When you think about the history behind Ontario’s post-secondary institutions, it’s not uncommon to conjure images of century-old ivy-covered buildings, grassy quads filled with students and scholarly professors strolling across campus. There are 23 public universities, 24 colleges and several hundred private career colleges in our province, and while they may not be as old as the University of Toronto, the two biggest centres of higher learning in Durham Region play major roles in Ontario academia.
Take Durham College (DC). With two dynamic campuses in Oshawa and Whitby, the school is home to nearly 12,500 full-time and apprenticeship students (plus thousands of part-time students) and about 1,400 full-time and part-time faculty and staff. It’s made up of professors who have real-world experience leading high-quality programs designed to set students up for success when they graduate.
The school has an interesting origin story. The concept for DC came in the early 1960s after Education Minister Bill Davis introduced legislation calling for more colleges that focused on applied arts and technology to stimulate Ontario’s economy. It didn’t take long before a group of distinguished members of Durham Region responded to the call and settled on location for the area’s new campus. At the time of its opening in September 1967, the school was made up of 205 students, 14 staff and 16 portable classrooms, and programs included applied arts and technology (which was key for Dr. Gordon Willey, DC’s first president).
In the decades that followed, DC grew with the times. Both campuses opened facilities benefitting not only faculty and students, but the community. Oshawa’s location houses the school’s Centre for Collaborative Education and the First Peoples Indigenous Centre, while Whitby’s campus features the W. Galen Weston Centre for Food. Their recipe for success has worked — their employment rate among grads is nearly 86 percent.
While DC’s educational offerings continued attracting students from the region and province in the 1980s and ’90s, Durham Region’s leaders were conceptualizing the creation of the area’s first university. The idea was to focus on cutting-edge technology and trailblazing research, preparing would-be students for engaging careers that would boost the economy.
The first crack at the university saw decision- makers planning combined college and university studies in one place. Opening in 1996, Durham University Centre was based in north Oshawa and featured courses taught by professors from Toronto’s York University and Trent University in Peterborough. It was a good start, but the news the Region had been waiting for came five years later, in 2001, when the Government of Ontario announced its plan to build the first new university in the province in four decades. The school (located at the same site as Durham University Centre) would be the first of its kind — a place where the curriculum would be based on using the latest technologies.
Founded on June 27, 2002, Ontario Tech University (known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology until March 2019) opened its doors to its first incoming class in September 2003. There were nearly 950 students across two academic buildings. The school grew rapidly. The award-winning Campus Library opened in 2004. A few years later in 2007, the school opened the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Engineering Building (thanks to a multi-year, $10-million partnership with OPG), a three-storey facility with high-tech labs. The same year, the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre and the Campus Ice Centre were built. Like DC’s footprint in Durham Region, Ontario Tech’s footprint quickly expanded. In 2010, the university received more than $73 million in funding through the Knowledge Infrastructure Program to establish the Energy Research Centre. At the same time, Ontario Tech was building the now-revered five-storey Automotive Centre of Excellence.
There would be more development and new infrastructure over the next decade at both schools, all in the name of education, innovation, opportunity and growth. Today, the Region continues to boast first-rate learning and attracts world-class talent from around the globe. With the population increasing and the need for more qualified, creative professionals to fill, champion and launch homegrown businesses, it will be interesting to see what happens next in Durham’s A-plus academic endeavours.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Justin Christie/Durham College; Courtesy of Ontario Tech University.

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