In 1784, the Jesuits expanded the mission they had founded in Detroit in 1728 to include the south shore of the Detroit River. The Hurons gave the Jesuits the land for the new mission at La Pointe de Montreal, near the present Ambassador Bridge. In 1767, the mission, which served both the French settlers and the native people, was granted a new status, and the first parish in Canada west of Montreal, Assumption Parish, was erected. Nineteen years later in 1786 two schools, one for girls and one for boys, were begun at Assumption Parish.
By the spring of 1855, the parish had enough funds to begin construction of a college. On February 10, 1857, primarily through the work of Rev. Pierre Point S.J., Assumption College opened its doors to twenty-six boarders and sixty-day students. M. Theodule Girardot was the first instructor.
Within the year, the Jesuits left Assumption and relinquished control of the College to the diocese. Father Joseph Malbos C.S.B., the first Basilian president of the new College, succeeded the Jesuits but stayed for only one year. The year of Father Malbos’s presidency was most significant for the College since he had the foresight to have the College incorporated by an Act of the Parliament of Upper Canada, which received Royal Assent, August 16, 1858. The Act of Incorporation provided an anchor of stability for the fledgling College as Benedictines, Jesuits and diocesan clergy, successively, assumed direction of the College over the next twelve years.
In 1868, Bishop John Walsh D.D., second bishop of the diocese of London, Ontario invited the Basilian Fathers to assume control of Assumption College. In 1870, Father Denis O’Connor C.S.B., who later became Bishop of London and Archbishop of Toronto, became president. With Father O’Connor were six other Basilians: Fathers Aboulin and Faure (in the parish) and four scholastics, McBrady, Scanlon, Quinlan and Mannix. The new Basilian community immediately began planning for a larger and more permanent structure for the College. Construction of the main building that stands today was begun in 1883, with the Chapel wing completed in 1908.
During the early years, the curriculum consisted of classical and commercial courses providing a complete high school and Arts program designed to prepare students for theological studies, although many graduates of the College entered business and professional spheres. In 1919, Assumption College affiliated with Western University (now the University of Western Ontario, London) with a broadened curriculum that included: general and honours programs leading to Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees; graduate courses in Philosophy leading to a Master of Arts; and pre-professional programs such as pre-engineering, pre-medicine and pre-law.
In 1934, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary affiliated Holy Names College with Assumption College which enabled Assumption to become co-educational. Although Holy Names College closed in 1962 the Sisters continued to teach at Assumption College and Assumption acquired and renamed the women’s residence, Electa Hall, in honour of Sister Mary Electa, SNJM, first dean of Holy Names College (1934 – 1950).
On July 1, 1953, through an Act of the Ontario Legislature, Assumption College received its own university powers and ended the affiliation with the University of Western Ontario begun in 1919. The following year Assumption College was admitted to full membership in: the National Conference of Canadian Universities and Colleges; the University Matriculation Board of Ontario; and the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth.
In 1956, the College changed its name to Assumption University of Windsor by an Act of the Ontario Legislature. The new University accepted the non-denominational Essex College, incorporated in 1954, as an affiliated college with responsibility for: the Faculty of Applied Science; the Schools of Business Administration and Nursing; and the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Geology and Geography, and Mathematics and Physics. Holy Redeemer College, the national seminary of the Redemptorist Fathers also became an affiliated college of the newly renamed Assumption University. In 1957, in a historic move that attracted international attention Canterbury College offering courses in Philosophy, Religious Knowledge and Mediaeval History affiliated with Assumption University. This was the first time in history that an Anglican college had affiliated with a Roman Catholic university.
In the 1960s, the city of Windsor’s growth and the increasing demands for higher education, necessitated a further restructuring of the University. Accordingly, the boards of governors and regents of Assumption University and the board of directors of Essex College petitioned for the University of Windsor. An Act of the Legislature of the Province of Ontario incorporated the University of Windsor on December 19, 1962. The new non-denominational University included Assumption University as a federated member holding in abeyance its degree granting powers save for the Faculty of Theology. The facilities and teaching faculty of Assumption University were integrated into the University of Windsor. Father E. Carlisle LeBel C.S.B. the President of Assumption University became the first President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Windsor and the Chancellor of Assumption University, Bishop J.C. Cody, became the first Chancellor of the University of Windsor. Fr. Norbert J. Ruth, C.S.B., became the first Dean of Arts and Science of the University of Windsor, a position he held until 1970, when he became President of Assumption University. The development of a non-denominational provincial university out of a historic Roman Catholic university was unprecedented. In keeping with the heritage, it had received from Assumption University, the University of Windsor, during 1963 and 1964 affiliated Holy Redeemer College, Canterbury College and the new Iona College (United Church of Canada). Today Assumption University remains the only university federated with the University of Windsor. Canterbury College and Iona College continue in their affiliated status while, Holy Redeemer College and Essex College are defunct.
In 2007, Assumption University celebrated its sesquicentennial. While celebrating its past achievements the University looks forward to building upon the rich theological, cultural and inter-disciplinary endeavours that constitute its distinguished history. The service to Church and society, locally, nationally and internationally that characterizes Assumption University will continue in new and creative ventures responding to current needs and forging new frontiers in education. Much has changed since Assumption University opened its doors in the 19th century. However, as university education continues through the 21st century, one thing remains the constant and central focus of Assumption University, as expressed in the University’s motto and the motto of the Basilian Fathers:
Bonitatem et Disciplinam et Scientiam Doce Me. Teach Me Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge.
For an excellent historical overview and photographs, please review Ms. Devon Fraser’s project, Assumption College through the Decades:
The Armorial Bearings of Assumption University
Upon achieving university status, Assumption petitioned the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, for a grant of armorial bearings. In virtue of a warrant issued by His Grace on September 24, 1953, the College of Heralds granted armorial bearings on March 3, 1955.
The winged lilies represent the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the bridge symbolizes the function of a university in uniting segments of society as well as races and nations, the stag’s head is taken from the arms of the City of Windsor, the sun alludes to the County of Essex, the Greek cross represents St. Basil the Great, patron of the Basilian Fathers, the fleurs de lys and maple leaves symbolize the French and Canadian founders of Assumption College, the wolf is taken from the armorial bearings of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits (who initiated the College), and the bear from the arms of the first Bishop of Regiopolis (Kingston), who obtained title from the Crown in 1830 for the land upon which the University is located.