Völsunga Saga - G. D. Steel

G. D. Steel


G. D. Steel (1882-1978)

George Douglas Steel was born in York, PEI, on 14 January 1882, to Methodist Minister George Steel and his wife, (Jemima/Jane) Anne Snaith. He is better known, locally, by Dr. G. Douglas Steel the past Principal of Prince of Wales College, from 1936-1949.

The news of G. Douglas' birth made the paper. The 8 April 1882 edition of the Moncton newspaper, The Times, rather unceremoniously noted:

Born - 14th Jan., at the Parsonage, Little York, P.E.I., wife of Rev. George STEEL, a son.

G. Douglas had three younger brothers: Percy Johnson, James Vernon and William Arthur.

Sometime between younger brother William's birth in 1889 and the 1891 Census, G. Douglas' mother died. His father, Reverend George Steel then remarried on 8 September 1892 in Boston to PEI native, Isabelle Wright.

Rev. George and Isabelle had two daughters, Francis Maud, born on 1 November 1893, and Annie Kathleen, born on 19 May 1896. Unfortunately, Kathleen died on 19 November 1897 of diphtheritic croup. She was 18 months old, G. Douglas would have been 15 at the time of the tragedy.

G. Douglas left his family to attend Mount Allison University. He graduated with a B.A. in 1903. The following year, he received his license to teach in New Brunswick, followed by his first teaching post at Pollett River. He was promoted to Principal of Richibucto Grammar School for the years 1905-07.

After a few years of teaching, G. Douglas opted to further his education. He attended Harvard University between the years 1907-09 and graduated with an M.A.

UPEI's Provenance copy of the Volsunga Saga, edited by H. Halliday Sparling, includes the signature of G.D. Steel. Below his name is written 308 Harvard St., Cambridge. This home was just down the street from Harvard University, and G. Douglas would have lived there during his years at the Ivy League school. It is not dated, as most of his signed books are, but the narrowed years are 1907-09, the years he attended Harvard.

Upon graduation, in 1909, G. Douglas joined the staff at Prince of Wales College, in Charlottetown, PEI. In 1914, he became the Vice-President of the School and continued to teach English.

On 28 June 1916, G. Douglas married Mary Bethia Hayes in Saint John, NB. They were married by G. Douglas' father, Rev. George Steel.

G. Douglas and Mary settled in Charlottetown on Euston Street. On 2 September 1917, they had a son, Robert George Douglas Steel.

In 1933, G. Douglas received an honourary LL.D. from Mount Allison University. St. Dunstan's University also conferred an honorary degree in 1967.

He was a well-respected professor. In the December 1936 edition of the College Times he was unofficially voted “Most Interesting" professor by canvassed students.

G. Douglas continued as Vice Principal of PWC for 23 years, from 1914-1937. He rose to the position of Principal upon the death of Samuel Napier Robertson, who held the position for 36 years. S.N. Robertson was also the namesake of the UPEI Robertson Library.

G. Douglas retired in 1949, however, he kept busy in his retirement. He was President of the Prince Edward Island Music Festival Association from 1951-55. He was a member of the Board of Governors of the CBC from 1946-1957. He was also an involved member of the Trinity United Church in Charlottetown.

His legacy, however, will always focus on his talent in academia and teaching. His retirement announcement in the College Times, dated 24 November 1949, says:

His contribution to the interests of higher education in this Province has been outstanding. The alumni and students of Prince of Wales will always remember him with affection and esteem.

Dr. G. Douglas Steel died in Sackville, New Brunswick, on December 1978. His funeral was held in the Mount Allison University Chapel, where he had been one of the oldest alumni up until his death.

He was survived by his wife, Mary (Mae), his son Dr. Robert G.D. Steel, a mathematics professor in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a granddaughter, Marcia Steel, a violinist living in New York City. His only grandson, Jonathan Chester Steel, had died an accidental death while he was studying at the University of Toronto, only a few years earlier.

It is fitting that this highly educated, interesting professor, who supported the musical arts in Prince Edward Island, would be honoured with a building in his name, during his lifetime. The Steel Building at the University of Prince Edward Island, so named in 1975, is the home of the music department.

Other G.D. Steel books in the UPEI Provenance Collection:

Day, Frank Parker. A Good Citizen. Sackville: Mount Allison University, 1947. [G.D. Steel signature with date November, 1948].

Franklin, Benjamin. Poor Richard's Almanac. New York & Boston: H.M. Caldwell Co., 1900. [G.D. Steel signature].

Kebbel, T.E. Life of George Crabbe. London: Walter Scott, 1888. [G.D. Steel signature and date, Sept. 27, 1910].

Lewin, Walter. Prose Writings of Swift. London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd, no date. [G.D. Steel signature and date, May 9, 1908].

Symonds, John Addington. English Men of Letters: Shelley. London: MacMillan and Co., 1929. [G.D. Steel signature and date, July 1930].


1891 Census of Canada. Census Place: Sydney Ward, Saint John City, New Brunswick; Roll: T-6303; Family No: 385.

1901 Census of Canada. Census Place: Saint John (City/Cité) Lansdowne (Ward/Quartier), Saint John (city/cité), New Brunswick; Page: 31; Family No: 308.

College Times, Prince of Wales College, December 1936, p. 20.

College Times, Prince of Wales College, 24 November 1949, p. 1-2.

“Island Educator Dies in Sackville," Charlottetown Guardian, 27 December 1978 (clipping).

Marriage. Registration Division of Saint John City and County. Date, 28 June 1916. Reference B4/1916; Microfilm F15968.

New Brunswick Provincial Returns of Death. Name, Kathleen Steele. Date, 19 November 1897. Reference C4/1897; Microfilm F17621.

“Retirement", College Times, 24 November 1949, p.1, column 4, p.2, column 4.

The Times, Moncton, 8 April 1882. Accessed from Daniel F. Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics: Volume 58, Number 2887.

“University Chapel Scene of Funeral", Charlottetown Guardian, 3 January 1979 (clipping).

“University to Confer Three Honorary Degrees", The Red & White, March 1967, vol.7, no.9.


Photo courtesy of UPEI Archives: Prince of Wales College - Yearbook -The Welshman (1946-1947)

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