Last month marked a significant milestone in the history of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus, as the community celebrated its twentieth anniversary with Laurier’s Homecoming on Sept. 21.
The satellite campus, which was founded in 1999, kicked off its birthday with a series of events and weekend fun, including a “Party Like It’s 1999” Brantford BBQ at Harmony Square, a showcase varsity game with the Laurier Golden Hawk men’s basketball team, post-game party at Hudson Public House Kitchen + Bar (formerly Devlin’s Advocate)and finishing off with a dinner celebrating the criminology program’s fifteenth anniversary.
“Laurier’s Brantford campus exists thanks to the efforts of the Grand Valley Educational Society and support from the City of Brantford, which provided us with our first home, the Carnegie Building,” said Deborah MacLatchy, Laurier’s president and vice-chancellor, in an official statement.
“Community partnership was essential to our establishment here, and to this day that spirit of collaboration remains a constant at the Brantford campus. It’s only right that we celebrate our success with our friends, partners and neighbours who have been with us on this exciting journey.”
Combining the two events into one allows for the campus to reflect back on 20 years of progress, allowing students, faculty and alumni to mix, mingle and see the extent of the growth that Brantford has experienced in that time.
“We started in 1999 [with] 39 students in one building, and now we have 17 buildings, over 3000 students and over 20 programs — so we’ve gone quite a long way in a short amount of time,” said Derek Szilaygi, alumni relations officer for the Brantford campus.
“One of the deans was saying that she found some document from 1999 where the goal was, within 20 years, to reach 1000 students — so we’re over 3000 right now.”
I think [Homecoming] is definitely a celebration of campus, and a celebration of community. Especially in Brantford, the community is very tied to the campus: our buildings are very interspersed throughout downtown … it’s definitely a chance for students to see how far the campus has gone, and to appreciate where we are now, but mostly it’s a fun celebration that brings people together, and you get to hang out with your friends and have fun.
– Derek Szilaygi, alumni relations officer for the Brantford campus
In surpassing the expectations of growth by a factor of three, this year’s Homecoming celebration marks a turning point for the university, as well as the potential that the future holds.
With the purchase of the Market Square property in 2014, and conversion into what is now called One Market, the space will allow the population of enrolled students in Brantford to grow to over 5000 — with a further goal of reaching 8000.
The events themselves were an outstanding success, with two fully-sold out events: the post-game celebration — with over 120 present — at Devlin’s Advocate, and the criminology anniversary dinner.
“Our numbers are through the roof … it’s well beyond what it was in the last few years … Harmony Square had over 250 people pre-registered, and a whole bunch of people just showed up on the day of, so the numbers were really good,” Szilaygi said.
“I’ve heard really good reception from students, from community and from senior leadership as well. The student-athletes that came down for basketball were pumped, because they got to be the [main] show.”
“[It really felt] like Homecoming, rather than just a one-off dinner: it was just a whole day of programming, and purple and gold everywhere,” he said.
For a close-knit community and campus, like Brantford, where it is not uncommon that faculty and students are familiar and know each other by name, as well as the interwoven nature of Brantford clubs and associations, celebrations such as Homecoming offer a chance to really centralize the campus and demonstrate the importance of these connections.
“I think [Homecoming] is definitely a celebration of campus, and a celebration of community. Especially in Brantford, the community is very tied to the campus: our buildings are very interspersed throughout downtown … it’s definitely a chance for students to see how far the campus has gone, and to appreciate where we are now, but mostly it’s a fun celebration that brings people together, and you get to hang out with your friends and have fun,” Szilaygi said.
With the coming together of alumni, faculty and current students, brings the chance for the sharing of stories, like the dramatic changes that the campus has seen in just 20 years.
“You hear stories — alumni love telling stories with the students — like ‘oh we worked out in Wilkes House when it was a single gym and now you have the YMCA,’ or … the bookstore would bring down a cart of textbooks and there would be a day, you’d show up between 8:00 [a.m.] and 5:00 [p.m.] and there would be a wardrobe-type thing that would open up, and there would be books on it … and now there’s a bookstore,” Szilaygi said.
Making it to 20 years is really a testament to the staff, and former students, alumni and current students, on how much they worked hard to make this, the “Brantford experiment,” as they called it in the early days, work.
And it hasn’t just worked — it’s thrived.
– Derek Szilaygi, alumni relations officer for the Brantford campus
Homecoming also gives a chance to reflect on the importance of Brantford’s generosity for its donation of the Carnegie Building to the university: the campus’ first official space.
“I think the story is we paid a can of coke and a dollar for the Carnegie back in 1999 … some of the long-time employees refer to the campus as ‘the little campus that could’, which I don’t know how I feel about that, because we are pretty large now, but there was that mentality in the early days that everyone works together to move ahead,” Szilaygi said.
But, at the end of it all, this celebration — and Homecoming as a whole — is an opportunity for the university to thank the students, and alumni, as well.
“It’s definitely a chance for staff to come back, founders to come back [and] alumni that took a chance on this school when they could have [gone] to any school, and they took a chance on this campus, with one building, to get their start,” Szilaygi said.
When Szilaygi moved to Brantford, a mentor of his — now a dean at another school — told him this: “for a university to be great, you need to have a great city; and for a city to be great, you need to have a great university.”
“So making it to 20 years is really a testament to the staff, and former students, alumni and current students, on how much they worked hard to make this, the “Brantford experiment,” as they called it in the early days, work,” he said.
“And it hasn’t just worked — it’s thrived.”
*Photography courtesy of Ethan Mills, Director of Photography, The Carnegie*