The Office of Principal was created in 1928, when Victoria College was established to supersede the former Faculty of Arts headed by a Dean. The Principal continued to oversee the arts programme at Victoria and to serve on University of Toronto academic committees, and also acted as chair and chief administrative officer of the newly created Victoria College Council. In 1944, the name of the office was changed to Dean, but it reverted to Principal in 1951. The first men to hold office, R. P. Bowles (1928–1930) and E. W. Wallace (1930-1932), held it in addition to their positions as President and Chancellor of Victoria University. The Principal's Office became more distinct during the incumbency of W. T. Brown (1932-1944), who also served as President after 1941, and especially during the term of H. Bennett (1944-1959). These two men carried out their duties of office on a part–time basis, while continuing to teach a reduced load of courses.
The Principal's Office in recent times has been served by a succession of accomplished scholars on the teaching staff of Victoria College including Northrop Frye, Professor of English, who served as Principal during 1959–1966. While Frye was on sabbatical leave during the 1964-1965 academic year, Professor Kingsley J. Joblin acted as Principal. After Frye's term ended in 1966, President A. B. B. Moore acted in this capacity until a new Principal was appointed in 1967. John E. Hodgetts (1967-1971), a distinguished political scientist, officiated during a period of rising expectations and increasing involvement by students in university government. This period, inaugurated by the 1967 "MacPherson Report", saw the end of the old Honour and General Courses, and the introduction of a New Programme which allowed students more freedom to design their own courses of study. Hodgetts was appointed President in 1970, and the following year relinquished the Principalship to John M. Robson (1971-1976), Professor of English and General Editor of the John Stuart Mill Project. Robson officiated during one of the most crucial periods in the relationship between the U. of T. and its federated colleges. In 1974, Victoria signed the Memorandum of Agreement, which removed the base of academic decision–making from college departments and centralized it in newly created U. of T. Departments. His successor, classicist Gordon L. Keyes (1976-1981), had to deal with issues arising from the Agreement. He coordinated Victoria College's input and response to the work of the "Kelly Committee", which published its review of the undergraduate curriculum in 1980. Alexandra Johnston (1981-1991), English Professor as well as General Editor of the Records of Early English Drama, was the first woman appointed to the Principal's Office and served two full terms; she then returned as Acting Principal in 2003-2004, when David Cook was on leave.
Although the main functions of office remained the same through all of these terms, the 1960's saw the first in a series of structural changes to the relationship between the University of Toronto and its federated colleges. These changes, especially the 1974 Memorandum of Agreement, which centralized academic programming in U. of T. Departments, altered the ways in which recent Principals have carried out their official functions.
List of Principals:
- Richard Pinch Bowles 1928-1930
- Edward Wilson Wallace 1930-1932
- Walter T. Brown 1932-1941
- Harold Bennett 1941-1959
- H. Northrop Frye 1959-1966
- John Edwin Hodgetts 1967-1970
- John Mercel Robson 1971-1976
- Gordon Lincoln Keyes 1976-1981
- Alexandra Ferguson Johnston 1981-1991
- William J. Callahan 1991-2000
- David B. Cook 2000-2012
- Angela Esterhammer 2012-