Wilfrid Laurier University: A University 100 Years in the Making
Laurier’s roots were established in 1911, when the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Canada met in Toronto for a convention. One of the most important items on the agenda was the establishment of a theological seminary in partnership with the newly assembled Synod of Central Canada. The seminary was initially to be located in Toronto but at a joint meeting in March of 1911, the town of Waterloo won the bid by offering a gift of five acres of land to the Lutheran Synod of Canada. Waterloo had a large Lutheran population and the citizens were anxious to have such an establishment located in their small but developing town. On October 30, 1911, the people of Waterloo were thrilled to be invited to the opening of the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.
The Seminary grew in popularity, and as enrolment increased, the Seminary expanded. In 1915, a new building opened known as Old Main (later renamed Willison Hall after the Seminary’s first graduate), which contained accommodations for the students, a dining hall, classrooms and other facilities. In 1924, the Board announced that a Faculty of Arts would be established and Waterloo College was born, separate from the Seminary’s teachings.
The 1920s were an interesting decade in Wilfrid Laurier University’s history. A partnership between the University of Western Ontario and Waterloo College had formed, an economic crisis regarding the rising costs of tuition and enrolment numbers had ensued, and the College began admitting female students in undergraduate studies. Times were changing and so was Waterloo College.
Over the next thirty years, Waterloo College would flourish with larger enrolment numbers, a new Arts building and new additions to existing buildings.
To expand the science program, but to keep the costs down, the Board of Governors established two Associate Faculties in 1956 to offer courses in engineering and science, while affiliated with Waterloo College.
This arrangement lasted just more than two years, when, in early 1959, the Associate Faculties applied for a University charter. The charter was granted, and the University of Waterloo was established.
Within months, the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada applied for a revision of its charter, which changed the corporate title to Waterloo Lutheran University, and gave degree-granting rights to its two education units, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary and Waterloo University College. After 35 years of being affiliated with the University of Western Ontario, Waterloo College terminated the partnership on June 30, 1960. The very next day, Waterloo Lutheran University began its first year of operation as a degree-granting institution.
With a new name came a new campus. During the sixties and seventies, 17 new buildings were erected. The first was Clara Conrad Hall, a residence for women. Next was the Dining Hall; student union building; theatre auditorium; West Hall, a men’s residence and the first two floors of the Library. The final project under the Waterloo Lutheran University name was the building of the athletic complex.
In 1973, Waterloo Lutheran University officially became a provincially supported university and was renamed Wilfrid Laurier University. The new name reflected a strong political leader from Canada’s past, and also maintained the WLU acronym.
For the next 37 years, Wilfrid Laurier University took giant leaps forward in further developing the University’s identity and reputation. In 1976, Wilfrid Laurier University introduced co-operative education, which allowed students to merge their academic pursuits with supervised work experience. Laurier’s Co-op program was the first of its kind in undergraduate business programs across Canada.
The first exchange program between Laurier and universities in Ireland and France also marked another first for Laurier.
As Laurier embarked on international endeavors and continued to grow as a popular small-sized university, the University began considering expansion beyond its land-locked city block in Waterloo. In 1999, Laurier opened a Brantford campus with only 39 students and 2 faculty members. Seven years after that, Laurier expanded to downtown Kitchener, where the Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work is housed. In 2007, Laurier opened an office in China, based at Chongqing University, to promote academic collaboration, research partnerships and faculty and student exchanges. The University’s most recent development was the opening of the Toronto Office in 2009. Currently, Laurier is studying the feasibility of opening another campus in the Town of Milton, on the west side of the Greater Toronto Area.
Today, Laurier is one of Canada’s top medium-sized universities. It is home to more than 15,000 students, who come from cities across Canada and around the world. It is a place to conduct research and teach to 516 full-time faculty and hundreds of part-time faculty. It is a fond memory to more than 70,000 alumni located in 88 countries. With campuses in Waterloo and Brantford, specialized program offerings in Kitchener and Toronto, and offices in Toronto and China, Laurier continues to inspire lives of leadership and purpose.