The History of King’s

The University of King’s College has a long and rich history. Founded in 1789 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, King’s was the first university in English Canada to be established, and the first university in Canada to receive a charter. King’s is thus the oldest English-speaking university in the Commonwealth outside the United Kingdom.

There had already been one King’s College in the New World. Founded by King George II in New York in 1754, its short life ended with the beginning of the American Revolution and it re-opened eight years later as Columbia College. King’s in Windsor was founded by Anglican Loyalists who fled to Nova Scotia in the wake of the revolution. In 1802, King George III granted the college a Royal Charter which proclaimed it as “the Mother of an University for the education and instruction of Youth and Students in Arts and faculties, to continue forever and to be called King’s College.”

King’s remained in Windsor until 1923. In 1920, a fire ravaged the College, burning its main building to the ground — thus raising the question of how (or even whether) this small university was to survive. But King’s was determined to carry on, and so accepted a generous endowment for professors from the Carnegie Corporation in New York on the condition that it raised the money to rebuild in Halifax, the capital city of Nova Scotia. King’s re-located to a five acre site on the campus of Dalhousie University, now the largest post-secondary institution in the Maritimes. Entering into a formal association with Dalhousie, King’s put its power to grant the BA and BSc degrees into abeyance and formed with Dalhousie a joint Faculty of Arts and Science (now the College of Arts & Science, which includes the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science). King’s contributed a number of professors to the joint Faculty, who also helped in the management and academic life of the College, and who for a number of years taught their courses on the campus. Although its Arts and Sciences programs were combined with those of Dalhousie, the College successfully retained its institutional independence, an Anglican School of Divinity, separate residences, and distinctive collegiate traditions. In the 1960s, increased enrolment meant that King’s was even able to expand, building a new Alexandra Hall, which was a residence for women, and a new gym.

The city of Halifax played a central role as a port during the Second World War, and King’s took part in the war effort. From 1941 to 1945, the college buildings became His Majesty’s Canadian Ship “HMCS King’s,” and nearly 3100 officers were trained here for sea duty with the Royal Canadian Navy. Students and staff carried on elsewhere in Halifax, aided by Dalhousie University and the Pine Hill Divinity Hall of the United Church.

The academic face of the College changed dramatically during the 1970s. In 1971, King’s entered into a partnership agreement with Pine Hill and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax to found the ecumenical Atlantic School of Theology. And, at the same time as the work formerly done by the Faculty of Divinity was being relocated to AST, a new educational project was underway, marking the beginning of a long period of academic experimentation.

In 1972, the College introduced its unique Foundation Year Program to serve as an alternative first-year experience for BA and BSc students. By taking advantage of its independence from the dominant concerns of the large modern university, while drawing strength from its very close association from Dalhousie, the Foundation Year Program (FYP) hoped to provide King’s students with the basis for an integrated university education through a consideration of the Western tradition from the ancient world to the present, principally through the study of core texts.

In 1978, King’s took another step forward by establishing the only degree-granting School of Journalism in Atlantic Canada, offering a four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree, and a one-year Bachelor of Journalism degree for university graduates. The successful expansion of the College through Foundation Year and Journalism enabled King’s to build a beautiful new library, completed in 1991.

Then, in 1993, King’s began offering the Contemporary Studies Program, the first of three upper-year interdisciplinary combined honours programs, developed in co-operation with Dalhousie. Early Modern Studies and History of Science and Technology, which began in 1999 and 2000 respectively, were built upon the Contemporary Studies model. All three are available to students registered at King’s and in the Dalhousie College of Arts & Science and include a second honours subject taken in a Dalhousie department. In 2001, King’s opened its New Academic Building to house the new programs and to provide an expanded Foundation Year Program with a spacious and well-equipped lecture hall.

In 2011, the King’s School of Journalism and Dalhousie University introduced the only Master of Journalism in Atlantic Canada. In 2013, the two universities added the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction to their joint graduate offerings.

The College maintains many distinctive traditions, such as Formal Meal at which academic gowns are worn, student societies founded in the late 19th century, a Matriculation reception held each fall in honour of entering students, and an Encaenia ceremony for graduates each May. Daily services are held in the Chapel for those who wish to participate, some involving its well-regarded Choir. The combination of these traditions with the radical innovations of students and faculty makes for an interesting intellectual environment. King’s is committed to retaining the personal atmosphere, individual attention, and sense of community possible only in a small college. At the same time, its students have available to them the tremendous resources of Dalhousie, Atlantic Canada’s largest university, enabling unique opportunities in both undergraduate and graduate education.


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