Laurier’s history published

As he introduced his new book on the history of Wilfrid Laurier University, Andy Thomson said something that might have seemed a little strange coming from a history professor: “I didn’t want this to be an academic history.” Thomson’s book, entitled Leadership and Purpose: A History of Wilfrid Laurier University, instead focuses on a more human history of WLU, or as the author put it: “I wanted to tell some stories.”

The book was unveiled on Friday afternoon along with Laurier’s new logo with Thomson reading a passage from the conclusion. The passage Thomson read discussed a fundraising pamphlet from 1929 he found while doing research entitled “Educate or Die.”

Thomson found this hyperbolic title, aimed at getting donations for what was then Waterloo College, particularly inspiring.

“I loved that title, ‘Educate or Die’ I really wanted to use that in various ways in the book,” he said. “As I thought about it, it really does talk about this school. If we’re not bringing in students, if we’re not pushing the boundaries of what we’re doing, then we’re finished.”

However, the time that pamphlet came out, just on the cusp of the Great Depression, wasn’t the only time the university, whether it was Waterloo College, Waterloo Lutheran University or Wilfrid Laurier University faced money problems.

According to Thomson, it wasn’t until the university received provincial funding in 1976 that the faculty he spoke with were even sure they would have jobs the next day.

But the number of times the school was close to being closed wasn’t what Thomson found most surprising during the course of writing the book.

When asked by an audience member, Thomson answered that what surprised him the most was when what was then Waterloo Lutheran University refused to join the newly opened — and massive — University of Waterloo in the late 1950s.

Thomson, a Laurier alumnus and former professor at the university, jumped at the chance to write the book when he was approached by WLU president Max Blouw.

“I got this wonderful chance to tell some stories about a place I really love and that’s what I did,” he said. “I came here to do history because I’ve always loved history. I love the story part of history. I had a lot of fun when I was here and I think that’s an important part of school, to enjoy it.”
It was also through his time at Laurier that Thomson became partial to the ‘storytelling’ brand of history he uses in the book.

“Every step of the way there have been people like Terry Copp here and John English at the University of Waterloo who have really inspired me and showed me that this is how you do it. Get out and talk to people, entertain as much inform. That’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

And according to the man who chose Thomson to write the book, that type of history was perfect for the project.

“Laurier is a people place. Being a people place, people identify with stories,” said Blouw. “People love stories, people understand one another, they understand backgrounds, I think it’s absolutely the right way to approach it.”

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