The seeds for what has been described as a ‘transformative’ milestone for St. F.X. were planted more than 64 years ago.
That’s when Brian Mulroney arrived, in the late summer of 1955, for his freshman year on the Antigonish campus.
The 18th Prime Minister of Canada returned to his alma mater Sept. 18 for the official opening of the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and Mulroney Hall, a more than $52-million state-of-the-art building that will house an institute of government and leadership – the first of its kind in the country.
“It is a special moment in my life today to participate in a ceremony marking the opening not only of splendid new buildings at St. F.X. – a place I love – but also, more importantly, the beginning of grand and brand new opportunities for young Canadians and others from around the globe to learn, lead and help build a better world for us all,” Mulroney said in his remarks to guests who filled the more than 300-seat auditorium, one of the myriad features of the facility.
He added “a highly impressive and generous new scholarship and bursary program will help many young students acquire the education our founders dreamt of.”
The Brian Mulroney Institute of Government includes more than $26-million for chairs, bursaries and scholarships.
The $16 million set aside for scholarships and bursaries – more than 200 available annually – range from $4,000 to $60,000 per award. There are ones earmarked, specifically, to assist marginalized populations, such as Aboriginal and African Nova Scotian communities.
- $65m – private donors
- $30m – federal government
- $5m – provincial government
Where it goes?
- $52m (approx.) – Mulroney Hall
- $16m – scholarships and bursaries
- $10m – academic programs and chairs
- Remaining monies – refurbishment of Nicholson Tower and Xaverian Commons project
The 16-year-old who arrived at St. F.X., as he described, “quite literally, a boy from Baie Comeau (Quebec) carrying a cardboard suitcase and wearing the only blazer I owned,” knew all-too-well the challenges involved with financing a university education.
Despite the obstacles, his father – who worked as an electrician in the small-town paper mill and in a second job on evenings and weekends – and mother, who raised six children and also took in boarders to help make ends meet, appreciated the need for their son to take that road.
Mulroney, in an emotional point of his remarks, reflected on a Sunday night when his father, Benedict, came home from work. He told his father about his plan to take part in a new apprenticeship program at the paper mill, which provided a decent wage and future employment. The son would be able to help support his family.
Acknowledging that times were tough, and that extra money the younger Mulroney could bring home would be beneficial, the father offered an unforgettable response.
“I have learned one thing; the only way out of a paper mill town is through a university door – and you are going to university,” Mulroney said, choking a little with emotion while recalling his father’s words.
Open to all
Mulroney did just that and graduated from St. F.X. in 1959.
“I had no money, no connections and no influence,” he said of when he left campus after graduation.
Mulroney noted he had two things of “far greater worth” – a St. F.X. degree and “the values that been inculcated into us by a superb facility and university leaders here in Antigonish.”
He took those things and continued his studies, completing a law degree, followed by time in the workforce and, eventually, a life in public service.
Mulroney said for him and thousands of other Xaverians, the university represented “not a big city, but a big opportunity.”
He also highlighted the intention of the institute to be “open to all and their ideas.”
“[They] will find a home here marked by fairness, objectivity and scholarship of the highest order,” Mulroney said.
By the numbers
- Mulroney Hall, which houses The Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, is a four-storey, 93,000 square foot glass-walled building that took two years to construct and carries a $52-million price tag.
- The facility, which is located on St. F.X.’s upper campus includes:
- A replica of Mulroney’s Parliament Hill office from his nine-year tenure as Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, which including his papers, speeches and letters from world leaders;
- The Joyce Family Atrium – described as the centrepiece of the building – is a gathering place for faculty and students;
- 300-seat auditorium that will serve as a venue for music, theatre and debate;
- Classrooms fitted with the latest technology;
- Immersive pod housing videos of Mulroney speeches and appearances;
- Digital album of photos from Mulroney’s time in office, including ones with world leaders and NHL stars;
- Touchscreen interactive electoral map based on Mulroney’s federal wins in 1984 and 1988
Since graduating – no matter where his path took him – St. F.X. has never been far from Mulroney’s heart. He’s offered his help with several projects, including fundraising for the Alumni Aquatic Centre.
For this most recent initiative, which launched almost seven years ago, Mulroney raised $100 million to create, as described by university officials, the cornerstone of the St. F.X’s Xaverian Commons Project on upper campus.
“It was important to him that 100 per cent of the funds raised go directly to the project,” St. F.X. interim president Kevin Wamsley said.
“There were, basically, no administrative costs back to the university. That is a huge benefit to our campus, our faculty and our students.”
Mulroney not only financed his travel around the world, as part of the effort to bring donors on board, he and his wife, Mila, donated $1 million to the project.
“I shall never forget the magnificent assistance they gave me and this wonderful university,” he said, noting he was “deeply moved” by everyone’s generosity.
“Your names will be inscribed on our donors’ wall with gratitude and respect – there to stay for eternity.”
Mulroney described his role in the initiative as a “high honour for me to be of some service to this special place.”
“May the future of St. F.X. – its gifted professors, promising students, devoted staff and immutable values – continue to benefit the soul of Canada and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world,” he said.