Scott House at Traill College. Photo by Parks Studio.

Most of us here at Trent know that there used to be two downtown Colleges. One was Peter Robinson College (PR), which is now closed, and the other is Traill College, which the administration has been deliberating about for many years now. These complaints were to the point that in recent years, an External Review was conducted of the situation at Traill, and a number of recommendations were made. This intrepid reporter decided to have a gander at the External Review, available online on the Trent website, and see what they had to say about the future of this beloved institution, which I actually attended way back in 1985-1986 during my first foray into undergraduate studies at Trent as a young lad.

President Leo Groarke tabled the Review on the Trent site in June of 2016. It made a total of eight recommendations, most of which had a substantial number of sub-recommendations. The document is a total of 25 pages long and is an interesting look into the administration’s mind’s eye of how they see the future of this venerable institution. But first, before we look into the administration’s crystal ball and see their ambitious vision for the future, let us peer into the past and see where Traill College has come from. I dug into the archives of the Arthur and found an article written a few years back by Dr. Michael Eamon, the current Principal of Traill College, which offered me some insight into the antecedents of this inner city landmark.

When Traill College was founded in 1965, it was named after Catherine Parr Traill (1802-1899), who, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, was a ‘pioneer writer, botanist.’ She was one of the first white settlers in the area, along with her husband, Lt. Thomas Traill. She wrote a famous book entitled The Backwoods of Canada (1836), ‘a factual and scientific account of her first three years in the bush,’ according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. So Traill College was originally an all-women’s college, which eventually became fully co-ed by the early 1970s. Enrollment doubled almost every year in the early years and new buildings were added, such as the leasing of Bradburn House in 1983, a former orphanage and nursing home, to be a residence (where yours truly was a resident in my first, but abortive attempt at studies at Trent in 1985-1986).

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, when both PR College and Traill were slated for closure, PR was eventually closed, but Traill soldiered on and was eventually re-tasked in 2008 as a place where graduate students could flourish. Wallis Hall, a former undergraduate residence, was turned into a graduate student office space, and other buildings were re-tasked, such as Scott House (which used to be the cafeteria in my days there) which now houses offices, classrooms and lounges. So what of the External Review’s eight recommendations? Let’s get back to them, shall we?

Recommendation number one of the Review is to make Traill an interdisciplinary college, and to enhance graduate and undergraduate programs, build more graduate and undergraduate residences, and offer more professional programs. Recommendation number two is to have a different administrative structure for the college, with an Academic Head reporting to an Academic Vice-President and Provost. Recommendation number three is to devise a financial plan for potential revenue generation based on the fact that existing resources are underutilized and could be used to create an endowment. In this third recommendation it also talks about increasing graduate fees, and boosting the amount of Continuing Education at Traill. Recommendation number four is to increase the community profile of the college by promoting events such as the Writers Reading Series, and to collaborate with the City’s Arts, Culture, and Heritage Advisory Committee in such things as hosting a film festival and art exhibits. It also recommends collaborating with the Downtown Business Improvement Association to advertise activities at Traill. Recommendation four also talks about instituting transit passes for Traill events and improving parking. Recommendations five through eight generally have to do with parking, collective agreements and participation by the broader community in the life of the college.

So where does this leave Traill college almost two years after the External Review was tabled? First of all, Dr. Eamon pointed out that the Review recommended that not only should Traill remain open, but that it should continue to thrive as a traditional college of Trent University. One change which has already been implemented, according to Dr. Eamon, is of an administrative nature, whereby Dr. Eamon as Principal now reports directly to the President of Trent University, giving him a direct line of communication right to the top.

“No other college does that,” said Dr. Eamon.

Secondly, Dr. Eamon underlined the fact that he is now implementing the recommendation that Traill expand its Continuing Education offerings and to re-engage with the Peterborough community, as well as by creating partnerships with community groups. For example, Dr. Eamon underlined the existence of new partnerships with the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra Public Energy, which is an art company specializing in contemporary dance, theatre, performance and interdisciplinary work. These two organizations, according to Dr. Eamon are now offering workshops and courses at the Traill campus’ Continuing Education department. Also, Dr. Eamon pointed out that Traill’s graduate students have first dibs on teaching Continuing Education courses at Traill.

Thirdly, Dr. Eamon pointed out that another recommendation he is acting on is to engage with alumni and to do some fundraising. To this end, Dr. Eamon underscored the fact that Traill is now the first Trent college to get a Collegiate Endowment Fund, which has raised approximately $125 000 in roughly 13 months to help renovate buildings, start up new programs and to create “new student experiences,” as Dr. Eamon put it. A new Traill library has also been built inside Scott House which is open 24 hours a day.

Lastly, Dr. Eamon underlined his leadership role as the Chair of an organization called Collegiate Way International, which, according to its official website, “is a world-wide association of University Colleges.” It was founded in Durham, England in 2014. Its mission is to “support university colleges around the world and promote the collegiate way of interdisciplinary scholarship, academic integrity, civic awareness and humility.” To this end, Dr. Eamon has travelled as far afield as Australia, England, and soon to Houston, Texas, for the next conference of this organization, where he along with Melanie Sedge of Champlain College, will be able to schmooze with academics from different parts of the world about the ways in which they can improve Traill as part of a collegiate style university. Cool! Act local, think global!