Early Years

Alpha Psi’s inaugural class in 1883.

As soon as Zeta Psi came to Toronto, as the pioneer of Greek letter fraternities in Canada, her zealous brothers immediately conceived the idea of starting a sister chapter at their rival university. In those days, there was but a slender thread of communication between the two institutions, and the hopes of the Theta Xi might have thus been thwarted for many years had it not been for Robert Fulford Ruttan from Toronto, who decided in 1881 to pursue his medical studies at McGill. Ruttan, though not a Zete, numbered many of the active chapter at Varsity among his intimate friends, and they commissioned him to lay the groundwork for the foundation of a chapter in Montreal. He painstakingly collected a small group of enthusiastic fellow medical students and petitioned Grand Chapter to grant a charter to the fledgling group. The petition was successful, and on the morning of January 3, 1883, Bros. A.L. Cameron (then Phi of Theta Xi) and Henry Brook (Theta Xi, ’81) arrived in Montreal to install the new chapter. It was to be called Alpha Psi, in honor of the Phi Alpha, who could not attend the ceremony, as he was at the 35th Annual Zeta Psi Convention in Philadelphia. With the initiation of Ruttan , the first Alpha Psi Zete , Zeta Psi in Montreal was born. The new chapter immediately sent two neophyte brothers to represent Alpha Psi at Convention, alongside their brothers from the only other Canadian chapter – Theta Xi.

The executive at the first meeting was the following:

  • C.E. Cameron Phi
  • C.E. Gooding Alpha Phi
  • R.F. Ruttan Sigma
  • W.G. Johnston Alpha Sigma
  • J.H. Davey Gamma
  • D.J.G. Wishart Sigma Rho

Such was the speed with which the new chapter was ushered into the world. A small office over a detective agency at 214 St. James Street was hastily rented to serve as the first Chapter room. The new brothers were almost exclusively men of the medical faculty, and the Alpha Psi archives testify to the prominence of that faculty, listing the names of illustrious physicians and surgeons in every rank of civilian and military life. Although Alpha Psi had no rival fraternities at McGill, the chapter was forced to struggle through trials and tribulations difficult to imagine today. Greek letter fraternities were unknown at McGill and faculty and student ignorance bred suspicion of the secret organization.

From the beginning, the chapter roll featured the names of students who had achieved unusual distinctions, in both the athletic and academic fields. More often than not, the class president was a Zete, as were the highest officials on the student council. This contributed to the suspicion, that a secret organization was trying to run the affairs of the university for its own mysterious ends.

Alpha Psi Zetes laying the cornerstone for the Memorial Chapter house.

In the years following, Alpha Psi moved frequently, renting rooms in many different buildings around campus. In 1901, the chapter finally rented a house at 766 Sherbrooke St. and remained there for five years, after which they obtained premises at 155 University. Still, strong feeling among the brothers called for a house owned by the chapter. The Great War, however, caused a delay in the brothers’ ownership plans. It was not until 1925 that the chapter occupied the magnificent new Memorial Chapter house, dedicated to the memory of the Alpha Psi brothers who died in The Great War, at 3637 University St. The record of the chapter, distinguished in many and various fields, was never so brilliant as when the call to arms was made, and the patriotism of the brothers was aroused. As early as 1885, Zetes had been among those dispatched to quell the Riel uprising in the Canadian Northwest.

In 1897 another fraternity had established itself at McGill, and by 1902 the number of fraternities on campus had risen to six. Although the Zetes were the compelled to engage in active rushing, an activity hitherto unknown to them when they held the field alone, no other fraternity, before or since, has been able to attain Alpha Psi’s prestige in Montreal. Unfortunately, space does not permit a detailed chronicle of the individual and collective honor accumulated by the chapter in these early years, but the following short list of notable Zetes exemplifies our achievements:

  • Percival Molson Tremendous McGill athlete before WWI, died during the war. Bequeathed in his will money to build Molson Stadium, and our Memorial Chapter house at 3637 University.
  • M.P. McKeen and H.F. Walker Founders of the McGill Daily.
  • George Hodgson Olympic Gold Medalist (Stockholm 1916)
  • Conrad F. Harrington Chancellor of McGill University in the early 1980’s.
  • Stephen Leacock Political Economics Professor at McGill, and noted Humorist.

Continue to the wartime years