George Brown College History

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Who was George Brown?

George Brown (1818-1880) was a 19th-century Scottish-born Canadian politician, newspaper publisher (he founded The Globe, precursor to The Globe and Mail) and was one of the Fathers of Confederation. An essential figure in the formation of Canada, Brown was a strong believer in public education.

In 1967, Canada’s centennial year, Bill Davis, then the Ontario Minister of Education, suggested that George Brown College would be a suitable name for the new college of applied arts and technology, noting: “the city to which George Brown added such lustre as a reformer, journalist, and statesman should honour him in this way.”

Evolution, education, employment

George Brown College opened its doors in 1968, welcoming just over 2,000 students. In addition to programs in construction, early childhood education, dental services and the culinary arts — subjects we continue to teach — we once offered programs that might not be quite as relevant today, like signwriting and watchmaking. Believe it or not, we even prepared students for careers at sea through a marine engineering program.

Since then, our full-time student population has grown to around 30,000. People come to George Brown from across the Greater Toronto Area, the country and the world to develop the skills and gain the real-world experience needed to succeed in the workplace.

Since 2004, George Brown has more than doubled in size, broadened our international partnerships and increased our commitment to strengthening the cultural, economic and social fabric of Toronto.


George Brown opened in 1968, but our history stretches back to the early 1950s with the formation of two provincial organizations that later amalgamated to form the college.

1950s – Laying the foundation for George Brown College


The Department of Education creates the Provincial Institute of Trades and transfers to it, from the Ryerson Institute of Technology, all the apprenticeship training in designated trades offered through the Department of Labour.


The Provincial Institute of Trades opens at 21 Nassau St., in the heart of Kensington Market. Charles Emery is appointed its first principal.


The need for space leads to the construction of two additional buildings in Kensington Market. Students made a significant contribution to the construction by using the projects as field placements.

1960s – The creation of George Brown College


The Provincial Institute of Trades starts broadening its program selection by including courses in lathing and structural steel, barbering, diesel mechanics, jewellery arts, watchmaking and welding.


The Provincial Institute of Trades launches the Provincial Institute of Trades and Occupations to meet the growing demand for vocational training.

1967 - Formation of George Brown College

Minister of Education Bill Davis establishes Ontario’s public college system.

George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology is founded through the amalgamation of the Provincial Institute of Trades and the Provincial Institute of Trades and Occupations. C.C. Lloyd is named the first principal.

1968 - George Brown College opens its doors

The college begins operations on March 1 with 2,009 students and 187 instructors spread across five buildings on two campuses: the Dartnell Campus, near Casa Loma, and the Nassau Street Campus in Kensington Market.

Overcrowding is an immediate concern – with some programs forced to run in three shifts, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. – and the search begins for additional space.


The College Street Campus (507 College St.) opens and George Brown integrates 4,000 students and staff from four Adult Training Centres (ATC). The College Street ATC initially offered academic upgrading, commercial courses and the rapidly expanding ESL program. Over the next two years, the curriculum expanded to include programs such as nursery aid, dressmaking and alterations, pattern making and design, commercial art, signwriting, offset printing, furniture refinishing and repair, retail merchandising and a large truck driver training program.

1970s – Campus expansion with Casa Loma and St. James locations


George Brown adds a sprawling new building at 160 Kendal Ave. The newly renamed Casa Loma Campus offers programs in construction, computer systems and networks, jewellery making and dance. The campus was originally intended to provide programs with a technology and applied arts focus.

Five hospital nursing schools were merged under the George Brown College umbrella: Toronto General Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Atkinson School of Nursing (at Toronto Western Hospital), and Nightingale School of Nursing.


St. James Campus opens at 200 King St. E. with programs in business, community services, deaf and deafblind studies and work/college preparation, integrating George Brown in the fabric of Toronto’s downtown core. The main building is the former home of the Christie, Brown and Company Biscuit Factory and later, a Hallmark Cards factory.

1980s – Prime Minister visits, expansion continues


Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau visits Nassau Street Campus in Kensington Market. He greets students and staff and tours a sewing lab with much media fanfare.


The George Brown College Foundation, a separately incorporated registered charity guided by a volunteer board of directors, is established by noted restaurateur John Arena, former George Brown President Doug Light and first Foundation President Marvin Gerstein. George Brown becomes one of the first colleges in Ontario to put a fundraising vehicle of this type into place.


George Brown opens a child care centre at Waterpark Place, where Early Childhood Education students gain hands-on experience working with children. It’s one of the first on-site child care centres in a Toronto office building. Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton presides over a celebratory balloon release at the office building at Bay Street and Queens Quay.


The Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts building (300 Adelaide St. E.) opens at St. James Campus.

1990s – Julia Child visit, focus on Indigenous education


Julia Child spends a day in Toronto signing cookbooks, tasting local foods and performing a cooking demonstration for our culinary students.


George Brown forms the Sahkitcheway Aboriginal Education Council to guide all aspects of Indigenous education at the college. The council’s guidance continues to this day, as we work to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action.

2000s – New degree of education and new leadership at George Brown


George Brown partners with Ryerson University to offer collaborative programs in areas such as Nursing and Early Childhood Education.


George Brown becomes one of the first nine Ontario colleges authorized to offer bachelor's degrees.


Anne Sado becomes the first female president of George Brown College.


The Office of Research and Innovation opens to support community and industry problem-solving.


The Chefs’ House restaurant opens to the public as part of a major renovation and addition to the Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts. The Chefs' House is an innovative, student-focused restaurant where George Brown Chef School and School of Hospitality and Tourism Management students learn from working in the field.

2010s – First chancellor, first student residence and a second Trudeau visit


Sally Horsfall Eaton is named George Brown’s inaugural chancellor – the first chancellor at any Ontario college.

Waterfront Campus opens as part of the revitalization of the East Bayfront community. The Daphne Cockwell Centre for Health Sciences at Waterfront Campus is home to the Sally Horsfall Eaton School of Nursing and the Schools of Dental Health, Health and Wellness and Health Services Management.


George Brown College President Anne Sado is appointed a Member of the Order of Canada by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor-General of Canada. Sado is recognized for enhancing the role of colleges in the education sector and bringing a new vision to George Brown.


The Building Information Modeling (BIM) Lab opens at Casa Loma Campus. The simulation space enables students, faculty members and business partners to create digital 3D models of buildings and view them on a large display screen powered by three projectors. The facility can be used for construction-project procurement, building processes and facility management.

The Green Building Centre opens at Casa Loma Campus—a hub where students and industry connect to develop environmentally friendly and energy-efficient construction practices and products.


The college launches the food and beverage research hub at 215 King St. E. The facility provides access to advanced learning and applied research spaces as well as much-needed opportunities for product development, including prototyping and commercialization support.


The Fashion Exchange opens in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, providing training to immigrants and at-risk youth for entry-level positions in the apparel industry. A collaborative hub for educators, industry and community, it offers hands-on production experience to George Brown fashion students while providing manufacturing services to emerging designers.

George Brown College’s first student residence, The George, opens at Front and Cherry streets. The building was first used to house athletes and other team officials for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

Two months later, the Lucie and Thornton Blackburn Conference Centre opened at the residence. The facility honours the legacy of two runaway slaves who established Toronto’s first cab company helped found the Little Trinity Anglican Church and worked on anti-slavery initiatives. Their story is told by a student-created mural at the conference centre.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Casa Loma Campus. He greets students and staff, tours the BIM facilities and carpentry lab and holds a press conference on campus about the 2017 federal budget.


Prominent Toronto lawyer and youth advocate Noella Milne is installed as the second chancellor of George Brown College.

George Brown adds a new facility to the Waterfront Campus with the opening of the new School of Design at the Daniels Waterfront—City of the Arts complex at Jarvis Street and Queens Quay East.

2020s – A pandemic, new president


President Anne Sado announces her retirement, effective June 30, 2021, after 17 years of leadership at the college.

2020 and 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns and stay-at-home orders around the world and on Friday, March 13, 2020, George Brown College announced it was closing its campuses and suspending classes.

George Brown employees and faculty began preparing for an unprecedented shift in program delivery in the middle of the Winter 2020 semester while working from home. On March 23, 2020, George Brown began delivering the majority of its programs virtually. 

Online and hybrid (online and in-person) delivery continued throughout the Fall 2021 semester.

2021 (August)

Dr. Gervan Fearon becomes President of George Brown College.