Laurier Brantford: then and now

It is no secret to anyone who has been at Laurier Brantford for the past few years that this campus is not what it used to be.

One might go so far as to say that the city isn’t quite what it used to be either. Ever since the addition of a university to Brantford twelve years ago, change has been a word on the tips of everyone’s tongue; from long time residents to the new professors on campus this year.

Laurier Brantford has humble roots, stemming from an idea from the Brant Community Futures Development Corporation that Brantford would benefit from a post-secondary institution. It was this group that proposed the idea to the university, and the concept for Laurier Brantford was born.

It’s hard to imagine only one building on campus, especially today with the RCE and 97 Dalhousie Street buildings having just opened this year. But in 1999, when Laurier Brantford opened its doors, that’s all there was. Carnegie Building stood alone with a handful of students, staff and faculty.

Many of the staff and faculty that students see walking around today couldn’t tell you what it was like here in the early days of Laurier Brantford.

According to Dave Prang, Director of Student Services for Laurier Brantford, Laurier’s little campus project has been able to sustain a growth rate of approximately ten percent over the past few years, a rate that is quite high for a satellite campus.

Laurier Brantford has surpassed other long-standing universities in terms of student enrollment, and is quickly on its way to being recognized as a medium-sized university rather than a small one.

But what about its roots? How did it start and what was it like around here twelve years ago?

Robert Feagan, a Contemporary Studies professor, would tell you that the city itself has changed significantly. Where Harmony Square now stands was once a deserted parking lot.

Most of the student population could tell you that the open space on the south side of Colborne looked drastically different than it does now, even just this time two years ago. The Research & Academic Centre buildings were nothing but a hole in the ground just over a year ago.

“When I showed up, most of the downtown was very decrepit. A number of buildings were boarded up. And there seemed to be, in those first couple of years, mysterious fires,” said Feagan.

The Carnegie Building sits on one of the hard to define “corners” of campus now, but when the university first opened, everything ran out of that building. Classes were taught there, student services, or the few they had at the time, operated from the same building. Doctor Kathryn Carter, the associate Dean, recalls her early days at Laurier Brantford.

Carter started at Brantford in 2000 as the only English professor, meaning she taught all the English courses on campus.

With just seventy students to keep track of, Carter says she really got to know where her students were at in terms of their writing and could individualize the course to fit their needs.

“We put out our own recycling,” she laughs, “it was very, very low key at the time.”

She remembers very specifically the events of 9/11. Because there was only one building, there was a single big screen TV in the basement. As the events unfolded, she took her class down to watch what happened. A unique experience that, even now on a campus that is still considered small, couldn’t happen today.

But being able to have that kind of intimate classroom environment wasn’t the only thing that set Laurier Brantford apart at the time. There was no bookstore, and the campus relied heavily on Waterloo to provide its students with the things they needed, like textbooks.

“The bookstore would bring down the books the 70 students needed and they would put them on a table in CB207,” Carter explains. “And it was like, ‘yay! The bookstore is here!’”

It’s not just student life and the student experience that has changed though. Working at Laurier Brantford has changed as well. Professor Kris Gerhardt explains that when the campus was still growing, the faculty and staff were all mixed together. There was no differentiation between program or faculty.

“When I moved into Odeon and I got my own office there was a journalist next to me, there was a philosopher upstairs and there was a religion and culture teacher. None of us had the same background so we would have these conversations where we would talk about what we were doing because we didn’t have anyone else to talk to.”

Gerhardt had the opportunity to learn new angles just by talking to the people around him, the people he worked with. He said it helped in the classroom too, as he had the ability to tell students what he thought of a subject from his point of view, but would also be able to talk about it from another angle he had discussed with a colleague just the day before.

Things have changed since then. Looking at Brantford now, there is still a trace of the city it used to be, but a healthier, livelier version. And there is a lot more to come in the next few years. Prang explained that one of the top goals of the university is to make it to ‘medium sized’ status, which usually means having somewhere around 4000-5000 students.

The current student population sits in the 2700 range, and the new classrooms and facilities that are already built as well as those that are in the planning stages, that goal is not too far out of reach.

Student services is another big concern for the university. There have been plans for years now to bring a cafeteria to the Brantford campus, and it’s still in the plans. The first step towards that is the food kiosk going into RCE. However, other services are also important.

Prang hopes that in the near future Health Services will be able to have a doctor in the office five days a week, and have increased accessibility during the summer as well.

But for now, it’s a waiting game for students. Laurier Brantford will continue to grow and change over the coming years, and it’s hard to tell what that change will do for the city and for the school itself. There seems to be many new and exciting things planned for the next few years to help Laurier reach its goals.

“It’s like riding a tiger,” says Carter. “You’re grabbed onto this thing, and you’re hoping it goes in all the right directions, but you really don’t know.”

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