Munro Day, eh: How Dalhousie got its very own holiday

- February 4, 2022

George Munro, Dalhousie's "great benefactor."
George Munro, Dalhousie's "great benefactor."

If you work or study at Dalhousie, lucky you. You’ve got the day off this February 4. (If you don’t, sorry to rub it in).

Munro Day happens on the first Friday in February each year, and the Dal community has a thoughtful group of students from more than 140 years ago to thank for this bonus day off in mid-winter.

That’s because in 1881 they called on the university’s Board of Governors to create a holiday to honour a man by the name of George Munro.

Some consider him the university’s “second founder,” others call him “the great benefactor of Dalhousie.” Historians remember him for his involvement in U.S. publishing, where he made a fortune selling dime-store novels, handbooks and popular songbooks.

And it’s this fortune, and his generosity in sharing it with Dalhousie during a difficult time, that lit a spark in those students so long ago.

'Desperate not too strong a word'

Munro’s first helping hand for Dalhousie came in the form of a donation of $2,000 a year to fund a research chair position in physics in 1879. He would go on to fund another four chairs annually — all of which still exist today — and provide thousands of dollars for bursaries that supported some of the university's first female students.

It was just the salve Dalhousie needed to stem the financial bloodletting that was bringing its very existence into question.

“Desperate is not too strong a word for Dalhousie’s financial condition. Talk of closing Dalhousie down was heard on every side," wrote P.B. Waite in the first volume of The Lives of Dalhousie University.

Taken together, Munro's total contributions to Dalhousie amounted to $330,000, which would be roughly $10-$11 million in today's currency.

Dal's Board of Governors at the time described Munro's gifts as “without parallel in the educational history not of Nova Scotia alone but of the Dominion of Canada.”

It's no surprise, then, that two years after Munro's first gift, the Board supported the Dalhousie Student Union's request for a winter holiday to honour the man's generosity.

Munro Day through the years

  • When Munro Day was first established, it was celebrated on the third Wednesdy of January. Then, in the 1920s it shifted to be held on the second Tuesday in March "so that students might better enjoy it."

  • Early iterations of the holiday featured a wintry sleigh ride to Bedford, where students and other Dal community members would enjoy a fancy night of dining.

  • Another hallmark of Munro Day in its first several decades was a campus lecture open to all.

  • Musicals, dramas, pie-throwing contests, sports games, a day-long radio show, beauty contests, and dances — Munro Day became one of the busiest day's in the Dal social calendar throughout the middle part of the 20th century.

  • In more recent decades, the day has become an opportunity for students to get outdoors, enjoying a day on the slopes through a Dalhousie Student Union organzied ski trip or volunteering in the community.

Have a lesser-known piece of Munro Day history to share or fond memories of celebrating? Share them with us for possible inclusion in future articles about the holiday.  

Watch our Dalhousie Originals video on George Munro below.


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