Interruption: War Hospital and ILO Visit (1918-1946)

INTRODUCTION | FOUNDATION (1865-1873) | EXPANSION (1874-1882) | INTERRUPTION (1918-1946) | DEMOLITION & RENOVATION (1961-1983)

Interruption page of the touch table exhibition. Greg Houston, 2017.

In March 1918, the Finance committee of the Presbyterian College met secretly with the Department of Defense to discuss using the College as a convalescent home for soldiers, at least until the military hospital at St. Anne de Bellevue would be completed and prepared to receive patients. Some 300 ill and wounded soldiers were in immediate need of this service. The College served as military hospital and residence until May 1919; during this period, students of the Presbyterian College who were not fighting overseas were housed in the nearby Congregational College, also on McTavish Street.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), created in the wake of World War I, unites governments, employers, and workers in the understanding that social justice is fundamental to lasting peace across the globe. In 1940, as German troops occupied most areas surrounding Geneva, Switzerland, where the ILO was headquartered, the Governing Body and ILO Director John G. Winant took the decision to move their office and activities away from the war zone of World War II. In August of the same year, the Canadian Government and McGill University officially agreed to welcome ILO staff, including 40 members from 18 countries, to McGill campus, Montreal. From August to November 1940, these ILO staff occupied Morrice Hall before relocating to another location on campus.

On September 14th, 1950, a plaque was presented to McGill University to commemorate this moment in ILO and McGill history: “To this campus the International Labour Organisation transferred its wartime headquarters in 1940 on the generous invitations of the Government of Canada and McGill University. From here the I.L.O. directed its work of furthering world peace through social justice until 1948. This tablet records the lasting gratitude of the I.L.O. to McGill University.”

Towards the end of World War II (1943-1946) and after the relocation of the ILO out of Morrice Hall, the Presbyterian College was once again re-purposed as a military hospital and military dormitory. Students of the Presbyterian College were housed at Knox College in Toronto at this time while the military rented the liberated space for $ 6,000 a year.


  • Col. H.S. Birkett presenting officers of the Hospital to his Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught on the campus of McGill University, April 22, 1915., Middlesbrough (UK): Hood and Co.; 1923.)

Hall, Presbyterian College, McGill University, Montreal, QC, 1940-42. Notman & Son, McCord Museum.

Plans & Maps:

  • Architectural Plans, 1943, Basement Department of Buildings and Grounds


ILO during the Second World War 1940. International Labour Organization; Bureau of Library and Information services Department of Communication and Public Information. Feburary 23, 2015.

International Labour Office, Minutes of the 113th session of the Governing Body (1950, November 21-25). Brussels : International Labour Office.

Curran, P. “When the International Labour Organization came to McGill“. Montreal Gazette. March 29, 2010.