The centenary celebrations concluded with a gala at the Old Courthouse in downtown London. There were 125 guests in attendance, including professors of history past and present, current students and alumni, community partners, donors and supporters of our programs, local historians, and friends of the department. The evening included a cocktail reception, a formal dinner, invited speakers, and tours of the historic venue.
There were several speakers prior to dinner. They included Peter Fragiskatos, MP for London North Centre, who brought greetings from the government. Chair Francine McKenzie read greetings from Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor-General of Canada. McKenzie went on to describe the origins and growth of the History Department, from the 1880s, when a handful of faculty taught history courses in medieval history and the constitutional history of Canada, to the present, when Western’s History Department is a leader in Public History and Digital History, and has moved into interdisciplinary programming like International Relations, American Studies and Middle East Studies. The department is now home to major artifact collections (related to the history of medicine, the two world wars, and a climate archive of Canada). The range of historical subjects has expanded to include gender, class, race, politics, the environment, empires, material culture, medicine, law, and more. And Western’s History Department is one of two in Canada whose faculty is 50% female. Her remarks ended with a toast to the past and future of history, and to the Department of History at Western.
Later in the evening, there was time for reminiscence. Professors Emeriti Ian Steele, Tom Ginsberg, Margaret Kellow, and Craig Simpson regaled the audience with tales of their initial years at Western, and of earlier generations of university leaders. They also reflected on the importance of teaching, and of our students.
The Honorable Bob Rae was the keynote speaker. As a former Premier of Ontario, interim leader of the Liberal Party, longtime advocate of social justice, and recently appointed special envoy to Myanmar, he spoke about the larger significance of history in his talk: ‘The Lens of History: We Can’t Imagine a World Without It’.
The lively evening concluded with a momentous group photograph of all the History professors in attendance. It was a fitting end to an evening that paid tribute to generations of outstanding scholarship and teaching in Western’s Department of History.