Scott M. Campbell, "The Premise of Computer Science: Establishing Modern Computing at the University of Toronto (1945-1964)"

Doctorate of Philosophy, 2006
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
University of Toronto


This dissertation explores the introduction and acceptance of electronic computers at the University of Toronto, from the first vague intentions of 1945 to the creation of the first Department of Computer Science in Canada that offered a doctoral degree in 1964.

The story begins shortly after World War II, when a group of professors with an interest in modern computing devices petitioned the university and several federal agencies for funding to build or buy an electronic computer. Though located in Toronto, it was hoped that all Canadian scientists could use the new machine for their computations. There were setbacks, including a failed attempt to design and construct a full-scale electronic computer, and successes, ironically involving older, premodern equipment. In 1952, the first electronic computer in Canada was installed at Toronto, though few knew how to use it. With assistance from programmers at Manchester University, the Toronto computing centre mastered the computer and made it available to the rest of the country.

In the second half of the 1950s, less expensive and more reliable commercial computers appeared on the market and other Canadian organizations began making plans to acquire one of their own. As the Toronto computing centre was self-financed through the sale of computer time and federal grants, the changing environment reduced the national significance of the centre and forced a reevaluation of values. Two interrelated plans were made to regain its fortune: to obtain the most powerful computer in Canada, and establish a new, autonomous academic department dedicated to computing research. Success was elusive until the early 1960s, and neither concluded in the expected manner.

It is not the aim of this project to provide a history of computer science, per se, as the discipline did not coalesce until after most of the events discussed herein. Instead, as the historical literature concerning computer science is still underdeveloped, this pre-history provides both a useful case study and a foundation for further research on the history of computing and computer science in Canada.

Table of Contents


1 Bringing Computing to the University of Toronto, 1945--1948
1.1 Touring the Northeast
1.2 Financing the First Steps
1.3 Creating a Computing Centre

2 Building the Computation Centre, 1948--1952
2.1 The Rise of the Department of Physics
2.2 The Mathematical Side of the Computation Centre
2.2.1 Desktop and Punch-card Success
2.2.2 Relay Computer
2.2.3 Analog Computing
2.3 The Electronic Side of the Computation Centre
2.3.1 Planning, Design, and Construction of UTEC
2.3.2 The Many Layers of UTEC
2.3.3 Was UTEC a Failure?

3 The Ferut Era, 1952--1955
3.1 New Directions
3.2 The Ferranti Mark I
3.3 Learning How to Program
3.3.1 Painful Lessons
3.3.2 The St. Lawrence Seaway Backwater Calculations
3.4 Automatic Programming and TRANSCODE
3.4.1 The Problems with Programming
3.4.2 Automating Programming in the 1950s
3.4.3 Speedcoding on the IBM 701
3.4.4 The Manchester Autocodes
3.5 The Future of Ferut and TRANSCODE

4 The Growth of Computing, 1955--1958
4.1 Defining an Academic Computing Centre
4.2 The Changing Profile of Computing In Canada
4.3 Replacing Ferut

5 New Computers and New Identities, 1958--1964
5.1 Redefining Academic Computing
5.2 Transforming the Computation Centre
5.3 A Department of Computer Science

6 Conclusion
6.1 The Perils of Early Entry
6.2 Why a Graduate Department?
6.3 The Promise of Computer Science

A. A Short Primer on Using UTEC [PDF]
A.1 Design and Operation of UTEC
A.2 Programming UTEC
A.3 B.H. Worsley's UTEC Code
A.3.1 Short Example
A.3.2 Extended Arithmetic Example
B TRANSCODE and the TPK Algorithm
C Glossary
C.1 Directory of Persons and Committees
C.2 Acronyms and Significant Computers
D Chronology of Events

Copyright 2006 Scott M. Campbell