Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Fraternities in Canada


[This article was written in the 1930's and published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Fraternities are student societies, usually secret in character; most of them are composed of lodges or branches, placed in a number of colleges, and united by a common bond of friendship and a common name, which is generally composed of two or three Greek letters. These letters usually represent a motto which is supposed to be unknown to all but the fraternity members, and which indicates briefly the aims or purposes of the organization. At first these organizations were known as "Greek-letter societies" or "college secret societies"; but they are now called "college fraternities". The lodges, in the various colleges, are known, with one or two exceptions, as "chapters". The insignia of fraternities consist of a shield or plate of gold, displaying upon it the fraternity name, together with symbols of general or peculiar significance; a monogram of letters composing the name; and some symbol, such as a skull, harp, or key, representing the name of the society or some of its degrees.


The establishment of fraternities in Canadian universities was one phase of a movement which commenced and developed in the United States. The first American society with a Greekletter name was Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, Virginia. The existing fraternity system has been patterned upon three fraternities which were founded at Union University, Schenectady: Kappa Alpha in 1825, Sigma Phi in March, 1827, and Delta Phi in November, 1827. Since that time the movement has spread throughout the United States and Canada. In addition to fraternities which are open to undergraduates in general, since 1869, there have also been established professional fraternities among students in the departments of law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, etc. Within the past twenty-five years have appeared many so-called honorary societies, Greek-letter organizations which invite members on a basis of scholarship or professional attainment. Since 1870, women's fraternities have been developed on the same lines as those of the men. Fraternities appeared in Canada in 1879 with the establishment of a chapter of Zeta Psi at the University of Toronto. In 1883 the same fraternity established a chapter at M Gill. Other early foundations were Kappa Alpha at Toronto in 1892 and a McGill in 1899, and Alpha Delta Phi at Toronto in 1893 and at McGill in 1897. The first women's fraternity, Kappa Alpha Theta, was established at Toronto in 1887. The development of the fraternity system in Canada has made great progress in these two universities. In 1927 Baird's manual of American college fraternities reported the existence of 42 chapters at the University of Toronto and of 23 chapters at McGill. A few chapters, all except one established since 1920, were also reported from the Universities of British Columbia, Dalhousie, Manitoba, Queen's, and Western Ontario. A legal women's fraternity also exists at the Vancouver Law School. See F. W. Shepardson (ed.), Baird's manual of American college fraternities (Menasha, Wisconsin, 1927).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 393-394. 


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College