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Claude Bissell fonds
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Manuscripts and publications

There are only a few files in this series, consisting of some book reviews, and drafts and offprints of articles that appeared between 1968 and the early 1970s. The arrangement of the files is chronological.


This series spans the whole of Claude Bissell’s adult life as well as some documents related to his early education. Biographical notes, memorabilia, honours and awards give a good overview of his achievements and personal milestones.

Manuscripts and publications (non-Bissell)

This series contains drafts of books and plays with which Bissell was involved either through his capacity as an academic or his general interest in the arts. The arrangement of the files is alphabetically by the author and playwright.

The most significant item, from a research perspective, is a proof copy (1969) from the University of Toronto Press of Charles Norris Cochrane’s St. Augustine and the problems of power. A copy does not exist in Cochrane’s personal records [B2003-0011] and the work itself was never published. Other items include a partial draft (1974) of Canadian fiction: an annotated bibliography, by Margery Fee, that appeared in 1976; a reader’s copy of Hugh Hood’s edgy Black and white keys (published 1982); and a 1982 typescript of The short road down: a university changes (1984), by Robin Ross who was University registrar during Bissell’s presidency. There is also an undated mimeographed copy of a play by Howard Adelman, ‘Kill yourself laughing’.


The addresses in this series were given by Bissell during and shortly after his presidency of the University of Toronto. They touch on some of his main interests – higher education generally and students and university governance in particular; economic and cultural nationalism and one of its corollaries, the image of Canada in the United States; and the role of the Arts in Canada. The series concludes with Bissell’s convocation address in 1977 on being awarded an honorary degree by his alma mater, the University of Toronto on the occasion of its sesquicentennial.

Bissell 2011 accession

Records document Claude Bissell’s personal and professional life. Unlike previous accessions, B2011-0018 contains extensive personal correspondence with family members especially while he was posted overseas during the 2nd World War as well as with his wife Christine (Series 4). There are also several series that document Bissell’s personal life rather than his professional life including his creativity through music, drama and poetry (Series 12) and his relationship with his brother Keith (Series 15). Nonetheless, most of the other records in this accession complete series of records found in earlier accessions and include many of his lectures (series 8 and 9), writings (Series 5 and 6) as well as his post-retirement diaries which completes an earlier run in B1988-0091 (Series 11). «

Personal files

This series consists of a curriculum vitae and a single piece of memorabilia, a program for the fifth annual frosh review presented by the Students’ Association of Carleton College in the fall of 1956, just as Dr. Bissell began his presidency of the College.


This series begins with a file of letters between Dr. Bissell and Hugh MacLennan. The earliest ones document a visit by MacLennan to the Graduate Department of English at the University of Toronto in 1951. They are followed by letters about Bissell’s appointment as president of the University in 1958, and the last few letters concern the nomination of MacLennan in 1978 for the annual Royal Bank of Canada Award.

The remaining letters, arranged chronologically from 1973 to 1996 but concentrated in the year 1990, consist of an exchange of greetings and information between the Bissells and friends, colleagues, former students, and professional acquaintances. The file for 1990 reveals Dr. Bissell’s continuing close connection with the University of Toronto and his support of many individuals and initiatives in academe and in the arts.

Bissell 2003 accession

Personal papers of Claude Thomas Bissell documenting his life as a student, professor in Canadian and English literature, university administrator and president of the Unversity of Toronto, and his activities after he stepped down as president. Includes personal correspondence; notes, essays and course material relating to his academic studies at the U of T and Cornell University; correspondence, memoranda and reports on university administration and structure; lecture notes; research materials, including index cards; files on professional activities; manuscripts of articles, addresses, and a photograph.

University of Toronto

During his presidency of the University of Toronto (1958-1971), Dr. Bissell was much preoccupied with issues of governance and the shift in attitudes towards and perceptions about higher education that marked the 1960s. Another preoccupation was the expansion of his university, both in its physical plant and in its academic programs.

This series begins with an examination of the issues through the development of policies by the provincial government, by the University itself and the role that an invigorated faculty played in the process, along with the attempts by the president to develop a coherent approach to issues in conjunction with other universities in the province. In so doing, he made certain he was thoroughly familiar with his own institution’s past; this is reflected in a file of excerpts from the president’s reports, beginning in 1902. He received many reports and memoranda on a broad range of issues relating to university governance in Canada, United States and Britain; a selection of these have been retained. There are also files on the provincial Advisory Committee on University Affairs, which played a major role in developing government policy; the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Duff-Berdhal report, University government in Canada; and on the Committee of Presidents of the Universities of Ontario, which Dr. Bissell chaired and which was asked to help formulate a system of provincial priorities in higher education. Two developments in the late 1960s that arose, in part, out of these deliberations are also represented here: the Commission on University Government (CUG) which reorganized the administrative structure of the University from a bicameral to a unicameral one and which lead to the University of Toronto Act, 1971, and the Commission on Post-Secondary Education in Ontario (chaired by Douglas T. Wright) which reported in 1972. The ongoing discussion of the role of the teaching staff in university governance was the subject of the deliberations of a working group that reported its findings in January 1976.

The remainder of the series documents a number of activities and events at the University: the work of the University’s Committee on Canadian Studies (1981-1982), the Department of English’s ad hoc committee on Canadian literature (1974-1975), and honours bestowed on individuals, including a conference in honour of Hugh MacLennan (1982). Most of the files relate, however, to Massey College and to Hart House. Dr. Bissell was based at Massey after 1971 and was active on its library committee and its search committee for a master to replace Robertson Davies. The files on Hart House consist of the transcripts of a protracted interview by Ian Montagnes of Burgon Bickersteth, its second warden (1921-1947), and extracts of letters from Bickersteth to his parents between 1921 and 1946. The interview, which took place in 1962, was commissioned by the Massey Foundation, at Montagnes’ suggestion, to commit Bickersteth’s memories to permanent record. The interview and the letters formed the basis of Montagnes’ An uncommon fellowship: the story of Hart House (1969). Dr. Bissell carefully proofread the 723-page transcript.

Teaching materials and lecture notes

The material in this series is organized in two parts, by files and by cards in “shoe boxes”. The files contain a variety of material including correspondence, reading lists, course outlines, lecture notes, other notes, and exam questions. The card boxes contain both notes and lectures.

The series beings with the file of correspondence, reading lists, course outlines and related material on the new course, ‘Studies in Canadian history and letters’, that Dr. Bissell began developing in 1946 with Donald Creighton. Other courses he taught in the immediate post-war period were ‘The modern novel’, for undergraduates, and ‘The late Victorian novel’ for graduates.

From the mid-1960s he taught a graduate course in ‘Canadian literature’ and, briefly, an undergraduate one in ‘Victorianism in the British Commonwealth’. After he stepped down as president, he taught courses in ‘Major Canadian writers’ and ‘Contemporary Canadian literary criticism’ at the graduate level. Also present are his teaching files from his sabbatical at Harvard University in 1967-1968 and the graduate course in Canadian literature he gave at the University of Leeds in the spring of 1973. These are followed by appraisals and correspondence relating to two theses Dr. Bissell supervised, one from 1952 and the other from 1983.

The cards are organized from the broader aspects of the study of literature to the specific study of individuals within the context of the literary traditions of their respective countries. The first cards are devoted to English literature, beginning with lectures on topics ranging from writing an essay and assembling a bibliography to modern thought, an introduction to poetry, the theory of comedy and drama, the short story, and the history of the novel. These cards are followed by notes and lecture notes on individual writers and poets, filed alphabetically and beginning with Matthew Arnold and ending with James Thomson. Most are Victorian novelists, though there are also files on earlier writers such as Chaucer, John Dryden and Sir Walter Scott, and early twentieth-century writers such as T. S. Eliot and John Galsworthy, and a scattering of French authors. This section ends with notes and lectures on Victorian thought, literature and poetry, the modern novel, and notes on social and historical issues, and philosophical, religious and scientific thought in Victorian England. Some of the notes appear to date from the late 1930s, while the lectures date from about 1946 through the early 1950s.

The following sets of cards have notes and lectures on Canadian, American, and Australian literature, politics and society that document the wide range of disciplines that Dr. Bissell mined in preparing his lectures. The first section on Canada is devoted to the Canadian novel (later “Canadian fiction”) for the academic years 1946-1947 to 1954-1955, followed by specific topics, writers, and poets, arranged more or less alphabetically. The topics include the contemporary Canadian novel, Canadian culture, best sellers (1896-1933), pre-Confederation poetry, the university question in the 1840s, the Canada First movement; journals such as Canadian Forum, The Varsity, and Canadian Monthly/National Review; economic history, the frontier, and the French-Canadian novel. There is even the text of an address from 1951. Dr. Bissell covers a wide range of novelists, newspapermen, poets, politicians, amongst whom are Bliss Carman, John W. Dafoe, Robertson Davies, Mazo de la Roche, Archibald Lampman; William Lyon Mackenzie King and his political adversary, Arthur Meighen; Charles Mair, Robert Service, Goldwin Smith, Daniel Wilson, Frederick Philip Grove, Abbé Lionel Groulx, T. C. Haliburton and Joseph Howe.

The cards with notes and lectures on American literature begin with general questions and an overview of the subject, but most are about individual writers, filed alphabetically. The principal figures discussed are Jacob Bailey, Jonathan Edwards, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Francis Parkman, Carl Sandburg and John Steinbeck.

These cards are followed by ones containing notes on Australian literature, a talk Dr. Bissell gave on Australia to the U of T Engineering Society in 1954, and notes on the Australian character.

Research notes and information files

This series consists of material, in the form of index cards and files that Dr. Bissell drew on primarily for his writings, lectures and addresses. A run of cards (boxes 010 and 011) forms the first part of this series and is closely related to the material in Series 5. The files, which contain notes, interviews, briefs, reports and addresses by academics, range more widely in scope and time (from the late 1930s to 1976).

The index cards cover Canadian, American, Australian and English literature, with some cards on Canadian political and cultural issues, filed alphabetically by subject and person, intermixed. They contain bibliographic references only (no lecture notes) and are related to
files of notes with similar headings found later in the series. Most of the index cards appear to have been compiled after Dr. Bissell began teaching at the U of T again in 1946. Some, especially those on Samuel Butler, the subject both of his masters and doctoral theses, are largely from the 1930s.

Subjects already introduced, such as Canadian literature, politics, and society, the novel, and Victorian England, have extensive bibliographic entries, as do new subjects, such as 20th century English literature, and satire. Some writers, especially Auguste Comte, George Eliot, Henry James, George Henry Lewes, and George Bernard Shaw, have extensive bibliographic references. A host of new names appear here, including Joseph Conrad, Robert Frost, Morley Callaghan, George Meredith and Herbert Spencer.

The first files in this series are devoted to Canadian subjects – cultural problems, political issues and Canadian studies in American universities and are concentrated in the years 1960-1975. The files on Canadian literature all date from the post-1950 period. There is a file of notes for the years 1960-1976 but most of the files are devoted to individuals, the principal ones being Morley Callaghan, Sara Jeanette Duncan, Frederick Philip Grove, T. C. Haliburton, Archibald Lampman, Hugh MacLeannan. They contain notes, drafts of articles, bibliographies and the occasionl letter. The remaining files, on English and American literature, consist mostly of notes that he compiled in the 1930s and are filed by topic. They are closely related to the index cards in Series 5.


While a master’s student at the University of Toronto in 1936-1937, Dr. Bissell made detailed notes for his courses; those for ‘Victorian thought’ and ‘The origins and development of Romanticism’, along with course outlines and a few of his term papers have survived. Also present are the course outlines and his notes on philosophy and the philosophy of religion while a doctoral student at Cornell University.

Professional activities

In the 1960s and the 1970s, Dr. Bissell was involved in a number of initiatives and organizations relating to issues in higher education, including those between the two solitudes, English and French Canada, and between Canada and the United States. In 1965 he attended the executive program of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Aspen, Colorado. In 1974 the Canada Council’s commission on graduate studies in the humanities and social sciences solicited input from Canadian universities. The University of Toronto’s contribution was a task force, the ‘Toronto Report Group’, which submitted a draft report at the end of January 1975. A few years earlier two events proved of particular interest to Bissell. In 1968, a conference on Canadian studies held in Albany, New York, had as its main theme undergraduate education in Canadian studies programs in colleges and universities in the eastern United States. This coincided with the complete revamping of the undergraduate curriculum in the Arts at the University of Toronto, under the able chairmanship of Brough Macpherson. The next year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching held a board meeting at which the discussion topic was university governance in the 1970s. Bissell who preserved copies of the addresses and documents circulated.

This series contains correspondence, minutes, memoranda, programmes, addresses and reports documenting the activities of the above groups. The arrangement of the files is alphabetically by the name of the event or group.

Bissell 1st 2001 accession

Records documenting various publications written by Claude Bissell including such titles as 'The Young Vincent Massey', 'Imperial Canadian', 'Halfway up Parnassus'. Includes typescripts, manuscripts, correspondence.

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