Walter C. Murray (1909-1937) - Tribute by Grant MacEwan

When this speech was delivered in 1946, Grant MacEwan was a Professor of Animal Husbandry (having been appointed in 1928) and the Chairman of the Murray Memorial Fund. He would shortly leave the University of Saskatchewan to become the Dean of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba. He later entered politics, serving as leader of the Liberal Party in Alberta from 1958 to 1960. He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta in 1966.


Grant MacEwan

C.B.C. August 22, 1946.

I don't suppose anybody left a more vivid mark upon the youthful face of Western Canada than the late Walter C. Murray of Saskatchewan. It wasn't just what he did but it was the "Murray way" he had of doing it that made him loved. He distinguished himself as a philosopher and he was a great educator; yes, but more than that, he was distinguished for his tremendous capacity for friendship; he was a great Canadian.

I was engaged by the University of Saskatchewan in the spring of 1928 but it was several weeks before I met the President. Then one day a man came into my new office and offered his hand and said, "My name is Murray". His kindly informality didn't somehow suggest a University President and I asked, "What department are you in?" He chuckled a typical Murray chuckle and said, "I work in the President's office and if you get into trouble give me a call".

Walter Charles Murray was born at Studholm in King' s County, New Brunswick, on May 12, 1866. He said that County had produced more good intentions than any area of similar size in the world, but that Pictou County over in Nova Scotia was still in the lead for foreign missionaries and college professors.

From the local schools, young Murray went to the University of New Brunswick and graduated in 1886, a distinguished gold medalist. He was awarded a scholarship which permitted him to pursue graduate studies overseas and he elected philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Leaving Edinburgh he travelled in Europe and studied in Berlin and then returned to become Professor of Philosophy at his own University of New Brunswick. Dalhousie University wanted him and got him in 1892, and there he remained until 1908 when he accepted the challenge of the new North West.

The Province of Saskatchewan was created in 1905 and two years later, under Premier Walter Scott, an act was passed establishing the University of Saskatchewan. A Board of Governors was appointed in January 1908, and in August of that year, the Board persuaded Dalhousie's magnetic young Professor of Philosophy to become the first President. Momentous decisions had to be made. First there was the site of the provincial University. Battleford and Regina as well as Saskatoon were making strong their bids for it. Saskatoon won. And then when the new President saw the site for the first time, an old she-coyote was emerging from her den just where College Building now stands. (Incidentally there is still an occasional wolf around there, looking I suppose, for chickens or lambs.)

Then there was the relationship of the College of Agriculture to the University which had to be determined. Murray had a vision of a provincial University dedicated to service, a vision of a peoples' University. It was to be the servant of an agricultural area, conducting useful research, and turning out able leaders; and raising cultural standards. An Agricultural college there must certainly be; but where?

Tradition said the College of Agriculture should be separated by a safe distance from the University but Murray had other ideas. As one of my friends observed, Murray "did not establish another University – he founded a new one". And after Minister of Agriculture Motherwell had been convinced that Murray was right, the decision was made to place the College of Agriculture along with the College of Arts and Science at the very heart of the new University. That decision and the intimate relationship between the University and the agricultural community, gave the President his biggest pride in after years.

Well, President Murray had a provincial University on his hands and no place to put it. But temporary quarters were secured in the Drinkle Building on 3rd Avenue in Saskatoon and 70 students registered in Arts & Science for the first term which began at the last of September in 1909. The Arts Faculty in addition to President Murray consisted of Professors G.W. Ling, E.H. Oliver, R.J. Bateman and Arthur Moxon. And President Murray's original Agricultural Faculty, also set up that year, consisted of Dean Rutherford and Professors Alexander Greig and John Bracken.

On July 29, 1910, Sir Wilfred Laurier laid the corner stone for the building now known as College Building and it was opened for use in October, 1912. It was the first of a series of beautiful grey-stone buildings, Collegiate Gothic in style. It was a brilliant blueprint for a peoples' University, that was drawn up by "Architect" Murray and gradually the plan took form to make the Saskatchewan campus one of the most lovely in Canada. The prehistoric glaciers which brought down those mighty limestone boulders from which the University buildings were constructed, received "Honorary Degrees in Absentia" quite regularly from Dr. Murray. Admittedly, he didn't realize when he picked New Brunswick field rocks in his youth, that stones could be so beautiful and so beneficial in education. Those limestone buildings will always be a memorial to the first President.

The Faculty of Arts & Science and Faculty of Agriculture were the two originals. Then came Engineering, Law, Pharmacy, Accounting, Summer School, Medicine, Education, Household Science, Music, and so on. It was phenomenal expansion.

But nobody could accuse Walter Murray of being interested only in Saskatchewan; he responded to the call for public service in many parts of Canada. In the course of time he was to go from one Royal Commission to another. Incidentally, the first commission upon which he was called to serve was back there in Nova Scotia when the railroad freight handlers went on strike. There he was associated with a lifelong friend, Clarence McKinnon, and a satisfactory settlement was secured. But what Mrs. Murray remembered and enjoyed was that before the freight handlers went back to work after the settlement, she and her daughters were leaving Halifax for a holiday and Commissioner Murray was obliged to carry the family trunks and load them on the rail cars single handed. Again in 1931 he was appointed to a Royal Commission investigating transportation in the Dominion.


For a time he was chairman of the Board of Trustees for Carnegie Foundation; in his later years he was chairman of the Board of Governors of Saskatoon City Hospital; he served in important posts in his church; he had his fingers in everything that was for good.

Dr. Murray's relationship to his students was extremely happy. He got along well with them. He could call most of them by name and actually he knew a great deal about the problems confronting them individually. In student affairs, his policy showed how well he understood; students should be self governing to a reasonable degree and his students didn't let him down. And in those later years when they met to express their loyalty and love, he didn't use many words, but the tears which filled his eyes said a lot.

He loved clean sport and he followed the student teams with most enthusiastic interest. He loved it when Saskatchewan made a brilliant play and he loved it when a wee laddie met him at the door of Knox Church one Sunday morning and said, "You're the boss of the University aren't you; well you're going to lose the hockey game against Edmonton tomorrow night unless you get a different goalie".

No one enjoyed good humor more than Murray and there was no lack of originality in his own. The first two dormitories on his campus, Saskatchewan Hall and Qu'Appelle Hall, were called after two rivers in the province. He threatened to call the next one Carrot Hall. It was his observation that "the modern pastime known as necking had done more to discourage the habit of tobacco chewing than a thousand years of reform." In 1937, that unforgetable drought year, we were having trouble to get the stock to eat Russian thistle hay, the only roughage we recovered. Dr. Murray had a solution; put a fence around the stack and the cattle would be sure to show a new appreciation. It worked with buckwheat straw in New Brunswick.

In training, Walter Murray was a philosopher but all through the years, nothing gave him greater satisfaction than his associations with agriculture. In the formative years, he conferred with Dean Rutherford in the planning of the University barns and the laying out of the fields. And he watched the horses and cattle and sheep, and pigs. He loved the growing things; he enjoyed nothing more than to stroll through the barns and talk to the horses.

And while he had that great interest in animals, he had a great and sympathetic love for people. I recall that when sugar rationing came into effect in 1942, a certain little girl remarked sadly that there would be no sugar now for her pony. The great and sympathetic gentleman meditated; that pony should have some sugar and from that day forward, three lumps of sugar were delivered every Tuesday afternoon following the weekly Kiwanis luncheon at the Bessborough Hotel. Yes, the man with Honorary Degrees from Queens University, McMaster, McGill, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Wisconsin, was never too busy to do those kindly little things which endeared him to thousands. Nothing in his full and busy life was more important than helping somebody who needed his help, even to the little girl who was short of sugar for her pony. It just seemed that nearly all the little people of his acquaintance had bicycle funds, or toboggan funds, or pony funds, to which the great man with a passion for sharing, subscribed regularly.


I was riding with him in his car one day when we encountered an old sheep herder on the trail, 15 miles south of Saskatoon. We chatted with the old timer as he munched his evening meal on the roadside. We learned that he was out of tea and out of tobacco. That could be serious. Well, we returned to Saskatoon in sufficient time for our evening meal, but Dr. Murray couldn't stop; he phoned home to say he wouldn't be there. Instead of going home for supper he got a bottle of tea at one restaurant and a supply of tobacco at another and started back on a 30 mile drive, to bring a bit of cheer to the old shepherd whom he had never seen before.

If there was a Santa Claus in Saskatoon, his other name was Murray, and in those years of depression, no one will ever know how much aid and assistance he gave, and nearly always anonymously. That was the way he helped a good many poor students along and that was the reason he was obliged, usually, to give a post-dated cheque when he was canvassed for Red Cross or Community Chest. Money was not for hoarding or storing; it was for helping people in need. When a mysteriously ordered load of coal was delivered anonymously at the manse or a box of apples at the School for the Deaf, it had all the marks of a Walter Murray trick.

And speaking of Santa Claus, no one who had the thrill of attending a Murray Christmas party could ever forget. It began as an annual when the University Faculty was small and it was mainly for the children but every mother and every dad connected with the University were invited. In the later years the big Murray residence could scarcely hold the crowd. Always there was a tree and Santa Claus had a gift for every child. Dozens of wee ones, laughing and crying would be lined up at the long table for the party and the more milk that spilled down baby dresses and onto the polished floor, the more Dr. Murray chuckled.

Not much wonder that those who knew that man with such distinguished gifts of leadership and character, want to build a splendid and useful memorial to him. Many of the letters which have come carry the most earnest expressions of admiration. Wish I could share those letters with you.

In his last months, Dr. Murray was a sick man. In the autumn before he died, he did me a fine compliment; he had a premonition that his time was short and he asked me one day to see that certain of his self-assigned jobs were not neglected. There was a soldier overseas whose mother in Saskatoon might need some special assistance; there was a certain tree to be planted on Memorial Avenue for "one of the boys"; there was a job in Knox Church which would require attention. He was far too busy to die; but he "broke camp" on March 23, 1945, age 79, and men and women in all provinces and in all walks of life, mourned his going. They mourned the passing of one of God's gentlemen, a noble Canadian, a man who loved his fellows and lived to make Canada a better place.

[Copy in J.E. Murray fonds, file B.I.3 - Mrs. Christina Murray, speeches re W.C. Murray]