When Canada went to war in 1914,
its universities went with it.
The Great War profoundly altered the University of Saskatchewan and irrevocably transformed its sense of identity as an institution. 349 men and 1 woman from the University answered Britain’s call for volunteers.
As students and professors enlisted, the University population shrank — the entire College of Engineering closed. The women on campus “did their bit” by filling the positions vacated by the men.
Curriculum was affected as well. The prioritization of science and technology resulted in innovative discoveries, and the emergence of new disciplines.
When peace came, efforts were made to reintegrate veterans, but the U of S struggled to assist the men who came back wounded in body and mind, and was ill-prepared to cope with the absence of those who never came home all.
In 1907, the Scott Government passed “The University Act”, and the University of Saskatchewan was created in Saskatoon, with Walter Murray as its first President. Classes began in 1909 in the downtown Drinkle Building. The current campus started operations in 1912 and the first degrees were conferred the following year. By 1914, the University was growing rapidly — the student body had grown six fold since the institution’s opening in 1909.
When war was declared in 1914, many students, faculty, and staff, were eager to enlist. President Murray considered the War an opportunity to prove the University’s patriotism and fidelity to the British Empire. Enthusiasm for war reached every corner of campus, but few fully appreciated the horrors that were coming.
In October 1914, President Walter Murray gave a speech in which he described the War as “a fight for… the principles for which a university must stand.” Reflecting the sentiments of the time, he praised the students who enlisted as having been inspired by “the highest ideals of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
The University Governors offered inducements to secure volunteers: students who served would be granted one year’s academic credit, and staff would receive half-pay (more if they were married) and have their positions held until their return. One student who enlisted was John Diefenbaker, who would become Canada’s 13th Prime Minister. Diefenbaker received his Master of Arts degree in absentia.
Reginald Bateman, a newlyenlisted Professor of English, gave a recruitment speech in October 1914, in which he described war as “the very climax of human endeavour”— something that advanced civilizations, and tested a soldier’s manhood. Bateman was applauded, but some took exception. John Ross Macpherson, the editor of the University students’ newspaper, The Sheaf, criticized him for abandoning his students in a “Viking-like thirst for glory.”
Bateman served ably at the front and was moved away from the action when he was promoted to the rank of Major. True to his convictions however, he requested a demotion in order to return to the Front with the 46th Battalion. He was killed on September 3, 1918, when a shell struck his regimental headquarters.