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Tom Symons

A Canadian Life

Edited by Ralph Heintzman

Publication Year: 2011

Tom Symons: A Canadian Life is a compelling portrait of one of Canada’s pre-eminent educational and cultural statesmen of the twentieth century. An outstanding public figure, Symons was a leader in many areas of Canadian life, including as the founding president of Trent University, as a pioneer in Canadian and Aboriginal studies, as an architect of national unity and French-language education in Ontario, as a champion of human rights, and as the chief policy advisor to the federal Progressive Conservative party in the 1960s and 1970s.

The volume’s contributors are as remarkable as its subject. They include Madam Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada; the Honourable Tom McMillan, former federal Minister of the Environment; the Honourable Charles Beer, former Ontario Cabinet Minister; Ivan Fellegi, former Chief Statistician of Canada; John Fraser, one of Canada’s most distinguished journalists; and Denis Smith, award-winning biographer of John Diefenbaker, among others.

Tom Symons: A Canadian Life is a study in leadership. It brings to light the unique human and personal qualities that allowed Symons to lead in such a wide range of areas and to exercise such deep and lasting influence on so many Canadian institutions -- contributions that continue to be meaningful and relevant for Canada today.

Published by: University of Ottawa Press

Table of Contents

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pp. vi-vii

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pp. 1-4

This book might be called a festschrift. But, if so, it is a rather unusual one. A festschrift, in academic terminology, is a collection of essays presented to a distinguished academic figure by a group of colleagues as a way of honouring his or her achievement and influence. Traditionally the chapters in a festschrift might have little or even nothing to do with the person being honoured. ...

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Chapter 1: Becoming Tom Symons

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pp. 5-33

Tom Symons is a man of roots. The roots have a surprising result, the opposite of what you might expect. But if you want to understand the man, you have first to understand the roots. Tom Symons’s roots go deep not just in Canadian history but, quite literally, in Canadian soil. Many of Tom Symons’s family were and...

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Chapter 2: Tom Symons and the Founding of Trent University

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pp. 35-54

On a balmy autumn day in September 2009, Tom Symons sat in the front row for the joint installation of Trent University’s eighth president and tenth chancellor. From his place of honour on the University Court, he could look past the platform party during the ceremony to the shaded windows of the Bata Library, outwards across the Otonabee River to the science buildings and colleges on the east bank, and upwards as flights of geese and gulls...

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Chapter 3: Classrooms, Conversations, and Communities: Tom Symons’s Perspectives on Learning

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pp. 55-72

The arrival of a Chinese researcher who visited my office to pursue his interests in Canadian environmental law and to share his expertise in corresponding Chinese arrangements, took me back to the early 1970s, when, along with Tom McMillan, Michael Jenkin, and a number of others—including the editor of this volume of essays—I worked for Tom Symons on the preparation of a report to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on Canadian Studies. A chapter of that document, ...

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Chapter 4: He Walked in Our Moccasins and Mukluks: Tom Symons and Native and Northern Studies and Policy

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pp. 73-88

In the fall of 1967, following a successful political campaign the previous spring to become the third president of the Champlain College Student Council at Trent University, I began my third year of undergraduate studies (and my second year at Trent) eager to immerse myself in campus politics. I was also mindful that, as a status Indian undergraduate, I had membership in a small, very small, group of university students. In 1964, my high school graduation year, there were fewer than ninety status Indian undergraduates...

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Chapter 5: Quiet Revolutionary: Tom Symons, National Unity, and Linguistic Rights

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pp. 89-115

From an early age, Tom Symons demonstrated a strong interest in public affairs and public policy. He had a fascination with the history of his own family, and a continuing and consuming interest in local history and heritage, and in the affairs of his province, his country, and the broader world around him. He was blessed to grow up in a family that provided him with a very strong supportive...

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Chapter 6: Robert L. Stanfield and Tom Symons: A Public Policy Partnership

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pp. 117-168

In September 1967, when Robert Stanfield became the national leader of the Progressive Conservative Party—at the most exciting leadership convention in Canadian political history— he had been premier of Nova Scotia for eleven years, the most successful politician in the province’s history. Stanfield achieved all this electoral success by doing exactly what he was about to do as...

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Chapter 7: To Know Ourselves: Tom Symons and Canadian Studies

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pp. 169-180

I was completing my PhD at the London School of Economics in 1967 when I first heard of Tom Symons. My mother-in-law, knowing that I would soon be looking for an academic position, and very much wanting her daughter back in Canada, sent me a clipping from Time Magazine about this new university being built on the banks of the Otonabee, styled along the lines of the English college...

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Chapter 8: “It’s All About Culture”: The Cultural Perspective of Tom Symons

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pp. 181-216

Michael Tait, a friend and colleague in my undergraduate years, remembers Tom Symons as a major figure in the life of Trinity College, the very Anglican institution on the University of Toronto campus. Though Tom was only a year ahead academically, it was from him that Michael received his introduction to the necessary information and expected undergraduate behaviour, ...

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Chapter 9: Transformative Leadership: Tom Symons and a New Vision of Human Rights

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pp. 217-223

When I was appointed as a Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1975, Tom Symons was already its Chair. Other Commissioners included Bromley Armstrong, Lita-Rose Betcherman, Valerie Kaserac, and Bruce McLeod. We were very lucky because the chemistry between us was exceptional. Looking back, it was the most consistently collegial, joyful, and collaborative position I

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Chapter 10: Tom Symons and the Commonwealth

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pp. 225-238

One spring day in 1985, I was pottering in my front garden in Woburn Sands, a large village in Buckinghamshire, England, when Anastasios Christodoulou dropped by. I had known Chris, as everyone called him, for many years. He had been the founding secretary of the Open University, probably Britain’s most successful and innovatory development in higher education since the Second World War. He was now Secretary General...

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Chapter 11: Peace and International Understanding through Education: Tom Symons and the United World Colleges

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pp. 239-265

Tom Symons’s role in the Association of Commonwealth Universities—including as honorary treasurer from 1974 to 1988—was paralleled and complemented by his growing involvement in another international movement: the United World Colleges (UWC). There was often a good deal of overlap between his roles in these two organizations. And because he was actively involved with both of them, he was often able to draw on the ideas, networks, ...

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Chapter 12: Tom Symons, Independent Schools, and the Canadian Educational Standards Institute

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pp. 267-272

Tom Symons has been a lifelong supporter of independent schools in Canada and has played a leading role in their continuing development and response to challenges. Over forty years ago, in 1965, in an address to the Annual Conference of the Canadian Headmasters Association, he paid tribute to the important contribution of independent schools in Canada and expressed the...

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Chapter 13: The Sum of All We Are: Tom Symons and Heritage

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pp. 273-301

In 1986 Thomas H. B. Symons was appointed chairman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada by the Hon. Tom McMillan, then federal minister of the environment. Symons’s background and experience made him eminently qualified for this appointment. Yet what made it predictable was the friendship between the minister and the chairman. The two men had worked closely together through much of the previous fifteen years and shared...

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Chapter 14: Tom Symons and the National Statistics Council

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pp. 303-311

The National Statistics Council (NSC) played a subtle but crucial role in the evolution of Statistics Canada as probably the best regarded national statistical agency in the world. And, as its founding chair, Tom Symons played a crucial role in the development of the council. Indeed, not only was Tom its founding chair, but he provided leadership to it for some twenty years. In order to appreciate his contribution, it is important to understand the subtle role of the...

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Chapter 15: Unexplored Frontiers: Tom Symons and the Arctic Landfall of an Elizabethan Adventurer

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pp. 313-335

If fortune is kind, one may have occasion, during the course of an education or career, to come under the tutelage of giants—or at close enough quarters to observe and learn from them. When, as a history undergraduate, I was exposed to the Symons report, To Know Ourselves, I hardly imagined that later in life I would work closely with its renowned author, over the course of more than a decade, on the Meta Incognita Project: something I look back on as one of the most...

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Chapter 16: Tom Symons and Massey College

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pp. 337-342

I caught sight of him from my handy vantage point in the Master’s Office walking slowly from the entranceway of House II , through the quadrangle, ostensibly heading toward the main entrance to the college’s Common Room. I believe it was in pre-walking-stick days still for the “Founding President and Vanier Professor Emeritus” of Trent University, possibly 1999 or 2000—maybe earlier, possibly...

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Chapter 17: Summer Islander: Tom Symons and Prince Edward Island

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pp. 343-357

Over time, the experience was polished into a story, shorter and longer versions, depending on the company and the occasion. Yet the story never seemed to lose its freshness nor the teller his own sense of discovery.1 It began in 1953 with a young student, “an Ontario lad,” out to discover his country in a way that would only become fashionable in the ensuing decade. He was hitchhiking, to Halifax, with all of twenty-eight dollars in his pocket, when a kindly...

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Chapter 18: Tom Symons and Peterborough

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pp. 359-371

In the autumn of 2005, as my penultimate year as Mayor of Peterborough was ending, I received a call from Tom Symons. “Sylvia, as you know, I’ve been working on a lot of national and international projects. Well, I think I now would like to do something for my city.” My initial, unspoken, reaction was that the establishment of Trent University four decades ago would surely qualify as “doing something” for his city. My spoken response was to suggest a spot on...

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Chapter 19: Tom the Radical Tory

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pp. 373-380

This chapter offers some reflections on Tom as teacher, scholar, and citizen. I’m a former student, now a colleague and friend. Tom was my thesis supervisor at Trent University when I completed my MA in what is now called the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies, which he helped found. A year with Tom Symons the teacher was full of auspicious occasions. I remember sitting across the dinner table from Robert...

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Chapter 20: A Canadian Life

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pp. 381-409

The chapters of this book lead gradually to an inescapable conclusion: that Tom Symons must be considered one of Canada’s pre-eminent educational and cultural statesmen in the second half of the twentieth century—a role that continues in the early years of the twenty-first, in his own ninth decade. An educational and cultural statesman of this kind has a special but very necessary function. He or she may not always do the creative...

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Annex 1: Remarks on the Occasion of the Retirement of Professor T. H. B. Symons as President and Vice-Chancellor of Trent University at the Seventy-fourth Meeting of the Trent University Senate, 24 May 1972

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pp. 411-413

There is a custom in polite society whereby institutions demonstrate the virtue of retiring leaders by offering themselves as the incontrovertible evidence of greatness. “A measure of the man,” it is said, “has been his wise choice of colleagues, . . . if you seek his monument, look around—at us!” This sort of harmless self-promotion might be appropriate in polite society, or even in academic society, but it would be a presumptuous way for the Senate...

Annex 2: Curriculum Vitae

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pp. 415-441

Notes on Authors

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pp. 443-447


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pp. 449-466

E-ISBN-13: 9780776619569
E-ISBN-10: 077661956X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780776607658
Print-ISBN-10: 0776607650

Page Count: 488
Illustrations: 38 b&w photographs
Publication Year: 2011