It’s a wrap: York winds down an eventful U50 year

In 2009, York University marked a significant milestone with its 50th birthday. From the beginning of February through to the end of December, the University community celebrated the past and looked forward to a future filled with more of the people, ideas and achievements that have so distinguished York’s first 50 years. 

U50 – Cool facts & figures

There were 23 U50 sponsors and patrons, and close to 90 program partners.

57,887 people took part in U50 initiatives over the course of the anniversary.

60,000 bookmarks were distributed to students, faculty, staff, guests and neighbours during the year.

50 dogwood shrubs were planted to offset carbon emissions from the York in Concert Gala, which coincided with Earth Hour on March 28, 2009.

Visitors to the U50 Web site came from Canada, China, the United Kingdom, Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran and Pakistan.

The U50 Calendar included 84 events for students, 82 for faculty, 74 targeted to alumni and more than 65 events that were open to  the public. 

With the wrap-up of the anniversary celebrations in December, staff in the U50 office have been busy compiling statistics, collecting photographs and archiving the memories of York’s 50th-anniversary celebrations. Members of the community can view the collection of photographs, videos and stories about the anniversary on the U50 Web site.

“It was a tremendous year!“ said Cynthia Bettcher, the U50 project director. “The success of the anniversary is due in large part to the leadership of Judith Cohen, John McCamus and Richard Fisher, who chaired the primary U50 committees and Sylvia Zingrone in the office of University Events & Community Relations.

“There was also the huge contribution of faculty, students, alumni, staff and friends of the University, who worked on committees and coordinated the more than 100 anniversary initiatives that made the anniversary celebrations a success," says Bettcher.

A quick snapshot of the anniversary year reveals a thoughtful and engaging series of events that showcased the learning, research, academic accomplishments and artistic endeavours that form an integral part of life at Canada’s interdisciplinary university.

The numbers show there were 35 special lectures and seminars that spanned the breadth of York’s research and academic interests. Ten concerts and performances, five films and 15 special exhibitions, installations and displays showcased the talent of the University’s students and faculty. Nineteen special U50 conferences, colloquia and symposia provided the public with an opportunity to get involved in the University’s activities, while 21 additional special events were geared specifically to York’s students and alumni.

There were also seven special publications created to commemorate the anniversary and several documentary films examining a number of topics, including the University’s colourful history and such innovative events as the Canadian Writers in Person series.

Here are just some of the many highlights from the anniversary:

What’s an anniversary without a book?

Events surrounding the University’s 50th anniversary officially got underway on Feb. 18, 2009, with the release of the book York University: The Way Must Be Tried (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009), written by York Professor Emeritus and University Historian Michiel Horn. The book traces the University’s history, from its early beginnings in the Glendon campus housed in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, to becoming Canada’s third-largest university. Within its pages, Horn explores many of York’s innovations and triumphs, from bilingualism at Glendon College and the arrival of Osgoode Hall Law School to the phenomenal growth of York’s Keele campus, including the Schulich School of Business.

Nine lectures for York’s nine colleges

Over the anniversary year, the College Council of Masters offered a public lecture series comprised of nine lectures representing the academic strengths housed in York’s nine colleges. The presentations offered a tantalizing glimpse into the University’s blend of academic and interdisciplinary research interests. Each of the colleges hosted one talk and all were geared to a general audience. The lectures spanned a diverse range of topics, from the dualism of language, culture and identity in Canada, the major ideologies of the last century and innovations in robotic science and engineering to the pathophysiology of Type 1 and 2 diabetes and the recollections and memories of past University presidents. 

Senators pose for a picture-perfect event to mark York’s official birthday

York University senators donned their formal robes for York’s 50th birthday on March 26, which happened to coincide with a regular Senate meeting. Resplendent in their ceremonial robes, the University’s senators posed for an official portrait (above) before the Senate meeting. As part of the special event, University Secretary & General Counsel Harriet Lewis read out congratulations to York on its 50th anniversary from the leaders of all three levels of government – Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor David Miller.

Student Appreciation Day volunteers hand out 7,025 slices of birthday cake 

York’s 50th birthday Student Appreciation Day took place on March 26, 2009. A one-day affair, the event recognized and thanked York students for their contributions to making York University an outstanding postsecondary institution.

Left: York students Gauthamie Poolokasingham (left), Dorinda Osei and Dianne Phan enjoy some cake

More than 10,000 full- and part-time students joined the celebrations. At six locations on York’s Keele and Glendon campuses, volunteers served up 7,025 slices of birthday cake, 5,000 waffles and 2,000 cups of coffee. And what would a birthday party be without loot bags? Staff in various units around the campuses volunteered to stuff the 5,500 loot bags that were then distributed to students.

York’s 50+50 Symposium brings distinguished thinkers to campus

The 50+50 Symposium: An Interdisciplinary Discussion of Pretty Much Everything, was a think fest that matched some of York’s brightest minds with thinkers from areas in which York has a deep and demonstrated commitment. The idea for the event was proposed by the U50 Steering Committee, chaired by Judith Cohen. The symposium took place March 27 and 28 and close to 600 people attended over the two-day period, many from outside the York community.

The event centred around the key question: What have we learned in the last 50 years and how will it help us in the next 50? To answer that question, the University invited some of the world’s most distinguished thinkers – and achievers – to a public symposium. They were Inuit activist Sheila Watt Cloutier, academic Nicholas Negroponte, Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, Harvard University Professor Emeritus Edward O. Wilson, University of Winnipeg president & vice-chancellor Lloyd Axworthy, author-thinker-philosopher Margaret Atwood, columnist Jeffrey Simpson and eminent commentator on global culture Arjun Appaduri. The 50+50 Symposium paired the eight global thinkers with eight leading academics from York University. They engaged in an open dialogue on issues such as the environment, evolution, social justice and quality of life.

A gala presents a veritable Who’s Who of York alumni and one special V-I-C-T-O-R-Y song

It was a full house on Saturday, March 28, 2009 as more than 300 guests joined members of the York community for the York in Concert Black Tie Gala. The evening concert featured a cast made up of performers who were a veritable Who’s Who of York alumni. Ten guest MCs and 73 performers participated in the two-hour extravaganza celebrating York’s 50 years in postsecondary education.   

Above: The York in Concert stage featured a backdrop that flashed images from York’s 50-year history

Held in the 327-seat Tribute Communities Recital Hall on York’s Keele campus, the event was produced by Phillip Silver, dean emeritus of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Program highlights included appearances by CBC Radio personality Barbara Budd (BA ’74), who served as the concert’s witty lead emcee, celebrated Canadian author Nino Ricci (BA Spec. Hons. ’81), who read from his new book The Origin of Species, and well-known vocalists Matt Dusk (BFA Spec. Hons. ’02), Amanda Martinez (IMBA ’99), Suba Sankaran (BFA Spec. Hons. ’97, MA ’02) and Vania Chan (BFA Spec. Hons.’08) among many others.

Right: John Lennox sings the York song

One of the funniest moments came from York English Professor John Lennox (BA ’67), who spoke about his early days at Glendon and then belted out his own version of the 1963 York song. "March, march, march down the road with me, shouting out York’s victories. Come along and join our throng as we sing our song. VICTOOORRRYYYYY, VICTORY!" sang Lennox to thunderous applause and cheers. 

 U50 Founders Tea at Glendon celebrates the class of ’63

Above: Members of York’s Founders Society, sporting white roses, gather for a group photo in front of Glendon Hall at the Founders Tea.

Members of York’s first graduating class returned to the original campus at Glendon on Wednesday, April 29, 2009, to celebrate the University’s 50th birthday at a special Founders Tea held in Glendon Hall. Wearing the white rose of York, members of the class of ’63 joined York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and Chancellor Roy McMurtry to celebrate the past and share their hopes for the future of Canada’s third-largest university.

York’s Community Festival offers family fun, learning and more

On Saturday, May 9, 2009, York University’s Keele and Glendon campuses threw open their doors for a full-day community festival marking York’s 50th anniversary. This free public event offered 65 activities and exhibits designed to engage and excite members of York’s community and its surrounding neighbourhoods. The York Community Festival events included family-oriented activities, arts and crafts, exhibits and displays, international food, talks and tours. The program also offered a number of signature events including Science Rendezvous and activities hosted by Tennis Canada. Later on in the evening, the outdoor main stage at the Keele campus featured performances by local and renowned performers, and a special surprise appearance by Juno Award-winning R & B artist Jully Black. More than 500 participants took part in the festival, despite the record winds, unseasonably chilly temperatures and thunderstorms that marred the day. The event was well supported by the York community with more than 170 staff, volunteers and students who worked hard to make the day a pleasant one for the participants.

U50 Art Meets Science Series hosts plenary lectures

In celebration of York’s 50th anniversary, the Art Meets Science Series hosted a set of plenary lectures that brought together three scholars whose work demonstrates the transformative potential of collaborations among artists and scientists. The event, titled Catalytic Collaborations at the Intersection of Art and Science took place on Sept. 30, 2009. Each of the lecturers spoke about how their work at the intersection of art and science transformed ways of seeing and working in both realms. A prominent feature of the series was the Ambivalent Objects Exhibit that took place Oct. 5 to 16, 2009. The exhibit offered an experimental remixing of an art gallery with a science fair and featured collaborations by a diverse group of York Students. The students met each other in April – at the Arts Meets Science Speed Dating event – where they were tasked with finding a collaborator to generate a project with a twist – a creation where the status of the work as distinctly scientific or artistic was ambiguous.

New documentary traces York’s history

To mark York’s 50th anniversary, OMNI Television funded a student-led project at York to produce a television documentary titled The Way Must Be Tried: York University Bridging Communities. The film, which was screened to an audience that included faculty, staff, students, alumni and the documentary participants on Nov. 26, 2009, traces the history of York University from its birth 50 years ago to its position as Canada’s third-largest university, home to more than 50,000 students representing some 155 different countries. It showed how, over time, the University has grown and changed as much as the community that surrounds it. Once nestled between farmers’ fields and country roads, York now sits in the middle of the Greater Toronto Area, bordered by a diverse community that can both contribute to and benefit from York as an engaged neighbour. The Way Must Be Tried: York University Bridging Communities chronicles and celebrates York’s rise and maturation, exploring the evolving relationship between the University and those surrounding communities.

U50 Avie Bennett Historica Chair Lecture looks at the ‘lovely game’ of soccer

One of the final U50 events of the year was an international conference titled Global Football: History, Gender, Nation. History Professors Marcel Martel, current holder of the Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian History, and Kathryn McPherson, chair of the football conference, hosted the event as part of York’s annual Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian History Lecture.

The conference looked at "the beautiful game" and sought, through academic discussions, presentations and panels, to bridge popular interest in the sport with a rich world of scholarly analysis of the game. Participants explored everything from the sport’s growing popularity and increased participation rates to its role in shaping and reshaping national identity and its struggle to become part of the cultural mainstream. At the heart of the conference was the panel titled Football North of 49: Canada and the Global Game. The conference attracted more than 125 attendees from across Canada and around the world, including journalists and faculty members from France, Spain, Cameroon, the United States and Austria, as well as graduate and undergraduate students and dedicated football fans. Jérôme Cauchard, the French consul in Toronto, was also in attendance.

"Our anniversary was as much about celebrating how far we have come in a relatively short time as it was about anticipating where we want York to go in the next 50 years," said York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "I am excited about what the future brings and what we can accomplish over the next 50 years through the continued contributions of dedicated faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the University."