H. J. Cody is probably best remembered now as the president of the University of Toronto during the difficult years of the 1930s depression and the war. Seen by some as the representative of the Anglican Tory establishment, he was a controversial figure. In D. C. Masters's biography, a detailed picture of his life gives one a certain perspective on the history of Toronto-on the life of a university student in the 1880s, on the city's building expansion at the turn of the century, on salary cutbacks for university faculty in the 1930s, and on the emergence of "radical" professors like F. H. Underhill, who roused the disapproval of the Hepburn government, and of some members of the university's board of governors.
He began life as the son of a storekeeper in Embro, Ontario. He was labelled an "outsider" at university in 1885 to 1889, the insiders being the elite few who were in residence. But he was not an outsider for long. Masters describes his success in two distinct careers, first as the popular rector of St. Paul's Anglican church, then as president of the university where he had been a student. Masters tells this story with the affection of one writing of an old friend of the family: his father was a student of Cody's at Wycliffe College (the "low church" divinity school in the university). He writes sympathetically of two major disappointments in Cody's career-his failure to be elected bishop in 1909, and the success of Vincent Massey's supporters in the Tory party in preventing him from continuing as chancellor of the university (after he had been elected to that office in 1947).
Cody began his clerical career as curate at St. Paul's in 1893, and was soon very popular with its "evangelical congregation". Masters describes him at this point as "a moderate Calvinist" who preached the occasional Temperance sermon. At St. Paul's, he became the friends of such eminent Torontonians as S. H. Blake, George Gooderham, and George Wrong. He also married well, and moved with his bride into her family home on Jarvis Street, where he lived close to the stately mansions of Cawthras and Masseys. Soon he was leading a building campaign to replace the small St. Paul's of 1869 with a church of "cathedral dignity" (the one that now stands on Bloor Street East). The new church was completed in 1913, amid much rejoicing.
In 1918, he briefly became minister of education in the Ontario, and got "a cordial non-partisan reception from the Toronto press." (He resigned a year later when a new government came in.)
In 1923, he became chairman of the university's board of governors, and began playing an active role in the expansion of the university and in advising on the appointment of staff. In 1932 he succeeded Sir Robert Falconer as president.
Now came the hard years of the Depression. The Ontario government, first George Henry's Tories, then Mitch Hepburn's Liberals, made cuts in the university's grant, from $1.4 million in 1932 to $900,000 in 1935-fees in the arts were $130 a year. Registration declined. Salary cuts were particularly hard on junior staff. New appointments were avoided. Although there was pressure to hire German refugee professors, the shortage of money made this seem almost impossible. But Hermann Fischer was hired in 1936, and Leopold Infeld in 1938.
The war brought new problems. First, the board of governors voted against admitting two Canadian students of Japanese ancestry into the chemistry department. A few months later it was unwilling to admit a group of German Jewish internees who some said were "enemy aliens". But Cody "pressed steadily for the admission of Jewish internees and Japanese Canadians." His efforts were successful in 1943, thanks to the co-operation of the heads of the colleges.
These differences revealed a divided board. Cody had earned the hostility of the premier, George Drew, and George McCullough, publisher of the Globe and Mail. They were active in shortening his career as chancellor. (Perhaps they feared he would live to be 100 in the office, like his predecessor, Sir William Mulock.)
Masters tells us that Cody's favourite text in moments of crisis was from Isaiah 54:2: "Enlarge the space of thy tent.Lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes." Clearly they inspired him to soldier on, to accept numerous invitations to preach and travel across Canada, and to welcome and entertain distinguished visitors to Toronto. He was a man who relished the active life, and served his church and his university with energy and distinction.