In his 1952 eulogy, former Queen’s trustee Everett A. Collins—who supported quotas on Jewish students—was called a friend to “strangers in a strange land.”
A few years earlier, Collins expressed unreserved anti-Semitic views, including sympathy towards Hitler and a distrust of the Jewish community growing in Kingston.
These views aren’t representative of the University as a whole. Over its history, Queen’s has seen a Jewish principal and deans of law, arts and medicine.
However, Collins’ portrait and name hung in its administration building until 2009.
He graduated from Queen’s with an engineering degree in 1905, and soon went on to become a widely respected mining executive at INCO company in Sudbury, ON. His successes later led him to sit on the Queen’s Board of Trustees for more than twenty years.
Decades after his graduation—during Collins’ tenure as a trustee—he and other supporters wrote a letter to former Principal Robert C. Wallace with a proposal in 1944.
In the letter, Collins wondered if there was something that could be done at the University to “prevent our being over-run by our friends from Montreal.”
At the time, Montreal boasted one of Canada’s oldest and largest Jewish communities, constituting seven per cent of its population.
“Individually, they appear quite acceptable,” Collins continued, “but in the mass, one cannot help but think Hitler was right.”
According to historian Jacalyn Duffin, these weren’t the first limitations on the enrolment of Jewish students, but Collins position had new elements.
Collins supported an “academic rigour” approach. He suggested incoming students be required to complete Grade 13—which was unavailable in Québec—when most of the university’s Québécois students were Jewish Anglophones. McGill was the province’s only English-speaking university; Queen’s was the next bet for many students looking for an education.
The only alternative to Grade 13 for these students was a degree—creating a “double-standard” that required “more exacting entrance criteria from Montreal Jews,” Duffin said.
In his efforts to lobby Principal Wallace, Collins aligned himself with Winnipeg lawyer and fellow trustee, David H. Laird (M.A. 1898), who remained a consistent proponent of Collins’ ideas throughout their time on the board.
Collins and Laird also worked with fellow trustees to lobby for the implementation of similar quota policies used at other Canadian universities.
In written correspondence between the two men, Laird discussed the racial profile of the University of Manitoba, where administrators had been trying to implement a quota against Jewish students—something McGill had already done.
Three years after his letter to Wallace, Collins would receive a Honourary Doctorate of Law from Queen’s. The award is still held in his name today and can be among other recipients on the University’s website.
Even after his death, Collins wasn’t forgotten.
His consistent donations to the University resulted in the Senate’s meeting room in Richardson Hall being named the Collins Room. His portrait even hung on the wall.
It was only half a century later, in 2009, that things finally changed for Collins’ legacy at Queen’s.
During an open forum on the Henry Report—which had been commissioned in 2004 to investigate questions of systemic racism at Queen’s—history Professor Gordon Dueck stood up to speak.
Before the forum, Dueck accidentally discovered the 1944 correspondence between Collins and Principal Wallace, which laid out his proposal to reduce the University’s Jewish student in-take.
The open forum on the Henry Report, meant to allow community members to voice their opinions on the recommendations, took place in the Collins’ Room. His portrait hung on the wall as speakers shared their thoughts on the report’s findings regarding campus racism.
Underneath the portrait, Dueck took to the floor and read Collins’ letter out loud. He appreciated the historical irony, building to the final part of his remarks.
As he finished, Dueck turned and pointed to the portrait of Collins hanging on the wall.
“That’s the man who wrote this letter,” he said as some members of the forum “gasped.”
Others were more split. According to Dueck, one opinion chalked Collins’ remarks up to it “being a different time.” Another viewpoint called for the room’s name to change, while one claimed that move would erase history.
The latter group were eventually disappointed.
Dueck met with Principal Daniel Woolf afterward. They renamed the room after one-time Chancellor Peter Lougheed and expunging Collins’ memory in the process.
His portrait was condemned to obscurity, left to gather dust in Queen’s Archives.
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