The foundation of a different kind of campus

The Waterloo campus of Wilfrid Laurier University is celebrating its 100th anniversary while Laurier Brantford is in its eleventh year of providing higher education to students.
Laurier Brantford began in September 1999 as a liberal arts campus with only 39 students enrolled.

Laurier Brantford was centered around the Carnegie Building – an old library built between 1902 to 1904 located on 73 George St. in Brantford’s downtown core which was saved by the university from demolition.

Laurier, Brantford was a peculiar place – with the city carrying the reputation of being ‘the worst downtown in Canada’ and being a place where students were significantly outnumbered by residents of Brantford.

It was described as having classes that were “lively and informal” by Leo Groarke – words not often used to describe a university atmosphere.

“In my first year, LB was a very small school with few students. You knew pretty much everyone on campus: students, faculty and staff. Faculty and staff also went to extraordinary efforts to help build a very real sense of community at LB. Movie night, with films chosen by faculty was a particular favourite of mine,”
 says Dr. Morris.

Laurier, Brantford faced much criticism in its early years. According to an Expositor article by Michelle Ruby titled, “How campus helped revitalize core”, she states, “…The campus, with its liberal arts programming and questionable location, had great difficulty attracting students. In the beginning, it was diverting students to Brantford from Laurier’s main campus in Waterloo when they did not meet the admission requirements there.”

Ruby also writes that, “In fact, when Groarke arrived as dean in 2000, he was bluntly told by then Wilfrid Laurier University president Bob Rosehart to turn the floundering satellite campus around or it would be pulled out of the city.”

Laurier Brantford was difficult for many people to wrap their minds around – as it was based on a creative, brand new university model.

According to an article written by Edmund Prie – who teaches with the department of global studies at Laurier’s Waterloo campus, called, “Laurier Brantford and South Colborne: A match made for history”, he states, “Our original vision for a university campus in Brantford focused on a new [to Canada] model for university campus development – increasingly becoming known in Canada as the Brantford model for university development.”

Brantford had and still has a great inventory of historic properties. Our intent was to begin with one building, the old Carnegie Library, and expand to other historic buildings in the downtown… They would also bring new energy, life and economic activity to the historic heart of the city… Meanwhile, other businesses, offices and services would continue to coexist with the university; others would move nearby.”

Laurier, Brantford was result of a process that began in 1996 in which a Brantford committee discussed a business plan that included the establishment of a university in Brantford. They believed that a university would revitalize Brantford’s downtown core which, due to the loss of local factories and industries that provided the majority of the city’s jobs, was in need of a facelift.

It was also believed that a university in Brantford would give local high school students access to higher education, a necessity as Brantford had low levels of academic achievement.
In 1998, an official proposal was sent to Wilfrid Laurier University; clearly, the results are evident. Laurier established a campus in Brantford.

According to Prie in his article, he states, “Laurier Brantford has become everything we dreamed it could be and I predict it will continue to develop, grow and expand to the benefit of the students as well as the whole Brantford community.”

“Eventually, I even came to teach at Laurier Brantford (2006-2007). When I transferred to WLU’s Waterloo campus, it was Laurier Brantford’s downtown campus with its historic architecture and downtown atmosphere that I would especially miss.”

When asked to describe how Laurier Brantford is similar and different than it was in its early years,

“Even in the “old days,” things changed rapidly. Growth was exponential so LB was already a very different place by the time I graduated,” says Morris.

“At first, LB was little more than the Carnegie Building and students would typically come and go as their class schedules demanded. By my final year, students were living in residence in GRH and we had to move between classes in two different buildings; LB had become much more interwoven into the fabric of downtown Brantford.”

It is obvious things are different today. University infrastructure is abound across the downtown core, and the outer ring where students live and frequent is constantly growing, always changing the look of the city.

Some of the best things remain unchanged, though. There is still a strong sense of community. Perhaps this is because, unlike many other campuses, where the student residences are quite separate from the academic centre of the university, Laurier Brantford student residences are intermixed among and within other academic buildings. The existence of a core academic program may also be one of the reasons why the sense of community has persisted.

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