Below is an excerpt from author Orland French’s book, PIONEERING: A History of Loyalist College (1992). While some references are no longer current, the publication provides a rich report on Loyalist’s history, which helps to contextualize its milestones. To read more from Mr. French’s book, please click here.
The messages of politicians, poets and prognasticators have pleased and provoked Loyalist students and staff over the years, offering insights into the breakup of Canada, the breakdown of society, the decline of affluence and the increase of effluence.
Senator Eugene Forsey warned a Convocation class in 1977 that Canada should not decentralize any further.
“If we get any more decentralized we should get a new flag: 10 jackasses eating the leaves off a maple tree,” he said.
Ontario Premier William Davis told an audience at Loyalist in 1979 that Quebec would be “on its own” if it chose to separate. “We have a certain pride and commitment to Canada,” he said. “The idea of economic association after separation is not negotiable now, nor ever will be.”
Davis lamented the permissiveness of society in the late 1970s, adding there was a “great tendency to opt out of responsibility”. People expected institutions like Loyalist to instill values which they may have failed to set by example.
A year later, society was poised on the threshold of entering the selfish 80s. Roy Bonisteel, the host of the CBC show Man Alive, saw it coming and pleaded with students to turn the “me generation” into the “we generation”. He cautioned students to observe the self-centred nature of society.
“Take a look at the books at the local bookstore. They are full of books telling you how to get ahead by intimidating your neighbour, how to look after Number One, how to get the largest piece of candy, how to go out and get a black belt in nasty,” said Bonistell. “Whatever happened to words such as duty, loyalty, patriotism, discipline, stoicism?”
In the early 70s, the environmental movement had taken root but had not yet blossomed into full public consciousness. Writer and author Margaret Atwood came to a reading at Loyalist with a message: “Give up your bathroom. Bathrooms are evil. I’m in favour of outhouses. (Sewage) should go back to the land, not into Lake Ontario.”
The affluence of the 1970s inspired guest speakers to offer a golden future for college students. Ontario’s Minister of University Affairs, John White, told graduates in 1971, “You will reap and enhance the profits of our age and make Ontario a glorious place in which to live.”
As job competition increased later in the decade, speakers were not so positive about a golden future awaiting students. Minister of Colleges and Universities, James Auld, told 1975 graduates to prepare for a life of learning.
“The days are over when a higher education was universally accepted as a mark of superior abilities,” he said. “You have earned nothing yet except the opportunity to compete in a chosen field.”
Three years later, Minister of Health, Dennis Timbrell, left the disquieting message that if students couldn’t find a job in their chosen field, they’d have to learn how to do something else.
“Students are increasingly recognizing that they must obtain the skills society needs,” Timbrell said, “and for which there is a demand.”
The Association of Friends of Loyalist, an organization started by the first Board Chairman, the Rev. Henry Joseph Maloney, drew in a string of prominent speakers.
In 1982, The Right Honourable Edward Schreyer, Governor General of Canada, was featured as a guest speaker.
One of Loyalist’s most famous guests was former Prime Minister of Canada, The Right Honourable John Diefenbaker, who came in 1977.
One of the engineers of Diefenbaker’s political downfall, Dalton Cam, spoke at the College during a conference of Canadian writers in February 1980. By coincidence, earlier that week the national Progressive Conservative Party, of which Camp was a prominent member, had been ousted from power after a brief nine months in office. Pierre Trudeau had been returned as Prime Minister and Joe Clark had been rejected. Camps analyzed the defeat of the Clark government and commented, “It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that the Canadian government has been defeated by a Gallup poll.”
As a shrewd and astute political observer, Camp acknowledged that the Party’s faulty interpretation of the poll had led to its defeat.
Premier David Peterson, whose own political blaze of glory burned out abruptly, may also have had trouble reading polls before he was defeated in Ontario. But in 1990, shortly before Peterson embarked on his ill-fated election campaign, he visited Loyalist and took part in a broadcast exercise in the Radio program. Peterson read a newscast in Loyalist’s Radio studio and poked fun at a Radio teacher, Andy Sparling, his old friend from London, Ontario.
Stephen Lewis visited Loyalist twice: once as a leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party in 1973, and again in 1989 after his term as Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations.
Flora MacDonald, Conservative Federal Cabinet Minister from Kingston, visited Loyalist in 1988 to unveil the Loyalist Collection, a set of paintings by artist Gary Miller, that was purchased by the College in celebration of its 20th anniversary. The permanent collection hangs in Club 213.
Cartoonist Ben Wicks also made an appearance at a student function, and created a sketch that was published in The Pioneer.