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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
December 9, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Introduction & Brief History

Dr. Alfred Hecht


The aim of this web site is to give an overview of some of the developments of the Department at WLU over the years. It does not attempt to be a systematic study of the department but rather it focuses on some of major structural and faculty changes over time. It also provides some thought of retired faculty on major events and tasks they were involved in. Should you want to add to these please send your potential contribution to Al Hecht,

Brief History of the GES Department


Geography has been a part of this university since its earliest years. A few geography courses were offered already in the 1950s and students could get an honours degree in geography by transferring to the University of Western Ontario for their final two years. In 1958, Ralf Krueger became the first full-time member of the fledgling Department of Geography. Two years later four year honours degrees were offered in Geography and Planning by a faculty of four. In the summer of 1962, all members of the Department left WLU and moved to the new University of Waterloo to establish the geography department there. In the same year, five full-time faculty members were hired to replace them with John McMurry as chair. The Department offered then three programs; the three-year general BA and BSc and the four-year honours BA.

During the remainder of the 1960s, the Department grew in size and expanded into new facilities on campus. Part-time courses were offered on campus in the evening and on Saturday and at numerous extension centres throughout the province, propelled by a high demand for courses required for the teaching of geography in the school system. In 1965, the Department initiated a Master of Arts degree in Geography, one of the first graduate degrees in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

In the decade of the 1970s, the Department became one of the largest in the university in terms of students and faculty. Numerous important initiatives took place. The Internship/Coop program was initiated, leading the way in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Improved high school liaison was cultivated through the starting of the annual High School Teachers Symposium, which has attracted large numbers of teachers to the Department each year. Besides the 3rd year field trip, the Department initiated the 4th year foreign field trip as well as graduate trips.

The decade of the 80s experience the following major changes; growth in the graduate program, rapidly increasing student numbers, major research grants and substantial publications by faculty members. In addition the Department introduced a four year Honours BSc program. Furthermore the an increased number of foreign students entered the graduate program as exchange agreements with the University of Marburg and the Free University of Berlin were establishment. The first research centres on campus, the Departmentís Cold Regions Centre was establishes at this time.

The most important development of the 1990 decade was the initiation in 1992, of the Waterloo-Laurier Graduate Program in Geography with the Department of Geography at the University of Waterloo. The Department was now able to offer MA, MES and PhD degrees. By the turn of the Century, over 170 students have graduated from our graduate programs. In 1995 the Department adopted a new name, the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies to reflect changing perceptions of geography=s purview. At the same time a new degree program, the BA Honours in Environmental Studies, was introduced. The number and amounts of research grants and publications again increased substantially and Drs Boots and Saunderson edited the Canadian Geographer for 6 years. During this period, a significantly remodelling occurred of the facilities and physical appearance of the Department.

In summary the Department has grown and developed since its early beginnings not only by the ways set out in the previous paragraphs but also through the various and diverse ways that its members have provided leadership to the University, to Canadian geography and environmental studies, and to the wider academic community.

Profile of the Department at the turn of the 21st Century

The Department is a lively and dynamic place. During any one year, it teaches over 4,000 undergraduate course students, has 500 full-time undergraduate majors, and 30 Master=s, and 12 Doctoral students in residence. In 2005, there are sixteen full-time faculty, as many as twelve part-time faculty, and a support staff of six. A list of the Faculty and Staff in the Department during the study period, is provided in Table 1.

The Department has a visible and respected profile both in the Canadian and Ontario university systems. While Laurier's overall enrolments account for relatively small percentages of Ontario=s undergraduate (3.0%), Masters (2.9%), and Doctoral (0.4%) students, WLUís geography programs account for substantially larger proportions of the provincial total. In 1998, it accounted for 6.5 percent of all Ontario geography undergraduates, 11.9 percent of its Masters students, and 6.1 percent of its Doctoral students (Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, Universities Branch, "Student Enrolments at Ontario Universities," Fall 1998). Although Laurier is a smaller university, its Department of Geography and Environmental Studies is clearly an important player on the provincial and national stages.