100th anniversary of Wilfrid Laurier University

Provincial plaque unveiling to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wilfrid Laurier University

Thomas H.B. Symons, C.C., O.Ont, FRSC, LL.D., D.Litt., D.U., D.Cn.L., FRGS, KSS – Chairman, Ontario Heritage Trust

It is a pleasure to be here today to bring greetings and congratulations to Wilfrid Laurier University on the occasion of its first centennial on behalf of the Ontario Heritage Trust and also on behalf of your sister institution, Trent University, which will shortly celebrate its 50th anniversary. It is also a pleasure to be surrounded by people who believe in the value of celebrating Ontario’s great educational heritage.

As the province’s lead heritage agency, the Ontario Heritage Trust is responsible for identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting cultural and natural heritage across the province. This important work is accomplished through the conservation of cultural and natural heritage properties held in trust for the people of Ontario and through the Trust’s many activities and programs, including: the Provincial Plaque Program; Doors Open Ontario; Trails Open Ontario; and volunteer recognition programs, all of which engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the recognition and conservation of our province’s rich and diverse heritage.

Of course, the reason for our being here today is to commemorate and interpret Ontario’s past through the Provincial Plaque Program by making an important addition to it. Over the past half century, the Trust has erected some 1,200 provincial plaques in communities all over Ontario, commemorating provincially significant institutions, people, places and events.

Here in the Region of Waterloo, there are 20 of these familiar blue and gold provincial plaques. They tell the stories, for example, of Tassie’s School, The West Montrose Covered Bridge, The Evangelican United Brethren, and Bishop Benjamin Eby, to name just a few.

The plaque we are unveiling today commemorates Wilfrid Laurier University and the important contribution it has made, and is making, to the history of education – both within the region and, more broadly, to the province and to Canada. It is a particular pleasure to be here as this institution celebrates a special and impressive milestone.

For a century now, Wilfrid Laurier University – and its forerunners – has taken a leading role in providing higher education for the men and women of our province, and for many from farther afield.

This institution has equipped thousands of graduates with the tools and the knowledge they need to enter, and to excel in, workplaces and diverse activities throughout the province and beyond. What began as a training place for Lutheran clergy has since expanded greatly, and today Wilfrid Laurier University prepares students to engage in a multitude of occupations. Even more importantly, the university has enriched the lives of its students by broadening their horizons, introducing them to new ideas, perspectives and people, providing an environment that encourages meaningful thought and reflection, and fostering intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and creativity.

As the chair has mentioned, I had the good fortune to receive an honorary degree from WLU, which then stood for Waterloo Lutheran University, some 40 years ago and I have had the further good fortune to be invited to serve as a guest lecturer or Visiting Professor at the university on several occasions. Consequently, I have followed the university’s development with great personal interest for nearly half its 100 years – a rather alarming thought!

But it enables me to say that it must strike any observer that this university has made an enormous and inspired contribution to the spiritual, cultural and educational life of this community, this province and this country. It is justly renowned for its emphasis on good teaching and the concern for its students. While providing an invaluable liberal education across the board, it has developed impressive strengths in appropriate fields. While serving its undergraduates thoughtfully, it has achieved excellence in various fields of research and post-graduate study. It has avoided the lure of undigested overgrowth and the disease of academic elephantiasis. It has been faithful to the dictum of Cardinal Newman, that a university should be an alma mater, knowing its children one by one.

I have recently read André Pratt’s splendid biography of our great Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Mr. President, I think that sage and gracious statesman would take profound pleasure in the style and values of this university that bears his name. Wilfrid Laurier University is indeed what Benjamin Disraeli said a university should be – a place of light, of liberty and of learning.

Thank you.