One Manitowaning Road

Laurentian bid for Barrie campus should get nod

What a surprise to learn late last week that Sudbury’s Laurentian University’s bid to expand its fledgling Barrie campus had been rejected by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Meanwhile, the same announcement cheerfully contained the news that Toronto’s York University gets to build a new campus in nearby Markham, just up the road from the main York plant.

For Laurentian, this makes no sense. The school has been offering courses in Barrie for many years. In fact, in a limited number of programs students have been able to earn their full degree in Barrie for some time now.

Using Georgian College facilities, Laurentian has been testing the waters in Barrie for several years, eventually determining that Ontario’s fastest-growing community was the right place to locate a full-blown university campus.

The provincial government felt otherwise, going so far as to rule out Barrie for future proposals as well. The focus, the minister said, will instead be on York, Halton and Peel regions when new campus proposals will once again be called for a year from now.

Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University has been successful in this small-market university expansions game with a new campus well underway in Orillia, the other city on the shores of Lake Simcoe.

While the government did not mention it, the Lakehead campus in Orillia may well have been a factor in denying Laurentian’s significant expansion plans in Barrie.

But Barrie really wants a university of its own and city council is prepared to pony up $14 million toward the approximately $60 million cost of developing a new campus.

But it’s the $45 million provincial share of the project that isn’t going to be forthcoming.

It’s an odd decision for the government to make, considering a Barrie university campus could easily serve not only that community but the Collingwood-Midland area as well as the upper reaches of York County.

While Markham, which did get the nod, is also a bustling place it is already quite close to York University’s main campus as well as to the new University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa (not to mention the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus or Ryerson University and the University of Toronto’s main campus, each located in the heart of the city and easily accessed by public transit from Markham).

Laurentian University has proven itself to be innovative: the main push for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine came from Laurentian and Sudbury and, more recently, the Northern School of Architecture was pushed, successfully, into actuality by Laurentian University (with support from the Northern Ontario architectural and construction community and the city itself).

Barrie has been orphaned by this decision: it becomes the only Ontario community of its size to not have a significant degree-granting institution.

In fact several communities, much smaller, have had in the past few decades been granted their own standalone universities. These would include Nipissing University in North Bay and Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie.

A Laurentian University campus in Barrie would doubtless eventually become its own separate degree-granting institutions just as Nipissing and Algoma Universities were previously colleges/campuses of Laurentian University.

It’s an odd decision and is doubtless one that will be reviewed, no matter what the government say now.

But more than anything else, it’s a slap in the face to Laurentian, not much more than a half century old itself, whose presence and initiative have had an enormous impact on Sudbury’s transformation from a primarily mining centre to a sophisticated, cosmopolitan community with regionally significant centres of health, education, mining research and, now, medical research.

In the scheme of things, Laurentian’s impact on Sudbury and its constant growth (witness the provincially significant new Living with Lakes research centre on Lake Ramsey) has been proportionately far greater than Trent University’s impact on Peterborough or Brock University’s impact on St Catharines—and these two are also relatively new institutions only slightly younger than Laurentian University.

Laurentian’s experiences, had they been allowed to expand to Barrie, would doubtless prove equally enlightening to this community that many Torontonians still see as “The North” as far as they are concerned.

A spokesperson for Laurentian University has stated that the school and their Barrie council supporters will be meeting soon with Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities officials, and that “we have no intention of taking no for an answer.”

Good for them.

If Barrie is indeed viewed as the south end of the North, then, like many other Northern initiatives, it is being passed over for York University’s Markham expansion, both solidly southern Ontario institutions.