This timeline focuses on the growth of the discipline of art history in Canadian universities. On one side of the timeline we see the establishment of departments and programs in art history and on the other side external factors that played a role in the discipline’s establishment, pivotal appointments, events and moments, the establishment of professional organizations, research funding, and moments in which the professional art historian played a part in public debates. Additions are welcome.

Departments & Programs Terminology

The list includes all the institutions that eventually offered graduate degrees in art history and some undergraduate-studies only departments [link to UG map] for which we have reliable dates. Usually the department founding marked the introduction of art history as a major or the BA. If there was a significant lag time between the department founding and the rise of art history to program status or vice versa, we include the date of the UG degree program as well. Many departments of art history in Canadian universities were established as fine art or fine arts departments, in many of which studio art was taught before art history became a distinct area of concentration. Some of these are included here as our effort here is to account for places in which art history was present even in a largely studio program and would develop into a distinct area of study. All data is based on published calendars and information provided by departments. We welcome additions and corrections.

BA-AH

BA-AH (Bachelor of Arts-art history): We mark the first year in which a student could earn a degree or major in art history/visual culture/design/art theory/art criticism at a given university. Some are mixed studio art/art history programs in which art history plays a substantial role. Excluded are studio art programs or programs in which art history is a minor component (art history minors are excluded). For precise program names and the exact status of the programs (licence, major, honours, BA), see the individual department histories forms.

MA-AH

MA-AH (MA-art history): We mark the first year in which an MA in art history/visual culture/ design/art theory/art criticism is offered.

PhD-AH

PhD-AH (PhD-art history): We mark the first year the PhD in art history/visual culture/design/art theory/art criticism is offered.

Notable Events

Departments & Programs

1900
1904
Jean-Baptiste Lagacé appointed 1st art history professor Learn More

Lagacé an artist without art historical training, is appointed the first professor of art history at the Université de Laval de Montréal (later Université de Montréal).

1906
Royal Commission Recommendation to University of Toronto Learn More

A Royal Commission recommends that the University of Toronto train students in the fine arts so that qualified artists would be trained in Canada; there is no mention of the history of art.

1920
1926
1ST CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES RECEIVE CARNEGIE ART TEACHING EQUIPMENT Learn More

Established in 1925 for distribution to U.S. and Commonwealth universities and secondary schools where there were no departments of art to encourage the establishment of Fine Arts departments and to raise the status of art history as a discipline. The Carnegie Art set, assembled by experts in the field, included art history books (in English, French and German), black and white photographs (including works of all media from all parts of the world), prints and textile samples. There were no variations in the sets sent to Canada. University of Toronto, Dalhousie University and Queen’s University received 3 of the first 12 sent to Canada in 1926, Acadia University (1927), Mount Allison University (1933).

1928
CARNEGIE FUNDS WALTER ABELL TO TEACH ART HISTORY-AESTHETICS AT ACADIA UNIVERSITY Learn More

The first instructor of art history and aesthetics hired with Carnegie Foundation Funds founds a Department of Art and Aesthetics, signalling the teaching of art history and art appreciation in conformity with the goals of the Carnegie foundation to broaden the appreciation of art rather than its practice. Abell was a Deweyan, with strong connections to the Barnes Foundation, and without a formal degree in art history. 

1928
Acadia University founds Department of Art and Aesthetics
1930
1931
Statute of Westminster
Learn More

Canada is granted legal independence from Britain

1932–1935
Mobile Art Education Unit in Alberta Learn More

A Carnegie Foundation grant to the University of Alberta Department of Extension funds a mobile art unit, a panel truck equipped with works of art from the National Gallery, lantern slides and prints and a “qualified lecturer.” Hundreds of lectures were given in schools and community centers with people travelling up to 30 miles by horse to hear the lectures.

1933
W.G. CONSTABLE TOURS CANADA TO JUMPSTART ART HISTORY Learn More

W.G. Constable, the Assistant director of the National Gallery of London and Director of the newly established Courtauld Institute of Art tours Canada with H.O. McCurry (Assistant Director, National Gallery of Canada), giving lectures about the importance of fine art study and Canada’s National Gallery. Sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation’s Canadian Museums Committee. Constable met with provincial education officials and university officials. After the tour he wrote “Art Activities in Canadian Universities,” which was sent to officials and administrators. Constable’s impact is first felt at Queen’s University and the University of Toronto.

FIRST ART HISTORIAN WITH A PHD HIRED IN CANADA Learn More

The young American scholar, Lester Longman, part of a cohort of doctoral students funded by the Carnegie Foundation to support the expansion of the teaching of art history in North America, is hired with Carnegie support at McMaster University.

1936
PETER BRIEGER HIRED AT UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO Learn More

Supported initially by a Carnegie Foundation grant in aid to refugee scholars, Brieger is the only refugee of Nazi Germany to enter the Canadian university system in the period 1933–1945 as an art historian.

1938–1939
FIRST UNIVERSITY COURSE ON CANADIAN ART
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“Canadian Culture in the Visual Arts” is taught at Acadia University by Walter Abell. The course included indigenous arts and material culture.

1939
WORLD WAR II BEGINS
Learn More

Canada enters the War 10 September 1939.

1935
McMaster University founds Department of Fine Art
University of Toronto founds Department of Fine Art
1940
1940
MARITIME ART Learn More

Canada’s first arts journal, edited by Walter Abell, commences publication with the support of Acadia University and the Carnegie Foundation. In 1943, supported by the National Gallery of Canada, the journal changes its name to Canadian Art and broadens its focus to Canadian and international art.

1941
KINGSTON CONFERENCE
Learn More

The Kingston Conference meets at Queen’s University, primarily a meeting of artists, but also attended by John Alford, founder in 1934 of the Department of Fine Art at the University of Toronto, and other art educators. The Federation of Canadian Artists is formed as a result of this meeting. Art history is still in the service to art education.

1942
SAMPSON-MATTHEWS PRINT PROGRAM Learn More

A Toronto graphic arts company, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada, establishes the largest public art project (a nationally-scaled art history project by images) in Canada, distributing reproductions of Canadian art to government, municipal and private entities in Canada and abroad.

1943
HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL OF CANADA Learn More

The HRCC is established with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Art history (or fine art) is not one of the defined disciplines and initially there are no art historians serving the organization. This is the organization from which art historians would receive funding until the Canada Council for the Arts became the main source for federal funding in the humanities.

1945
WORLD WAR II ENDS
Learn More

Canadian Universities prepare for higher enrolments.

1947
1949–1951
MASSEY COMMISSION FORMED AND ISSUES REPORT Learn More

Royal Commission on Development of Arts, Humanities and Sciences (Massey Commission) meets to discuss Arts, Letters and Sciences in Canada. The meeting, motivated by anxiety about U.S. influence on Canadian culture, makes recommendations largely regarded as establishing Canadian cultural sovereignty. Federal government commits to funding for universities, previously only funded by the provinces.

1940
MA-AH University of Toronto
1943
Carleton University founds Department of Fine Art
1945
University of Alberta founds Department of Fine Arts
1950
1951
FIRST FEMALE CANADIAN ART HISTORIAN WITH PHD HIRED AS PROFESSOR Learn More

Dr. Naomi Jackson Groves, is hired to teach art history at McMaster University’s newly reopened department of Art History.

1954–1955
ART HISTORIAN ON EARLY CBC TV PROGRAM Learn More

CBC’s “Exploring Minds,” a collaboration with several Canadian universities hosts Professors Peter Brieger, an art historian, and Charles Comfort, a painter, whose lectures on the fresco, art and approach to reality, and the Nativity in art are produced for television in a short-lived foray into academic programming.

1955
Canadian Society for Education through Art is founded Learn More

The Canadian Society for Education through Art is founded in Quebec City

1956
UNIVERSITIES ART ASSOCIATION OF CANADA is founded Learn More

Professor Peter Brieger (University of Toronto) forms a steering committee and attends international meetings as the Canadian representative for the next 11 years.

1957
CANADA COUNCIL FOR THE ARTS CREATED WITH $100,000,000 ENDOWMENT Learn More

“The objects of the Council are to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts, humanities and social sciences. . .” The Canada Council takes over the grant-giving of the Humanities Research Council.

1958
KENNETH CLARKE FIRST CANADA COUNCIL LECTURER Learn More

The art historian, critic and head of the British Art Council is the first distinguished lecturer invited (to Montreal) to lecture by the newly formed Canada Council for the Arts. He lectured at Laval University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, the National Gallery (in cooperation with Carleton University), the University of Toronto and the Canadian

Club of Ottawa.

1950
University of Manitoba founds School of Art
1956
McGill University founds Department of Fine Arts
1958
University of British Columbia founds Department of Fine Arts
1960
1967
CANADA’S CENTENNIAL Learn More

Art historians John Rupert Martin (born in Canada, BA McMaster University; Professor at Princeton University) and Peter Brieger (naturalized citizen, Professor at University of Toronto) are Centennial Programme speakers in art history. John Banks, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada organized the lecture tours as parts of the Universities Centennial Programme.

FIRST PROFESSOR IN INDIGENOUS ART Learn More

Professor Joan Vastokas, trained in anthropology, is the first full-time appointment in indigenous art in a department of Fine Art at a Canadian University. She is also the first appointment at the newly established Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto.

1968
FIRST PHD PROGRAM in art history established at the University of Toronto
Learn More

The first PhD in art history established at the University of Toronto

CANADIAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION/‌ASSOCIATION CANADIENNE D’ARCHÉOLOGIE FOUNDED Learn More

The organization’s first publication was named the Bulletin. In 1977 it was renamed the Canadian Journal of Archaeology.

1960
University of Calgary founds Arts Division
University of Saskatchewan founds Department of Art
1961
MA-AH University of British Columbia
1963
Queens University founds Department of Art History
1965
Université de Montréal founds Département d’histoire de l’art
University of Guelph founds Department of Art
BA-AH University of Alberta
1966
Carleton University founds Department of Art
University of Victoria founds Department of Art History
BA-AH University of Saskatchewan
1967
University of Waterloo founds Department of Fine Arts
University of Toronto-Scarborough founds Department of Fine Art
University of Western Ontario founds Department of Fine Art
1968
York University founds Department of Visual Arts
University of Lethbridge founds Art Department
PhD-AH University of Toronto
BA-AH University of Guelph
BA-AH University of Windsor
1969
Université du Québec à Montréal founds Département de pédagogie artistique/BA in histoire de l’art
MA-AH Université de Montréal
BA-AH Carleton University
BA-AH Université de Montréal
1970
1973
Founding of The National Trust for Canada/La Fiducie nationale du Canada Learn More

The National Trust is founded for the preservation of Canadian places, including architectural monuments. 

1974
JOURNAL OF CANADIAN ART HISTORY/ANNALES D’HISTOIRE DE L’ART CANADIEN ESTABLISHED Learn More

Edited by Donald F. P. Andrus and Sandra R. Paikowsky, it is the 1st scholarly journal dedicated to the history of Canadian art. The inaugural issue was distributed free to universities and libraries.  

RACAR BECOMES CANADA’S ART HISTORY JOURNAL OF RECORD Learn More

Racar becomes canada’s art history journal of record, with the aim of providing a publication organ for the rapidly expanding discipline in Canada. Revue d’art canadienne/Canadian art review is a bilingual publication accepting articles on the full range of subjects studied by art historians in Canada. The journal’s scope is the universal history of art with a second purpose of disseminating scholarship on Canadian art. In 1970 it was established that 50% of RACAR’s content was to focus on Canadian art. 

SOCIETY FOR THE STUDY OF ARCHITECTURE IN CANADA (SSAC) FOUNDED Learn More

The only learned society devoted to architecture and the built environment more broadly in Canada. Its members include practitioners, historians, heritage conservation specialists, sociologists, ethnologists.  

1977
SSHRC IS CREATED TRANSFERRING HUMANITIES FUNDING FROM THE CANADA COUNCIL
Learn More

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is created by an act of the Parliament of Canada creating a national source of funding for the humanities and social sciences that has provided many art historians a source for sustained research projects. The first grants are given out in 1978. 

1970
Sir George Williams University founds Department of Fine Arts
BA-AH University of Manitoba
BA-AH University of Winnipeg
BA-AH University of Calgary
1971
University of Toronto-Erindale founds Department of Fine Art
PhD-AH McGill University
MA-AH McGill University
BA-AH Université de Laval
1973
MA-AH Université de Laval
1974
Loyola College founds Fine Arts Department
University of Regina founds Department of Visual Arts
MA ART CONSERVATION Queen's University
BA-AH Loyola College
1975
Simon Fraser University founds Centre for the Arts
BA-AH Concordia University
1976
First Nations University of Canada establishes Fine Arts
1978
BA-AH University of Waterloo
1979
Concordia University founds Department of Art History
Bishops University founds Department of Fine Arts
MA-AH Queen's University
1980
1980
1982
CONCORDIA OFFERS MA IN CANADIAN ART
Learn More

The first higher degree specialized in Canadian art.

LA SOCIÉTÉ D’ESTHÉTIQUE DU QUÉBEC (SEC) FOUNDED Learn More

Suzanne Foisy and René Payant found the society  in Montréal and becomes an organizing point for the debate of art criticism and contemporary theory.  

1989–1990
INTO THE HEART OF AFRICA
Learn More

The exhibition at the ROM elicits protests by African-Canadian citizens over insensitive portrayal. Discussion of the exhibition endures.

1980
Brock University founds Department of Fine Arts
PhD-AH Queen's University
MA-AH University of Alberta
1981
MA-AH York University
MA-AH Université du Québec à Montréal offers
1982
MA-AH Concordia University
1983
PhD-AH University of British Columbia
1989
BA-AH Simon Fraser University
1990
1990
RACAR EDITORS CALL FOR THE NEW ART HISTORY Learn More

Editors Victor Chan, Mark A. Cheetham, Adele Ernstrom, and François-Marc Gagnon call for articles that reflect shifts in art history in Vol. 17, No. 1, 1990 

BARNETT NEWMAN VOICE OF FIRE CONTROVERSY AT NGC Learn More

Most extensive and heated debate over visual art in Canada was over the National Gallery of Canada’s purchase of the American painter Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire. A symposium was organized in 1990 on the controversial acquisition. 

1997
INAUGURATION OF CANADIAN CENTRE FOR ARCHITECTURE (CCA) STUDY CENTRE Learn More

Le Centre Canadien d’Architecture/Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) is inaugurated to support advanced research in architecture through grants, seminars, and access to the collection and library. A residency for senior fellows is initiated in 2001 with the support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The CCA has hosted 30 Mellon Senior Fellows, over 150 visiting scholars as well as more than 1500 researchers and academics through its Visiting Scholar and Support Grants programs.

1998
THE GAIL AND STEPHEN A. JARISLOWSKY INSTITUTE FOR STUDIES IN CANADIAN ART ESTABLISHED Learn More

The Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art established at Concordia University for the study of historical and contemporary Canadian art. Its broad mandate is to support the research, teaching and public engagement with Canadian art, to support publication of Canadian art, to encourage dialogue between university and museums on the subject of Canadian art, and to help forge national and international connections through public programming. 

1990
PhD-AH University of Victoria
1993
MA-Canadian AH Carleton University (including Canadian native art)
1995
MA-AH University of Western Ontario
1997
PhD-AH Concordia University
1999
PhD-AH Université du Québec à Montréal
2000
2000
FEDERATED ACADEMIC DIGITAL IMAGING SYSTEM (FADIS) LAUNCHES Learn More

The FEDERATED ACADEMIC DIGITAL IMAGING SYSTEM (FADIS) launches at the University of Toronto and becomes the image database for a consortium of 15 Canadian universities.

2004
CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF HISTORY OF ARTS MEETS IN CANADA Learn More

“Sites and Territories of Art History,” 31st Congress of the International Committee of the History of Arts takes place in Montréal, 23rd–28th August 2004. The Montréal meeting is the first meeting of the Comité International de l’Histoire de l’art (founded in 1930) outside of Europe. Regrettably, there is only a partial published record of the conference, a selection of papers published in RACAR Vol. 31, No. 1/2 (2006).

TORONTO PHOTOGRAPHY SEMINAR FOUNDED Learn More

A consortium of historians of photography form an informal research group, a reflection of the density of research in this area in Ontario.

2002
PhD-AH Interuniversity – Université de Montréal, Concordia University, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université Laval
BA-AH NSCAD
2003
BA-Indian AH First Nations University of Canada
2004
BA-AH University of Lethbridge
2006
BA-AH University of Ottawa
2007
PhD-AH York University
PhD-AH University of Western Ontario
2009
MA-AH University of Guelph
BA-AH Bishops University
2008
PhD-AH University of Western Ontario
2010
2016
Patricia Bovey becomes 1st art historian appointed to Canada’s senate Learn More

Patricia Bovey, appointed to the Senate of Canada in November 2016 representing Manitoba, is a Winnipeg-based gallery director and curator, art historian, writer, professor and, for many years, a management consultant in the arts and not-for-profit sector.

2017
2011
UG-AH Brock University
2012
PhD-AH University of Alberta
2014
MA-AH OCAD University
BA-AH OCAD University

Fine Art/Art/Visual Arts

The designation of many departments in Anglophone Canada as Fine Art or Fine Arts was a product of the emergence of art history hand in hand with studio art. These names were retained in many places through the 20th century, lingering to today in departments of “Art” or “Visual Arts” where the institutional marriage with studio art is ongoing. In Quebec, only Université du Québec à Montréal’s department was briefly (1972–74) called “Beaux-Arts et arts appliques.”

Art History/Histoire de l’art

Since the 1930s many Fine Art departments have evolved into a department of Art History, whereas in francophone Canada histoire de l’art was present almost from the start. McGill University (1971–2000); University of Toronto St. George UG (2015–); Queen’s University (1963–75; 2016– “Art History and Art Conservation”); Université de Montréal (histoire de l’art from inception in 1965–2004).

Design

University of Alberta is unique in its emphasis on design history in its Department of Art and Design, with a BA, MA, and PhD in History of Art, Design and Visual Culture. OCAD University offers an MA in Contemporary Art, Design, and New Media Art Histories.

Archaeology

University of Toronto was unique in naming its department “Art and Archaeology” (1946–62) with the merging of Fine Art and Archaeology departments. The name changed back to its original “Fine Art” in 1962 although the department has maintained two faculty positions in ancient art and archaeology to today.

Theory

A handful of departments and programs have theory in their title. University of British Columbia debated a name change in 2001 (Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory) and University of Ottawa offers a BA in History and Theory of Art; Bishop’s University, similarly offers Honours in Art History and Theory.

Visual Culture/Visual Studies

Visual Culture or Visual Studies is important in Canadian programs, although only a handful, including University of Toronto Mississauga (Centre for Visual and Media Culture 2004–11; Visual Studies, 2011–), University of Victoria (Art History and Visual Studies), have changed their department names to reflect the presence of this distinct development in the discipline. Visual Culture is better reflected in program names, however: University of Toronto Mississauga’s Visual Culture program, University of Windsor’s Media Art Histories and Visual Culture program, OCAD University’s BA in Visual and Critical Studies, University of Alberta’s History of Art, Design and Visual Culture program; University of Toronto Scarborough’s Art History and Visual Culture program; Carleton University’s School for Studies in Art and Culture (1992–), University of Waterloo’s honours degree in Visual Culture (art history was dropped from the program title in 2015).

Film/Media Studies/Intermedia/Communication

Montréal was unusual in having been merged with cinema studies from its founding, though only in 2004 was the department name changed to show the presence of both parts of the unit (Département d’histoire de l’art et d’études cinématographiques). Today, several art history units have expanded with media/performance studies which is reflected in their names: Simon Fraser’s Art, Performance and Cinema Studies group; University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of Visual Studies which includes 2 moving image faculty and is expanding; OCAD University’s MA in Contemporary Art, Design and New Media Art Histories; McGill University’s Department of Art History and Communication Studies (2000–).