Fields and Friends as Architecture

Another 1921-2021 Centennial in the History of Canadian Science and Technology.

First posted Friday, December 17, 2021 / Yom shishi, 13 Tevet, 5782.

By David Orenstein

As we’re nearing the exact centennial of the 1921 Toronto AAAS Meeting (held from Tuesday, December 27, to Saturday, December 31, 1921), I already noted last week that one of the delegates to Section A Mathematics, Jennie A. Kinnear (1890-1965), is remembered, along with the rest of the family, by Kinnear Street, in her hometown of Port Colborne.

Today, we’ll focus on the recognition of some other Meeting participants. To wit, members of the Local Committee, responsible for so much of the organising work for the AAAS Meeting, who are remembered in the names of buildings at the University of Toronto.

The Chairman of the Committee was U of T Mathematician and scientific entrepreneur John Charles Fields (1863-1932). His name lives on in the eponymous medal awarded quadrennially (since 1936) by the International Congress of Mathematicians. It’s considered to be the Mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize. His fame is also maintained by the Fields Institute of Mathematics, housed in a purpose built facility on the South edge of the University’s St. George Campus.

The Local Committee also had members who served as Chairs of the various working Subcommittees. For example, University President Sir Robert Falconer (1867-1943) and his wife Lady Falconer (? – ?) chaired the Hospitality and Ladies Subcommittees, respectively. They’re now honoured by Falconer Hall which is part of the Law Faculty. It’s an ivy-covered stately home and it’s located just south of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The printing of the “General Program and Other Meeting” documents were the responsibility of Medical Faculty Anatomist John Playfair McMurrich (1859-1939) and his Subcommittee. McMurrich was elected the new American Association President at the Toronto Meeting, to preside at Boston in 1922, and to give the keynote Address of the Retiring President in December 1923 at Cincinnati. He’s remembered by an older building in the U of T Medical Science Complex: the McMurrich Anatomy Building (of course).

Physicist Eli Franklin Burton (1879-1948) led the Exhibits team to provide a show of clever inventions, intriguing specimens, and works of art. Today the Burton Tower rises to sixteen stories, somewhat North of the Fields Institute, the highest peak on campus. It’s surmounted by the twin domes for the 8” refracting and 16” reflecting telescopes used for teaching by the Astronomy Department.

The Burton Tower is the tall tower of the McLennan Physical Laboratories. John Cunningham McLennan (1867-1935), U of T’s Physics Chairman was also a member of the Local Committee, but he chaired no subcommittee. Instead, he was the retiring Vice-President.

For Section B Physics of the AAAS. Most likely he served as a strong backup for Fields, for only three years later they were a strong partnership in successfully bringing both the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Mathematical Congress to U of T in August 1924.

But that’s another story, whose opening scene took place at the Friday, December 30, 1921, Joint Banquet of Section A Mathematics and Section B Physics in the Great Hall of Hart House. I presented this scene on the last page of the December CMS Notes column on  the Mathematical Sciences at the 1921 Toronto Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


  1. 1921 Toronto AAAS Meeting:
  • CMS Notes, December 2021 issue.

  • “A Mathematical Centennial” in CMS Notes, December 2021.

  1. University of Toronto Buildings:
  • Fields Institute Website.

  • Falconer Hall, a U of T Law School Building.

  • McMurrich Anatomy Building, an Architectural Conservancy of Toronto Listed Building.

  • F. Burton Tower Google Search.,online_chips:toronto:OxNy62yioSI%3D,online_chips:mclennan+physical+laboratories:OxNy62yioSI%3D&client=safari&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjIsuzWgev0AhUBYTUKHa1kBOkQ4lYoAXoECAEQFg&biw=1573&bih=810

  • Telescopes atop Burton Tower.

  • C. McClennan, in Physics in Canada.

  • Hart House, The Great Hall.

  1. 1921 Toronto AAAS Centennial Blog Posts:
  • Introducing the 1921-2021 Centennials, January 6, 2021.

  • Jennie A. Kinnear, October 8, 2021.

  • Happy 131st Birthday Jenny, December 12, 2021.

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