History of the Department

When the University of Saskatchewan first began, one of the five original Professors was Dr. George H. Ling, who was for many years Professor of Mathematics and also Dean of Arts and Science. The Department of Mathematics was considered to be a "University Department" in the sense that it was responsible for teaching classes in mathematics to all students in the University who wished or required such instruction. Thus the Department of Mathematics has always been engaged both in teaching service classes for students whose main interests were in other disciplines and in teaching advanced classes in mathematics for students wishing to specialize in the subject. Even though the total student enrollment.in the University was very small at first, from the very beginning there were some students who pursued advanced studies in mathematics under Dr. Ling and his colleagues and obtained Honours degrees or even Master's degrees.

From the very earliest years, it was recognized that it was important for faculty members to be active in research in mathematics. From the time of Dr. Ling to the present, at least some members of the department have achieved significant degrees of success in their research work and have been recognized as leading scholars in their particular field of specialization. As the department and the University expanded, the variety of classes increased to meet the varying needs of students in Arts and Science, Engineering, Education, etc. as well as those specializing in mathematics.

The principle that the Department of Mathematics is responsible for teaching classes in mathematics to students in all Colleges of the University has never been challenged, although a number of specialized classes in such areas as statistics and applications of differential equations are taught by other departments. Although the department is called the Department of Mathematics, this is to be interpreted as including pure mathematics, applied mathematics and statistics.

As early as 1913 two students graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with an Honours degree in mathematics. The first such graduates received Honours in Mathematics and Chemistry and one of them later became a Professor at the University of Alberta. The first person who received an Honours degree in mathematics, rather than one in mathematics and a second subject, was W.H. McEwen in 1921. He later obtained a Ph.D. degree elsewhere and had a long and distinguished career at the University of Manitoba, becoming Head of the Mathematics Department there and later Dean of the College of Graduate Studies.

Over the years there was a steady stream of Honours graduates, averaging about 4 per year, the maximum being 10 in 1964. In the early years, the three main careers followed by Honours graduates were (in almost equal numbers): University teaching, High School teaching, and insurance. Later, fewer graduates entered the insurance field and instead they undertook a variety of other types of work in industry (e.g. oil companies) or government (e.g. meteorology, research laboratories), etc. but still the majority became teachers or professors. Approximately 50 Honours graduates in mathematics became faculty members at some university and many of these had distinguished careers, for example, Herman Ferns, a graduate of 1927 who was for many years Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan; Bruce Clarke, a graduate of 1947 who is presently Head of the Department of Mathematics at Western Michigan University; and Cecil Kaller, a graduate of 1956 who was Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Regina for some years, and later was President of Notre Dame University in Nelson, B.C. In addition to Dr. Ferns and Dr. Kaller, other Honours graduates who later joined the Mathematics faculty of this University were Alma Hiebert, Ruth Taylor, John Martin, Dennis O'Shaughnessy, Edward Tymchatyn, and Murray Marshall.

A large number of Honours graduates became High School teachers and many others obtained important positions with government and industry in a wide variety of fields. Their ranks include a vice-president of an insurance company, a vice-president of an oil company and several who founded their own successful companies. Of course, many graduates who did not follow the Honours program have also had successful careers.

The first student to receive a Master's degree in mathematics from the University of Saskatchewan was Alice Crossley who received the M.A. degree in 1923. For quite a few years after this, very few master's degrees were awarded and by the early 1950's only about 12 students had obtained this degree. The pace began to pick up about 1956 and almost 100 students in all have now obtained the M.A. or M.Sc. degree in mathematics. About 25 of these later obtained the Ph.D. degree, usually at another university. The first Ph.D. in Mathematics awarded by the University of Saskatchewan was obtained by Parannara Basavappa in 1963 and subsequently another 22 students have been granted a Ph.D. in mathematics. Many of these students now hold positions at universities.

Among all these students, special mention must be made of Herman Ferns.

Dr. Herman Ferns had a long and distinguished record at the University of Saskatchewan both as a student and as a member of the faculty. He received the Governor-General's Gold Medal as the most distinguished graduate in 1927. He received the Ph.D. degree from the University of Toronto in 1933. His first appointment to the faculty was as an instructor in 1928. He was promoted to Professor in 1941 and was Head of the Mathematics Department from 1946 until his retirement in 1962. He was Director of the Summer School from 1949 to 1959. He served as adviser to veterans of World War II and was active in the C.O.T.C. for many years. He played an important role in persuading leading artists to contribute their talents to the development of a program of summer art classes at Emma Lake, which in turn was a major factor in the establishment of a strong community of artists in Saskatchewan. He was President of the Faculty Club and was active in numerous community organizations such as the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. In the performance of these and many other duties, Dr. Ferns displayed intelligence, judgment, tact, friendliness and a fine sense of humor. As a result, he achieved a good measure of success in all his ventures.

Dr. Ferns enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as an outstanding teacher of mathematics. Many of his former students have said how much they profited from classes taught by Dr. Ferns. He was always pleased to encourage capable students who were interested in mathematics or its applications. His enthusiasm for mathematics and his interest in expanding the frontiers of knowledge are shown by the fact that he remained active in research after he retired and continued to publish new results until shortly before his death in December, 1976.

Dr. Ferns received an Honorary LL.D. Degree from the University of Saskatchewan at the spring convocation in 1976.

The University Board of Governors later approved the establishment of a fund in memory of the late Professor H.H. Ferns. The income from this fund is used to provide a scholarship for a student who has completed 2 years at the University and proposes to take an Honours program in mathematics or a joint Honours program in mathematics and a second subject.

Over the years many distinguished scholars have held faculty positions in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan. The first Professor of Mathematics was George H. Ling who served as Department Head from 1909 to 1938 and was Dean of Arts and Science from 1911 to 1938. I shall mention only a very few others in addition to Dr. Ling and Dr. Ferns. Dr. L.L. Dines was a member of the department from 1914 until 1934 when he resigned to become Head of the Mathematics Department at Carnegie Institute of Technology at Pittsburgh. He was a good teacher and published many research articles and contributed greatly to the development of the department. Other faculty members who later made distinguished contributions to mathematics include Dr. R.L. Jeffrey, later Head of the Department of Mathematics at Queen's University, the organizer and Director from 1950 to 1965 of the Summer Research Institute of the Canadian Mathematical Society, and President of the CMS from 1957 to 1961; Dr. Ralph James, later Head of the Department of Mathematics at U.B.C. and President of the Canadian Mathematical Society from 1961 to 1963; and Dr. Max Wyman, later Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Alberta, President of the University of Alberta, and President of the C.M.S. from 1963 to 1965.

Many other distinguished scholars have served the Department of Mathematics well and their achievements have been recognized throughout Canada and abroad. This includes a number of present members of the department who have won acclaim for their teaching, research, and other scholarly work.

To conclude this incomplete sketch of the history of the Department of Mathematics, it is appropriate to emphasize the importance of the contribution to the Department and the University generally of Dr. George H. Ling. I quote from "Saskatchewan: The Making of a University" by A.S. Morton, revised and edited by Carlyle King, 1959, University of Toronto Press, pages 70 and 71

    1. of ... he was largely responsible for shaping the educational policies of the College [of Arts and Science]. Always he insisted on high standards and thorough work from his colleagues, and on industrious performance from the students of the College."
    2. II 'Dean Ling's greatest contribution to the University and to the country was the unconscious effect of his own strong character. It would be impossible to overestimate that effect on the generations of students who came to know him, and through them on the communities in which they subsequently lived."'

This latter quotation is attributed by Dr. King to W.P. Thompson, a former President of the University.

Dr. Richard Blum was a distinguished member of the Department of Mathematics from 1950 until his retirement in 1981. His research interests included differential geometry and one of his publications was entitled "On imbedding a Riemannian space in a conformally Euclidean space." [Riemannian spaces are named after the distinguished German mathematician Georg F. Bernhard Riemann, 1826-1866]. It was well known within the University that Richard grew up in Rumania. The above article was included in a hand-written report of the activities of members of'the Department of Mathematics and when it appeared in the President's Annual Report it had been modified to read "on imbedding a Rumanian space in a conformally Euclidean space."

On another occasion, a student sought medical assistance from the Student Health Center and was given a note to present to her professor which suggested in effect that she should drop geometry for the sake of her health.

As far back as 1916 a student mathematics society was formed, named the Shuttleworth Mathematical Society after a mathematics student who was killed.in the war. This society unfortunately has been inactive recently.

In 1940 and perhaps earlier, the Department of Mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan entered a team in the Putnam Mathematical Competition. This is the most prestigious mathematical competition at the undergraduate level in North America. The teams from the University of Saskatchewan have achieved impressive results some years, particularly 1973 (36th out of 295), 1974 (18th out of 304), and 1975 (28th out of 285).

The research and scholarly work of members of the Department of Mathematics span most of the major branches of mathematics, including analysis, functional analysis, differential equations, numerical analysis, applied mathematics, statistics, algebra, topology and geometry.