Three men standing next to a black plaque with white writing that reads: William G. Davis Building, This plaque commemorates the redidication of the South Building as the William G. Davis Building on Oct. 14, 2010.

UTM remembers one of its greatest supporters, former premier William G. Davis

Patricia Lonergan

The U of T Mississauga community is mourning the death of William G. Davis, who played a pivotal role in the founding of the campus.

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Davis, the 18th premier of Ontario (1971-1985), died on Sunday, Aug. 8 at the age of 92.

"After spending much family time in his favourite of all places, his cottage in Georgian Bay, he died of natural causes at home in Brampton, surrounded by members of his family,” according to a release issued by his family.

The province’s second longest-serving premier, Davis (BA 1951, LLD Hon. 1967), helped transform higher education in Ontario.

The Brampton native graduated from U of T in 1951 before attending Osgoode Hall Law School. He was called to the bar in 1955 and practiced general law until 1959, when he began his political career as Peel’s member of provincial parliament at the age of 29.

In 1962, Davis was appointed education minister and, two years later, added university affairs to his portfolio. Post-secondary education in the province experienced significant growth in the 1960s. Existing universities expanded, new campuses were established, and Ontario’s community college system was created. Between 1962 and 1971 education spending in Ontario grew by more than 450 per cent.

Davis oversaw this transformation, introducing legislation that created Ontario’s community college system to provide vocational training at the post-secondary level.

“Bringing community colleges to Ontario was such a major addition to our education system,” says former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion. “His goal and ambition was to give every youth an opportunity to succeed.”

As one of the architects of the college system, Davis presided over the creation of 22 community colleges and new universities, including Ontario’s Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), and Erindale College, now UTM.

His contribution to both education and Mississauga was “exceptional,” says McCallion, who describes Davis as a close friend with a “marvelous sense of humour” who was kind, understanding and very supportive.

“Erindale College was a great asset to Mississauga,” she continues. “We now have a beautiful university site with exceptional buildings and a medical school… He started that.”

Black and white photo of two men in suits standing in the dirt with a large backhoe-like machine overhead
Carl Williams, vice president for planning for the suburban campuses and principal, Erindale College (left) with William Davis, Premier of Ontario, at sod turning, Erindale College, 1966.

As education minister, Davis joined other dignitaries for the 1970 groundbreaking ceremony of Erindale College’s South Building, one of the campus’s original structures. In 2010, the building was renamed the William G. Davis Building in honour of his important contributions to the creation of Erindale College and higher education in the province.

Post-secondary education continued to be a priority for Davis, even after he left public office. He was as a long-time supporter of the Mississauga campus, serving as honorary co-chair of UTM’s Boundless Campaign Cabinet, and he participated as a member of U of T's Governing Council from 1999 to 2008.

“The Honourable William Davis was one of our greatest supporters,” says UTM Vice President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie. “His passion and commitment to higher education expanded opportunities for young people not only in our region, but across the province, laying the groundwork for the success of our students today and generations to come.

“On behalf of the UTM community, my sincerest condolences to the Davis family.”

Davis has received numerous awards in recognition of his contributions to education in Ontario, including honorary degrees and diplomas from colleges and universities in Canada and around the world. He was awarded UTM’s Paul W. Fox Award, which recognizes distinguished voluntary service to UTM, and was presented with U of T’s Arbor Award – the university's highest honour for its volunteers – in recognition of his outstanding service.

Most remembered for his lasting impact on education, Davis was also a nation builder. As premier of Ontario, Davis played a major role in patriating Canada’s constitution in 1982. This shifted authority over Canada’s constitution from the British Parliament to the Canadian government. Because of his involvement in this process, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II swore him in as a member of the Privy Council. In 1986 he was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada and in 1987 Davis was invested with the Order of Ontario.