Oliver was a scholar, theologian, teacher and administrator. One of the University of Saskatchewan’s first faculty members, he left in 1914 to join the affiliated Presbyterian Theological College as principal. By 1916 he had enlisted in the Canadian Army as chaplain.
In December 1917 the University of Vimy Ridge was established for the Canadian forces in France, with Oliver as president.
The University was intended to be “a school of efficiency and citizenship, a sort of combination of an Agricultural High School and a Technical School.” Courses were offered in agriculture, business efficiency, elementary practical science and citizenship. Classes were scheduled so that battalions could attend during their rest periods.
Operations were suspended in April 1918 because of the massive German offensive. The war was over by November and Oliver returned to Canada.
U of S president Walter Murray wrote to Oliver: “The centre of interest is now shifted from the armies in the field to the army at home. Demobilization is giving rise to a number of very difficult problems, and the attitude of the returned soldier is incalculable and important.”