Sunshine floods through a series of skylights hidden in an oddly shaped ceiling.

The 150th Anniversary of the German Department

Thank you, Markus [Professor Markus Stock], both for those kind words and for your excellent leadership as Chair of the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures.

Good evening, everyone.

I am delighted to join you tonight to celebrate this remarkable milestone, and to extend congratulations on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Department of German on behalf of the University of Toronto!

And this really is a remarkable milestone. To offer some perspective: The department was founded a year before Canadian confederation and less than four decades after the University itself was established.
It is also the first separate and independent German department in all of North America.

German language and culture instruction at U of T traces its origin to Victoria College in the 1840s. And it was in 1850 that Vic hired the first professor of Modern Languages, Mr. Wesley P. Wright who apparently earned a salary of 150 Pounds Sterling per annum. We got a lot of bang for our buck with Mr. Wright: in today’s currency, he earned 17,100 £ or 32,103.25 in Canadian dollars… and he also taught Chemistry!

The founding of the department and the emphasis on German language and culture reflected the nature of our region at the time. A third, major wave of German immigrants had begun arriving in Ontario in 1830 (to 1880). In the early urban life of Toronto, these new arrivals played pivotal roles as entrepreneurs, professionals, artists and tradesmen. Many of Ontario’s teachers at the time were of German origin and the language soon became part of the elementary and secondary school curriculum. In fact, by 1871 German was an official requirement for students of medicine at U of T.

Many early graduates of the department earned their living as teachers. In addition to teaching, today’s Modern Languages and Literatures graduates find a wealth of opportunity open to them. Furthermore, as we endeavour to re-imagine and reinvent undergraduate education at U of T… As we reflect upon how best to prepare our graduates for a lifetime of success and fulfillment, while also contributing to the economic, social and political success of the region, province, nation, and the world…
Departments teaching modern languages, literatures and cultures are particularly relevant. Providing ‘deep’ global competence is key to our students’ university education as globally-minded citizens, and linguistic and cultural fluency are important parts of this.

The Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures offers our students invaluable immersion experiences and the translingual and transcultural skills necessary to enhance international experience and study abroad opportunities and to understand the cultural and linguistic diversity of Canadian society and the world. All of this is accomplished while maintaining the highest standards of research and teaching for which the University of Toronto is renowned.

The success and enduring relevance of the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures can be attributed to the excellent leadership of many of the individuals gathered here to celebrate. Thank you for your ongoing and extraordinary support across the years, and for joining us today as the department’s marks this important milestone.

I would also like to thank:

  • Mr. Walter Stechel, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany;
  • Dr. Nina Lemmens, Director of the DAAD North America office; and
  • Ms Joan Andersen, the inaugural Alumni Ambassador and Executive in Residence for joining us today.

In closing, I again offer congratulations on this remarkable milestone and best wishes for a wonderful celebration!

Thank you.

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