It was founded in 1663 as the Séminaire de Québec by Monseigneur François de Laval, the first bishop of New France. The Séminaire de Québec was granted a Royal Charter in 1852 by Queen Victoria, creating Laval University. In 1878, the University opened a second campus in Montreal in an attempt to offer higher education there; this Montreal branch became the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) in 1920. Apart from being Canada's first university, Laval University was also the very first institution in North America to offer higher education in French.
As of 2002, Laval University has over 350 programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and 36,000 students, 20% of whom are at the graduate level. The University also attracts more than 2,500 foreign students yearly, and has close to 1,000 out-of-province Canadian students.
Laval's campus is considered to be one of the most striking in Quebec. It covers 1.2 sq. km and has over 30 buildings, all linked by 10 km of underground walkways, which are frequently used particularly in the winter, when temperatures drop below freezing. 56% of the campus are wooded areas, grasslands, and sportsfields; the campus is home to a plethora of different flora and fauna, including some 67 species of deciduous and coniferous trees, 60 different species of birds, and 15 varying animal species.