LOUDON, JAMES, university teacher and administrator; b. 24 May 1841 in Toronto, son of William James Loudon and Elizabeth Ericssen Farrell; m. 29 Aug. 1872 Julia McDougall, daughter of John Lorn McDougall*, in Renfrew, Ont., and they had three daughters and six sons; d. 29 Dec. 1916 in Toronto.
James Loudon’s parents emigrated from County Londonderry (Northern Ireland) in 1828 and settled in Toronto, where William is described as a carter in 1861. Thanks to exceptional talent and plenty of hard work, James acquired a fine education at a private academy and the Toronto Grammar School. He so excelled that at age 12 he won a scholarship to Upper Canada College; thereafter, until leaving university, he supported himself through a combination of awards and tutoring. By 1858 he was head boy at UCC, and he stood first in every subject when he matriculated into the University of Toronto. There he took the gold medal in mathematics on graduating with a ba in 1862. A similar triumph in classics was probably missed only because he failed to sit the final examination, feeling called to nurse his dying father personally. Loudon also excelled at figure skating, appreciated fine art, and was a skilled pianist.
Contemplating a legal career, in 1862 Loudon enrolled at Osgoode Hall and worked for a law firm. A partner in the firm, Thomas Moss*, was also registrar of the university, and in 1863 he helped Loudon obtain a part-time tutorship in mathematics and classics at University College. In 1864 Loudon was awarded an ma, and a year later he became dean of residence and full-time tutor under John Bradford Cherriman*, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. In June 1866 the university company of the Queen’s Own Rifles was summoned to help repel Fenian raiders. Detained at the university by examinations, a frustrated Loudon missed the battle of Ridgeway [see Alfred Booker*], only to pass a few aimless weeks drilling at Stratford.
In the 1860s and 1870s Loudon assumed a leading role in the “nativist” party developing at the university. With Moss, Edward Blake, William Mulock*, and other Canadian-born graduates, he called for its modernization and a lessening of its dependence on staff recruited abroad. The nativists won a signal victory in 1873 when, after persistent lobbying, the government permitted graduates to elect 15 representatives to the 38-member university senate. Loudon and his three friends were duly elected, and their influence increased when Moss became vice-chancellor in 1874 and Blake chancellor two years later.
At the university Loudon’s particular contribution was to foster the reform and growth of scientific studies. His primary field of scholarly interest was physics, especially optics, but he wrote little and it was in the promotion rather than in the advancement of science that his principal achievements came. Appointed to replace Cherriman in 1875, he became the first native Canadian to hold a chair at the university. He gradually broadened the traditional physics program to embrace most contemporary interests. He also campaigned to replace blackboard demonstration with modern laboratory instruction. In 1877 the provincial government, acting on a report submitted two years earlier by Loudon, decided to proceed with erecting the first physical sciences laboratory in Canada at University College and with establishing the School of Practical Science in loose affiliation with the university. In the 1880s Loudon also helped sponsor plans that culminated in the construction of biology and chemistry buildings. Anxious to encourage research, in 1885 he succeeded in having the senate approve a motion for a phd degree at Toronto, though the program was not introduced for another 12 years. He also helped negotiate the terms of the act in 1887 whereby the university federated with Victoria, St Michael’s, Knox, and Wycliffe colleges. In the same year, when his chair was split into two, he predictably chose that for physics; Alfred Baker assumed the chair for mathematics.
Sir Daniel Wilson*, president of the university, died in August 1892, and Blake and George Monro Grant* were considered strong candidates to succeed him. In the end, however, the mantle fell on Loudon who had not applied. Crediting Blake’s influence for his appointment, he began a term of office that would be dogged by controversy. To some degree, he was the victim of circumstance. Federation, still young, left collegiate jealousies running high. Rising enrolments and government parsimony resulted in growing deficits. Political interference, especially in appointments, complicated his task. Moreover, with powers vaguely divided among its executive officers and governing bodies, the university lacked a coordinating centre. Small wonder that Loudon later complained, “My office was a thankless one under the old conditions.”
Even so, Loudon orchestrated some of his own difficulties. Stern, diffident, and unbending, he was often loath to compromise. Moreover, lacking sterling oratorical gifts, he rarely shone in public. Trouble began just before his installation when he and Mulock, vice-chancellor since 1881, quarrelled over arrangements at the biology building and became permanently estranged. A clamorous student strike in 1895, following accusations of favouritism in appointments and of constraints on free expression, led to public outcries against “Czar Loudon.” Exonerated by a provincial royal commission chaired by Thomas Wardlaw Taylor, the president none the less suffered telling blows to his reputation. In 1899 a row with Victoria College over a plot of land earmarked for the university found Loudon pitted against two powerful men, Byron Edmund Walker*, a trustee of the university, and Joseph Wesley Flavelle*, a member of the college’s board of regents. Incidental collisions with staff members occurred regularly; James Mavor* even campaigned at Queen’s Park in 1904 for Loudon’s dismissal. Already at a low ebb, the president’s stock plummeted further in 1905 when John Cunningham McLennan*, secretary of the university’s alumni association, accused him of bias in the awarding of scholarships. Another investigation cleared Loudon, but his time had run out. In 1905 the new Conservative government of James Pliny Whitney set out to reform the university’s constitution and, listening to supporters such as Flavelle, to find a new president. Loudon agreed to stay on while a replacement was sought, but in July 1906 he resigned suddenly when the government refused to fire the registrar, James Brebner, at his request.
A failure in his public and personal relations, Loudon nevertheless, as president, accomplished a good deal. In addition to strengthening research and the sciences at the university, he oversaw the construction of several badly needed buildings, including a gymnasium, a convocation hall, and new homes for chemistry, geology and mining, and medicine. He was instrumental in having forestry and pedagogy added. Trinity College entered federation in 1904. Loudon had also founded the Alumni Association in 1900 to help the university in lobbying for better funding. Thus mobilized, graduates were henceforth to have a significant influence on university affairs.
Loudon’s career had been a chequered one. He retired to a life governed by ill health but enlivened by his involvement in the Ontario College of Art; active in the school from 1907, he chaired its council from the time of the incorporation of the college in 1912 until his death in December 1916. He had been president of the Canadian Institute in 1876–78 and in 1882 became an original fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, which he served as president in 1901–2.
There is no comprehensive bibliography of James Loudon’s publications, which in any case were few. Among the most notable are two textbooks, The elements of algebra: for the use of schools and colleges (Toronto, 1873; another edition appeared there in 1878) and Algebra for beginners (Toronto, 1876, and another edition in 1879), and his presidential address to the Royal Soc. of Canada, “A century of progress in acoustics . . . ,” in its Trans., 2nd ser., 7 (1901), sect.iii: 43–54. Several additional publications are listed in Science and technology biblio. (Richardson and MacDonald).
AO, RG 80-5-0-27, vol.26: f.179. UTA, A73-0026/241 (86); B72-0031; B92-0030, III. Univ. of Toronto Library, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, ms coll. 36 (G. M. Wrong papers). Michael Bliss, A Canadian millionaire: the life and business times of Sir Joseph Flavelle, bart., 1858–1939 (Toronto, 1978). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Yves Gingras, Physics and the rise of scientific research in Canada, trans. Peter Keating (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1991). H. H. Langton, James Loudon and the University of Toronto (Toronto, 1927); Sir Daniel Wilson: a memoir (Toronto, 1929). W. J. Loudon, Sir William Mulock: a short biography (Toronto, 1932). National encyclopedia of Canadian biography, ed. J. E. Middleton and W. S. Downs (2v., Toronto, 1935–37), 1. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.1. W. S. Wallace, A history of the University of Toronto, 1827–1927 (Toronto, 1927).
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Cite This Article
James Grant Greenlee, “LOUDON, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/loudon_james_14E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||James Grant Greenlee|
|Title of Article:||LOUDON, JAMES|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||March 27, 2023|