Concerned about limited post-secondary opportunities in Simcoe County, the City of Orillia turned a decade ago to then provincial minister Mary Anne Chambers, who linked the city with Lakehead University.
She understood that the strategically located city could serve as a corridor from north of Newmarket to Huntsville and with the implementation of public transportation, students would have access to an affordable community that would reduce the cost of living away from the neighbourhoods in which they grew up.
The new state-of-the-art satellite campus in Orillia opened in September 2010.
To show its gratitude to Chambers for her vision and passion for empowering young people, the university will confer an honorary doctorate on her on Saturday at West Orillia Sports Complex.
“In short, while Mary Anne Chambers’ ministerial responsibilities were the portfolio of training, colleges and universities, her business and community service background gave vision to the orderly development of a model that addressed both economic development and the retention of youth to remain in those communities where they had grown up,” said the university’s fellow, Dr. Bob Bennett. “Too many young people educated in southern Ontario were unable to find wanted and needed vocational opportunities after graduation. The retention of those young people is crucial to the future human resources serving sustained vital regional growth. Research data over the first decade of the Lakehead Orillia’s service to this community has confirmed the wisdom of Mary Anne’s commitment.”
In 2004, Member of Provincial Parliament for Simcoe North Garfield Dunlop arranged for Orillia’s mayor and community leaders to meet Chambers to explore ways of increasing Central Ontarians’ educational, social and economic prospects.
“They made it clear to me that they wanted the young people of Simcoe County to have the opportunity to achieve their potential,” said Chambers. “They wanted to provide opportunities that would be uplifting for the entire community. They saw the opportunity to have a university in Orillia as a means to a brighter future for the people whose interests they were committed to serve. A few years later when they invited me to visit the temporary location that was being utilized for the delivery of programs during the construction of the impressive Orillia campus of Lakehead University, they told me that it seemed that the young people of Orillia and adjoining communities were walking taller and looking prouder than they had before.”
Chambers also has honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Toronto and York University.
Born and raised in Jamaica, she was poised to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, when she met her husband and tied the nuptial knot over four decades ago.
England’s loss was Canada’s gain as Chambers has made remarkable contributions to her adopted homeland since migrating with her family in 1976.
A year after retiring as a Scotiabank senior vice-president, she entered politics and served for nearly two years as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. In that role, she announced the largest multi-year investment in post-secondary education in four decades and introduced major improvements to student assistance policies and funding.
During her tenure, significant changes were also made to the Private Career Colleges Act to provide enhanced protection for students and increased support was made available to encourage apprenticeships in the skilled trades.
Chambers, who also served in the provincial government as Minister of Children and Youth Services before quitting politics seven years ago, is a former Canadian Club of Toronto president, Rouge Valley Health System governing council vice-chair, Air Cadet League of Canada governor, Tropicana Community Service Organization board member, United Way of Greater Toronto trustee and director of the 2008 Toronto Olympic Bid Corporation.
In 2007, she successfully lobbied for the University of Toronto Scarborough campus to engage in a tutoring and mentorship program with Grade Nine and Ten area school students. Chambers also made a financial contribution when she left politics, described as a parting gift to the community, to help sustain the program run by the university’s Black Students Association.
And as vice-chair of the U of T governing council, the former university board member participated on a task force on student financial support that led to the implementation of a policy that would not deter young people from enrolling in the university because of inadequate financial resources.
Chambers is a former president of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education Canada and chair of the York Centre for Education & Community advisory council. The centre is designed to support teaching and learning that’s appropriate to students’ diverse needs, considerate of their cultural experiences and supportive of their aspirations.