school of efficiency and citizenship, a sort of combination of an Agricultural High School and a Technical School.”  Courses
were offered in Agriculture, Business Efficiency, Elementary Practical Science, and Citizenship.  Classes were scheduled so that battalions could attend during their rest periods.  Another important part of the University’s services was a network of thirty libraries.

Oliver wrote in March 1918: “We are aiming to meet the needs of the mass of the men rather than to compete with your classical Universities in Canada.  I have great faith that much can be done along similar lines in the way of popular education even in our own country.”  In April, Oliver was forced to suspend operations due to a massive German offensive.  However, he was very proud of the University’s achievements, and a meeting with General Haig suggested that there was interest in using the University of Vimy Ridge as a
model for further field education.  Oliver’s experience in founding this University led him to write to Murray:  “I am wondering whether after the war Warman or Dundurn or Kicking Horse Pass will need a University or a College.  If so, nominate me for the job, for I now feel equal to anything short of a Kindergarten or a Ladies College.”

After the war, Oliver was briefly involved in the French campus of Khaki University, a similar initiative originally based in England, but he soon returned to Saskatoon.  President Walter Murray wrote to him that “I think you can safely drop the Khaki University at the very earliest possible date.  The centre of interest is now shifted from the armies in the field to the army at home.  Demobilization is giving rise to a number of very difficult problems, and the attitude of the returned soldier is uncalculable and important.”

Related Collections

E.H. Oliver fonds, MG 6.


1917a: Letter from E.H. Oliver to his wife, 14 March 1918. E.H. Oliver fonds, file A I (e).
1917b: E.H. Oliver addressing Canadian troops, 1917. Photograph Collection, A-6081.
1917c. E.H. Oliver, 1910. Photograph Collection, A-2765.


J.E. Murray fonds, MG 61, file A.IV.49.
President’s Office fonds, RG 2001 Series I, file B62.

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