The history of Durham College

(Top row, left to right) Durham College President Don Lovisa, Alcides Malpica, Luis Alore. (Sitting, left to right) International Project Specialist Katie Boone, Monica Rubinos and Patricia Gonzales
Don Lovisa next to an artistic representation of Durham College’s evolution on it’s 40th anniversary.

Durham College opened six years before Durham Region was even founded. So how did the college come to be?

“The college system was the result of premier William Davis and his government at the time,” says Don Lovisa, Durham College president.

On May 21, 1965, Honourable William G. Davis spoke with the House of Commons and suggested the operation of the system of colleges.

The following year, in March, Davis announced 18 areas for the planning and development of the colleges. One of the areas on this list was Durham County, which included part of the geographical area that was eventually to be known as Durham Region.

Garry Cubitt, chief administrative officer for the Region of Durham, says he suspects Durham College is called what it is because of it being in the county of Durham.

The college officially opened in September of 1967, with 16 portable classrooms and a staff of only 14, serving just over 200 students. The calendar of academics for the year offered courses in business, technology and applied arts.

The original building, the Simcoe building, was built in 1969. It was only supposed to be temporary, however, it is still standing to this day.

By its 10th anniversary, the college had added courses in health science. It grew to more than 1,000 students.

Ten years later, in the 1980s, the school grew even more, increasing enrolment to more than 2,000 students and undergoing a further expansion of the facilities. In addition to the change in the school, there was also a change in president. Mel Garland took over for Dr. Gordon Willey.

In 1993, the Whitby Campus was founded. It was originally a Cadbury chocolate factory but was turned into a skills training centre.

Tony Doyle, chief of staff in the office of the president at Durham College, says the Whitby campus has “grown to be more than that (a skills training centre)…it is a full service and growing campus.”

The Centre for Food is also an important part of Durham College. The building is located at the Whitby campus and is green certified.

Michelle Darling, senior project manager for Durham College’s Project Management Office, says from the design through to construction and selection of building materials, all the operations at the building include waste management, water and energy management. Sustainable materials and practices have been adopted to achieve the green certification.

The Centre for Food focuses on sustainability. It includes Bistro ’67, which supports the culinary program at the school. The restaurant uses produce harvested from the school’s property, as well as other food sources from 100-mile radius. The Centre for Food includes a two-storey living wall in a glass atrium, which allows natural light to come into the building.

“In every aspect of the building design where we could take the sustainable path we did so,” Darling says.

The Centre for Food was given an award in 2015 from the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario. This award recognizes the interior design, excellence innovation and creativity at the school.

The college eventually established a partnership with York University and Trent University to bring in university level courses to Durham College. In 2003, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology opened next to the college. Afterwards, a learning site in Pickering opened.

Current president Don Lovisa has been with the college since 2007, first as vice-president, academic and taking over as president the following year.

“He’s done an incredible amount of work (for the college),” says Patrick Ferren, a facilities operations manager at Durham College and UOIT. “He’s been instrumental in ensuring all faculty, staff, and administration are committed to the student experience…making it the best experience a student can have during their time here.”

One place in particular where you will find students on campus is at E.P. Taylor’s, the student pub. It is named after Edward Plunket Taylor, a famous businessman who was also the breeder of racehorses, which were developed at Windfields Farm, the property immediately north of the Campus Ice Centre.

Another building is the Gordon Willey building, named after Dr. Gordon Willey, the first president of the college, from 1967 until 1980. According to the Durham College website, Willey was a trade engineer and had a specialty for technology.

Ferren says “he (Dr. Gordon Willey) helped put the college on the map.” Naming a building after him was a way of paying homage for being the founding president.

Another building that helps students at the college is the Student Services Building (SSB).

“And that was more than just a building, it was really about bringing together student services under all one roof,” Lovisa says. “What we did with the Student Services building is we looked at the needs of the students and we know students need to go to one place to get all the help they need and that’s what the Student Services building is all about.”

Prior to the addition of the SSB, services for students were spread all around the campus.

Other buildings for the school include the Campus Ice Centre, in partnership with UOIT and the City of Oshawa. It is open to the public and is home to the UOIT Ridgebacks men’s and women’s hockey teams. The campus library is also an important asset to the school as it provides four floors of quiet study space for students.

Not only is the school a place for students to come and learn, it is a place students graduate from and then go on and make an impact in the community. According to Doyle, graduates leave Durham and their programs with an excellent education.

From humble beginnings almost a half-century ago, the college’s roots are strong and its growth will continue, Lovisa says.

“Durham started with just a couple hundred students in post secondary programs and today we serve, between full and part-time, 30,000 now,” says Lovisa. “You have 48 years, seems like a long time, but you have massive change in that lot of years from one little portable on a piece of great big farmland to what we have today.”

From 1967 until now, the school has undergone many changes, with more to come, according to the campus master plan. Durham College may not be named after the region, but with the school turning 50 next year, the history lives on.

“The college has a very rich and very successful history, and an incredible role that the colleges have played for the last 48 years,” says Lovisa.

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Jordyn Gitlin is a second-year journalism student at Durham College. When it comes to writing and reporting, she enjoys covering entertainment events. She likes to spend her spare time writing novels, reading and singing. Jordyn hopes to pursue a career in entertainment or novel writing following graduation.