The Brown Family History at Victoria College

Six generations of the Brown family have attended Victoria College – the first in the 1850s and the most recent graduating in 2010 – with members of the extended family and family connections adding up to 21 students (hoping that we haven’t forgotten anyone!) We have seen it evolve from a small – and small town – college to a vital institution at the heart of the big city and like to think that each of us has contributed to that growth in our own way. We have also gained a great deal from our Victoria experiences, including more than one marriage between Victoria classmates. The following account is necessarily selective and undoubtedly overlooks contributions to the College as students and as alumni that deserve to be remembered. We feel safe in saying, however, that everyone who is mentioned valued their time at Victoria and without hesitation would go there again.

The first three generations

The first of the line was Isaac Wesley Brown, of Brownsville, Ontario, who graduated in Medicine in 1858, when Victoria was in Coburg. His niece’s husband, Charles William Brown (no relation, in spite of the same last name), graduated in Philosophy in 1887, winning the Prince of Wales Gold Medal and the Gold Medal in Metaphysics. He then graduated in Theology, becoming a Methodist (later United Church) Minister.

Charles’ son was George Williams Brown (Vic 1T5). He began his university studies in Vancouver (where his father was assigned at the time), at Columbia College, the forerunner of the University of British Columbia. Columbia College did not offer degrees and George transferred to Victoria in 1913 to complete his studies. He was one of the first group of students to live in the newly built Burwash Hall (South House) and played several sports, receiving the Men’s Athletic Stick when he graduated. He was involved in a number of other student activities, including the Victoria College Glee Club when it toured Europe in July 1914. He was also a member of the Canadian Officer Training Corps and later enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War I. A history graduate, he joined the University of Toronto Department of History in 1925 and in 1936 gave a Burwash Memorial Lecture on the Founding of Victoria as part of the formal celebration of Victoria’s Centennial Year. After his death in 1963, a Gold Medal was established in his name that is awarded each year to the top Victoria History graduate.

Expansion and joining forces

Another member of the class of 1T5 was Vera Beatrice Kenny, who married George Brown in 1920. Vera’s family lived in British Columbia, but her mother – whose mother-in-law was a cousin of Margaret Addison, then the Dean of Annesley Hall – determined that all four of her children should attend Victoria College, eventually moving to Toronto to support them. The eldest son, Nelson Clarke Kenny, first attended Columbia College and then Victoria, graduating in the class of 1T1. He enlisted at the beginning of World War I and died at Vimy Ridge. Hazel Kenny (Vic 1T3) and Vera also followed the pattern of starting at Columbia College and transferring to Victoria. Their younger brother, Melvin Kirkland Kenny (Vic 2T8) spent his entire student career at Victoria. Vera was active in student life and graduated with a Prince of Wales Silver Medal in Arts. She also played hockey and basketball, and she and George won a mixed doubles tennis tournament. Later Vera was a longstanding member of the Victoria Women’s Association and for a time an alumni representative on the Victoria University Senate. Mel, who majored in History, was a rower, squash player, debater and his class President.

George and Vera had four children, three of whom were Victoria graduates: Kenneth Charles Brown (Vic 4T5), Sylvia Amy Elizabeth (Brown) Gwynne-Timothy (Vic 4T7) and Shirley Vivian (Brown) Hadwen (Vic 5T1). Ken studied Modern History and Modern Languages. He was active in Vic sports (notably tennis and hockey) and student activities as well as being a member of the COTC. At the end of his third year he was elected President of both the Victoria College Union Council and the Victoria History society, which may have been a factor in his enlisting in the Army in 1944. (Although he was granted his degree in absentia in 1945 he actually received it in 2007 as part of a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Convocation Hall.) At the end of his War service, in 1946, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, one of five given to members of the Canadian Forces Overseas. During the 1980s, Ken served as a member of the Victoria President’s Advisory Council. Sylvia graduated in Modern History and Modern Languages. A keen member of the Gilbert and Sullivan society and the German Club, she received the Governor General’s Gold Medal for her university-wide standing. Shirley broke the family pattern by graduating in Anthropology.

One of Ken’s classmates – they met in first year French class – was Ruth Louise Johnston (Vic 4T5), and they were married in 1948. Ruth’s grandfather, Richard Victor Fowler had graduated from Victoria in 1885, while it was still in Coburg, receiving the Silver Medal in Classics. Ruth lived in Annesley Hall and for one year in Bowles-Gandier House; she studied Modern Languages and Literature, receiving the J.J. MacLaren Gold Medal in French and German when she graduated. She also played hockey and basketball and was active in student life, being elected Vice-President of the 4T5 class executive.

Later generations

Five of George and Vera Brown’s grandchildren attended Victoria; four graduated and one married a classmate. Another granddaughter married a Victoria graduate.

Ken and Ruth’s son David Charles Graham Brown (Vic 7T1) lived in Middle House and majored in Political Science. He sang in the Victoria College Chapel Choir, was a Victoria representative on the University of Toronto Students’ Administrative Council, and in the era of student (hoped-for) power was a member of numerous student-faculty committees, including serving as student co-chair of the Victoria University Commission on University Government, which reviewed the Victoria University Act. On graduation he was elected the Men’s Senior Stick and awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. His sister, Deborah Louise (Brown) Card (Vic 7T4), lived in Margaret Addison Hall and then Annesley Hall. She studied Modern Languages and graduated with the Governor General’s Gold Medal.

Sylvia’s children attended other universities, but her daughter Diana married Ian Robson (Vic 8T1). He lived in Middle House and graduated in Molecular Biology and Genetics. Two of Shirley’s sons attended Victoria. Timothy George Magrath Hadwen (Vic 8T0) lived in Middle House and graduated in History. A keen sportsman (notably basketball), he was President of the Victoria College Athletic Union. His brother Peter Nelson Hadwen started at Victoria a year after Tim but after two years transferred to Dalhousie University.

Geoffrey Robert William Brown (Vic 8T1) compensated for his father having gone to Trinity by attending Victoria. His maternal grandmother, Kathleen Junkin (1T5) was also a Victoria graduate, so Geoff had three grandparents who were Vic classmates. Geoff lived in Stephenson House, serving as President in his fourth year, and played Vic 2 hockey. He majored in English and on graduation received the Lieutenant Governor’s Silver medal and the Joliffe Gold Medal in English. In 1984 he was awarded the Professor D.O. Robson Graduate Scholarship. One of his English classmates was Carolyn Elizabeth Whitney (Vic 8T3) and they not only married, in 1982, but combined their family name to Whitney-Brown. Carolyn received an S.H. Janes Gold Medal in English on graduation.

So far, one member of the sixth generation has attended Victoria. David’s daughter, Catherine Ruth Louise Brown (Vic 201T0), was a member of the Stowe-Gullen stream in Vic One, living in Bowles-Gandier House in her first year, and majoring in Global Health. She was active in student affairs, managing the Caffiends coffee house in second year, serving as the Commuter Commissioner on the Victoria University Student Administrative Council (VUSAC) in third year and as VUSAC President in fourth year, at the end of which she received a Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award from the University of Toronto Alumni Association.

The supply of potential candidates is not yet exhausted, however, so watch this space!

David Brown/June 2011

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