Wilfrid Laurier University is embarking on the Laurier Legacy Project, a multi-faceted public history initiative that will explore the times and legacy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
The university’s namesake and former Canadian prime minister was a political leader acknowledged as a nation-builder whose policy decisions related to immigration and relations with Indigenous peoples resulted in a complex legacy.
The Laurier Legacy Project will be a scholarly examination of Laurier’s life and times that aims to create a better understanding of his legacy, as well as the ways that the past continues to influence the present day, through public education.
“As an institution of higher learning we have a responsibility to research and reflect upon our namesake,” says President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy. “We need to better understand who Wilfrid Laurier was to fully realize the impact of our university’s affiliation with his name and legacy. The combination of scholarly studies and public education will best position us to appreciate the meaning of Laurier’s legacy for our institution and our country.”
The research and scholarship components of the Laurier Legacy Project will include two postdoctoral fellows and one visiting professor. One postdoctoral fellow will pursue research about Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his legacy, while the other will embark on archival institutional research about Wilfrid Laurier University and its antecedent institutions from 1911 to the present. The visiting professor will be an Indigenous scholar working on Indigeneity or decolonization in a historical context, or in the context of the historical legacies of current day issues.
Barrington Walker, associate vice-president: equity, diversity and inclusion
Public education is part of the mandate of the three scholars, whose work is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and will be undertaken in collaboration with the Office of the Associate Vice-President: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives. Another key component of the Laurier Legacy Project will be proactively designed processes that allow the entire university community to engage in learnings and further their understanding of Sir Wilfrid Laurier as a nation-builder, as well as a contributor to systems of racism and discrimination.
“The Laurier Legacy Project comes at a pivotal point in our nation’s history,” said Barrington Walker, associate vice-president: equity, diversity and inclusion and professor of history. “This is a time when many are asking difficult questions about our founding colonial institutions, including universities. The Laurier Legacy Project will take a critical and research-based look at the histories of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, his era and our institution. Our ultimate goal is to reflect upon our current-day values and our future.”
The Laurier Legacy Project research process and findings will also have implications for the many thousands of alumni who have graduated from Laurier.
“As a graduate of the university and proud alumnus, I appreciate the thoughtful and intentional approach of this initiative to better understand the legacy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier,” said Ryan Smith, president of the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association. “I look forward to working with the university to ensure our Alumni Association board of directors and broader alumni base may appropriately engage and stay informed on this important initiative as it moves forward.”
The research and public education components of the project will be ongoing over the next two years and it is anticipated that the Laurier Legacy Project will culminate in a final scholarly and public education workshop in 2023, the same year that marks the 50th anniversary of the institution’s renaming as Wilfrid Laurier University.