Queen's University

Naming pays lasting tribute to Robert Sutherland " Canada's first black university graduate

 
2009-10-04

A plaque unveiled at Queen’s University pays tribute to Robert Sutherland, the University’s first black student, graduate and lawyer, as well as its first major benefactor.

The plaque will be mounted in Robert Sutherland Hall – the building named for Mr. Sutherland (c1830-1878) after a student-led initiative last winter received unanimous support from then-principal Tom Williams, Queen’s Board of Trustees and the Queen’s community.

“Robert Sutherland has inspired generations of students at Queen’s through both his accomplishments and his generosity,” says Alma Mater Society President Michael Ceci.

“The naming of Robert Sutherland Hall and the plaque acknowledging his lifetime accomplishments and dedication to his alma mater are a fitting tribute to the man who left his entire estate to the University at a time of great need.”

Robert Sutherland had a highly successful academic career at Queen’s between 1849 and 1852, winning 14 academic prizes. He got his start in civic life participating in the student society and went on to study law, becoming North America’s first black lawyer.

His bequest in 1878 of $12,000, then equal to the university’s annual operating budget, saved Queen’s from being annexed to the University of Toronto.

“Queen’s is sending the right message to this campus and our alumni, by not only honouring Robert Sutherland, but educating the community at large about his great successes and contributions to Queen’s and Ontario,” says Sacha Atherly, president of the African-Caribbean Students Association. “It is important to put his donation in perspective; it is the reason that any of us are able to study and work at Queen’s University today.”

 “The naming of Robert Sutherland Hall is a perfect fit for a distinguished individual who plays such an important role in the University's history,” says Principal Daniel Woolf.

Other recognitions for Mr. Sutherland include the large granite tombstone that former Queen’s Principal George Grant had placed in Toronto's Mt Pleasant Cemetery - where it still stands - to mark Sutherland’s connection with Queen's; a plaque in Grant Hall dedicated to his memory by the City of Kingston, a room in the student centre and financial awards and prizes in his name.

The inscription on the plaque reads:

ROBERT SUTHERLAND HALL

dedicated

by the Board of Trustees

at the request of the Students of Queen’s University

in honour of

 ROBERT SUTHERLAND (C 1830-1878)

WINNER OF FOURTEEN ACADEMIC PRIZES

FIRST BLACK GRADUATE OF QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY

FIRST BLACK LAWYER IN UPPER CANADA

EARLY BENEFACTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY

TO WHICH HE BEQUEATHED HIS ENTIRE ESTATE

AT ITS TIME OF GREATEST NEED

“May his devotion to his alma mater not pass into oblivion”

October 3, 2009

 

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