Champlain College’s 50th Anniversary: The Golden Year

Named after the explorer Samuel de Champlain, Champlain College celebrates its 50th Anniversary at Trent University. After being the first college to open at the university, Champlain College is celebrating its golden year with its continued traditions throughout the year. The college system at Trent allows for each college to hold a unique spirit, and at Champlain College students are encouraged to DARE; to discover, adventure, reflect, and engage.

Champlain and Trent University were designed by renowned Canadian architect Ronald Thom, a prolific planner from the early 1960s to early ‘80s. His inventive and original style helped him to win an Order of Canada in 1980, and he is perhaps most known for his work on the campus of Trent University, which granted him an honorary degrees in law and engineering in 1973 and 1971.

Sourced from Trent University Archives
Sourced from Trent University Archives

The architect Ronald Thom was a full participant in discussions with the staff and faculty regarding the basic values of this university and how the architecture should reflect these principles. One of the decisions made out of these meetings was to create the system of teaching and residential colleges that we know today. The college system was fully capable of overcoming a host of issues accompanying student life, including alienation.

Accordingly, Thom designed Champlain with private living spaces for students to study, coupled with tutorial rooms and offices at the base of the towers which encouraged student interaction with professors. The inward facing buildings create courtyards that serve as spaces for high octane hackey-sacking or interpretive snow angel competitions.

GreatHallThe college sits on the bank if the Ottanobee and was designed to be just one part of a fragmented campus, producing a variety of colleges all with differing master plans. Champlain College was designed as a test run for Trent its founders planned on be studying it closely to determine future plans for the campus. The features of Champlain, from the courtyards to the Great Hall, has housed and influenced thousands of young minds in the last half century to great effect. One of these is Champlainer Katie McLinton.

McLinton has certainly grown with Champlain, achieving personal growth and making great contributions to her college along the way. McLinton has been an Orientation Week leader for three years in row during her time as an undergrad, and has held various positions on the Champlain College Cabinet including the presidency. She is currently in her second and final year doing her Bachelor of Education at Trent, and spent the first year of the program as a don in the Champlain Annex.

Speaking with Arthur, McLinton shares her gratitude towards the college system and all that it brought in experience, friendship and opportunities.

Everything that I am is because of the opportunities that I had through the college system, and I think Champlain is so great because of the college system, which is what makes Trent great.”

McLinton’s college experience brought out the best in her, however she says this was a slower process than it might seem.

[In my first year] I was just an observer taking it all in, and it was only in my second year that I began to fully appreciate the college and all of its traditions and what it stands for.” With this, McLinton decided to apply to be an orientation week leader and begin her contributions in welcoming new students to Trent and to the Champlain community.

I was the odd one out at first, but that’s okay,” she says. McLinton encourages students to grow past their comfort zone and immerse themselves in the college community because it “truly is a great community and it feels great to celebrate that with others”.

One of the most memorable events for McLinton is the Harvest Dinner, a college tradition that has been celebrated since the opening of the college itself. Stemming from the traditions of evening college dinners when Champlain first opened in 1967, Harvest Dinner occurs every autumn as part of a greater Harvest Weekend.

McLinton explains, “You get to see students of all years, first to fourth, come together with such enthusiasm for the sake of one thing, the college, and it’s my favourite tradition because the dinners stemmed from the idea to bring students from all the towers together for a dinner and gather the community in one space to create a great atmosphere.” The atmosphere and warm feeling of inclusivity is certainly present at Champlain college, making it one of its most admirable qualities and creating the ideal environment for students to dare.

Photos by Samantha Moss

Champlain College Head Melanie Sedge believes in Champlain College’s ability to influence students through the environment it fosters. She has been the head of Champlain College for the past three years, although that was not her original intention: “I came here for a short job, and have been here for the past 15 years.”

Speaking to the influence Champlain has had over students and staff, Sedge touched on the idea of progress: “I think that the way the college has evolved has been an example for the other colleges to follow. It started as an all white males college, it was very exclusive, and it was a little bit like a boys club; if you look 50 years into the future, there is a female head of the college that would have never happened back then.”

Champlain has had to go through many changes, whether it was allowing women into the college in 1972, or making the dining schedule in the Great Hall more flexible. Sedge believes that Champlain has been exceptional at evolution: “Champlain changes with the times, which means that we have to find different ways to establish a family atmosphere amongst students and teachers.”

[Pictured] Champlain College Head Melanie Sedge and her children, Wade (left) and Leah (right)
The spirit of Champlain and its daring students lives on through the traditions that are carried over the years. Each year Champlain College and the Champlain College Cabinet arrange for various events and opportunities for students and members of the Champlain community to enjoy, including Sedge’s children, and with Champlain celebrating its golden year there is a great effort to add a fiftieth flare to each of its continued customs. As a former member of Cabinet, McLinton now works closely with this year’s Cabinet as a community liaison member for Champlain College’s 50th anniversary.

Beginning with Orientation Week, the college celebrates incoming students with the annual High Table Dinner. When Champlain first opened, students were required to purchase green academic gowns and wear them to lectures, seminars and evening college dinners, which led to traditions such as the Harvest, and Bon Temps Weekends. At this year’s High Table Dinner, students and members of the college were given green gowns to wear in honor of collegial traditions. The founder and first President of Champlain College Thomas Symons was present to speak about his experience and time at the college, a very special guest to celebrate the longevity of the event.

“The sod-turning for Champlain was held June 30th, 1965. In October of 1965, Trent held a cornerstone ceremony that attracted national media attention. President Thomas H.B. Symons (middle) persuaded the premiers of Quebec and Ontario to participate and he appears in this photo between Quebec’s Jean Lesage (left) and Ontario’s John Robarts (right).” – Trent University: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence by D’arcy Jenish

Jonathan Semugaza, one of the 2016 Orientation Week co-chairs, shared his experience of the High Table Dinner and what it meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of such a tradition.

We wore our green Trent gowns as they did back in the day as a symbol of entering this new world, the new world of Champlain, and having various alumni members and Thomas Symons himself at the dinner, it brought to light the 50 years of history and tradition of the college that shows that we as Champlain students still hold the same court of values that many others have held before us. The college can only go up from here, and with that we can also encourage others in the community to excel and try to make the college as welcoming as possible as has been done for me, and thousands of Champlain students before me.” With his touching words, Semugaza’s daring attitude reflects that of many Champlain students, and the vision of the future of the college in combining the traditions and values of previous years, whilst moving forward and striving to always achieve better.

More Champlain student experiences can be found on Champlain’s 50th anniversary website. The student-created website includes history and archives of Champlain College, along with a reflections page where current students and alumni can share their experiences at the college. Some of the posts date back to the historic era of the 1960s and 1970s.

Many students at Champlain have truly presented the words of the Champlain crest “continuer mes decouvertes” or “continue my discoveries”. Whether you are officially or unofficially affiliated with Champlain, everyone can dare to be Champlain, striving to continue discovering yourself and the world around you as others did before you.