An extraordinary builder
Former uOttawa President Marcel Hamelin is proud to have witnessed and contributed to an exciting time on campus during which the uOttawa we know today took shape, from both an academic and an architectural standpoint.
He had a front-row seat on the 1970s, a time during which the University saw its greatest period of growth in the wake of the adoption of the 1965 University of Ottawa Act, an important milestone in the University’s history. This legislation transformed the University into a modern secular institution and this year marks the 50th anniversary of this transformation.
As early as 1968, only two years after his arrival, Marcel Hamelin was named Director of the Department of History, which heralded the start of his career as an administrator, a productive time that he remembers as being quite exciting.
“At the time, the University of Ottawa was nothing more than a large college. We had 5000 students, and a small faculty, but at the same time, there was a real feeling of enthusiasm. With the change in status brought about by the Act, we felt we were on the threshold of a new beginning. The student population exploded, and change was extremely rapid, especially with the arrival of women students and foreign students.”
At the same time, he witnessed the birth of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, of which he was vice-dean from 1972 to 1974, which resulted in the creation of several masters’ and doctoral programs and an incredible expansion in university research.
A bustling campus
During the 1970s, the University’s campus facilities could barely keep pace with the rising tide of students and professors. When Hamelin was named Dean of the Faculty of Arts in 1974, he quickly realised that space was lacking at the University, and particularly in his faculty, which was “housed in twenty little houses that were ill-equipped to welcome students, or create teamwork within departments and throughout the Faculty,” he said. It was during his time as President that the Arts Building was finally inaugurated in 1996.
Marcel Hamelin is one of the University’s great builders and administrators. As President, a position he held from 1990 to 2001, he maintained and enhanced the quality of the University’s academic programs while preserving the institution’s bilingual nature. He promoted the creation of several multidisciplinary programs and units and, under his leadership, uOttawa became one of Canada’s foremost research-intensive universities. He insists that the secret to this success was teamwork, a quality he holds most dear.
“We must involve the greatest possible number of people, professors, researchers, vice-deans, employees and department heads. Everyone needs to work together as a team to bring about change. I had an excellent team of vice-presidents.”
During his presidency, no fewer than four major facilities were built, namely D’Iorio Hall, which houses the departments of Chemistry and Biology, the Residential Complex at 90 University, the Sports Complex, and of course, the Arts Building.
“Construction depended on the expansion of certain programs, such as the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, formerly SITE, which grew in response to developments in the fields of electrical engineering and communications. I tried to make the campus a pleasant place to live, with green spaces, a welcoming and safe area for pedestrians, and with the creation of the Grande Allée, a walkway that would bring the campus together. It’s one of the things I’d like to be remembered for, as President.”
He finds Hamelin Hall to be especially elegant. A former colleague liked to compare it to a Loire valley chateau, whose architectural style “combines medieval majesty with the elegance of the Renaissance.”
Marcel Hamelin is particularly proud that this hall is one of the University’s heritage buildings, which include Tabaret Hall, 100 Laurier and the Salle Academique building, which form the nexus of the University’s history and tradition. Even today, this former President reports to an office that is reserved for his use in the hall that now bears his name. Marcel Hamelin was very touched by the new designation, which was conferred in honour of his achievements during his illustrious uOttawa career.
A global perspective
Marcel Hamelin is a trained historian and the author of several books and articles on the political history of Quebec. When he arrived on campus to teach history in 1966, he had been hired for two years at the invitation of then Director of the Department of History, Marcel Trudel, who had been his professor and mentor at Laval University. As a specialist in the early history of Quebec’s Parliament, he can proudly claim to be the first to work on reconstructing the debates of Quebec’s National Assembly.
During his lengthy career, Marcel Hamelin has always sought to foster inter-university cooperation and internationalization on campus.
“We live in a world where communication is increasingly easy and frequent, and back in my day, I would tell students ‘make no mistake, you will be competing against other Canadians for jobs but increasingly, your competition will come from Europe, Africa, and Asia’ … this is why internationalization has become critical in educating students. We pursued this internationalization by promoting exchanges with other universities, hosting foreign students on exchange, and giving our programs an international dimension.”
Since the end of his term as president in 2001, Marcel Hamelin has travelled many times to Africa on behalf of the Canada Africa Community Health Alliance, a humanitarian organization that he co-founded with Dr. Don Kilby to provide primary health care to villagers in Gabon, Benin, Tanzania and Uganda.
When he isn’t working in Africa, Marcel Hamelin can be found in his office on campus reading, conducting historical research and meeting with colleagues and students.
“I am particularly interested in helping the African students who sometimes turn to me for advice. Helping international students adapt to life on campus is something I really enjoy.”