Fifty years of Ontario community colleges

Hiba Traboulsi

Hiba Traboulsi
News Reporter

Humber College kicked off a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary yesterday with Steve Paikin, an award-winning journalist, documentary producer and author.

Since 2006, Paikin has been the host and the senior editor for TVO’s current affairs program, The Agenda. He came to Lakeshore campus to speak about his latest book, Bill Davis: National Builder, and Not So Bland After All.As Ontario education minister, Davis headed the creation of the province’s network of community colleges in 1967. Humber President and CEO, Chris Whitaker, took the stage to welcome Paikin and reflect on the 50th anniversary.

“It is a great year of celebration. It’s a time to reflect on all the wonderful things that we’ve done over the years, the contributions we’ve made to students, to learning, to our communities and the incredible contributions and success stories of our many grads,” Whitaker said.

“It’s fitting that we’re here on the Lakeshore campus as we have our 50th anniversary event because Humber’s very first location was on Lakeshore Boulevard, south of Etobicoke.”

Approximately 215,000 students have graduated from Humber since the school first opened its doors in 1967, including Paikin, who received an honorary degree from Humber in 2011.

In introducing his latest book, Paikin began by sharing the highlights of Davis’ career as well as his profound influence on the development of the educational system.

“There was no real indication at the beginning of this man’s life that great glory and destiny were awaiting him but in fact, that’s what happened,” he said, alluding to Davis’s wife’s death, who he had four children with, which deeply discouraged him from continuing his life in politics.

“He ended up marrying Kathleen MacKay, who eventually saved his life,” Paikin said.

Davis was only 29-years-old when he ran for office in 1959. He won his first election by a narrow 44 votes out of 4,000 delegates. In 1962, Davis was appointed to Premier John Robart’s cabinet as the Minster of Education.

“Bill Davis went all over Ontario and opened three schools every day during the 60s. Ten per cent of people went on to university back then, and for everybody else, it was up to grade 13 and then getting a job,” said Paiken

“OISE was created under Bill David’s watch, as well as the (Ontario) Science Centre for kids in Toronto and TVO,” Paikin added.

Davis was also committed to public transportation, blocking the controversial Spadina expressway which remains stopped as Allen Road at Eglinton Avenue; Paiken calls him the “green Tory.”

“When Bill Davis went back to the polls in 1975 to renew his mandate (as premier), he was lucky to come back as a minority governor,” Paikin said, as 10 days before his election.

Davis ran six years of minority parliament, from 1976 to 1981.

“He ran such good governments that by 1981 when he went back to the polls, he got the majority back, which is four wins in a row. No one has won four in a row since the days of World War I.” Much of Davis’ significance came in effect in his last term.

“In his last term, we got the Skydome,” Paikin said.

“Davis had the foresight that he did not want Toronto to turn out to be like so many big American cities where everything went to the suburbs and therefore, he insisted that the dome goes downtown,” where it has been in place since 1989 (now known as Roger’s Centre).

“From April to September, 30,000 to 50,000 people might come down there, 81 times a year for baseball games,” Paikin noted.

To signify the “national builder” aspect of the book title, Paikin shared the story of Davis’ trip to Victoria, BC in 1971, where he tried to renew Canada’s constitution. The deal fell apart, however and it took 10 more years before someone else took charge of the situation, namely Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Towards the end of his last term in 1984, Davis agreed on offering full public funding to Ontario’s Catholic high schools after he initially rejected their proposal in 1971.

Paikin ended his talk with an update about Davis’ current status.

“He’s [Davis] 87, a little frail, and he still lives in the house he grew up in, in Brampton,” Paikin said.

In an interview with Humber Et Cetera, Paikin explained his inspiration behind writing his latest book.

“Bill Davis was premier of Ontario from the time I was 10 until the time I was 24, and he was a very significant political presence in the life of the province during my formative years. My most formative years growing up in Ontario were his most formative years in public life,” Paikin said.

“So when his political career finally came to an end 32 years ago, I started to think at the back of my head then that I’d love to write a book about this guy someday, and it only took 32 years to convince him, but eventually we got there.”

Brien Gray, chair of Humber Board of Governors, thanked Paikin for bringing in history to the forefront. Gray, along with Whitaker, awarded Paikin with a picture of a young Bill Davis from the Humber archives, accompanied with a letter that Davis wrote to Humber in February, 1967.

“You (Paikin) put a human face on our politicians and their motivations, their opportunities, challenges, their highs and lows, their courage, sacrifice, strength and failures,” Gray said.

Gray also announced that as a tribute, Humber will be conferring an honorary degree on Bill Davis this spring.

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