Coming home

For more than six decades, the Waterloo campus has been the backdrop to many of Ken McLaughlin’s fondest professional and family memories

As a professor of history, Dr. Kenneth McLaughlin (BA ’65) is skilled at piecing together records and events to tell stories that make sense of our past. He is fondly known around campus as the expert on the University of Waterloo, carefully documenting the University’s origins and important milestones. His three books on the subject include Waterloo: The Unconventional Founding of an Unconventional University. 

While McLaughlin has been the keeper of many important Waterloo memories, the University holds many of his. The distinguished professor emeritus reflects on some of his personal memories of campus, starting from his first visit as a high school student in 1960. 

“My friend from Preston High School drove us up in his dad’s car to view the campus, but we initially couldn’t find it,” McLaughlin laughed. “There was just a gravel road back then.” He added that the campus only had two buildings at that time: the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering building and the Physics and Mathematics building. 

Kenneth McLaughlin (BA '65)

Kenneth McLaughlin (BA 65)


McLaughlin returned the following year, enrolled in the second class ever to be taught in the Faculty of Arts. He earned a BA in 1965, continued his education at Dalhousie University and then at the University of Toronto where he earned his PhD. Throughout these years, he remained in touch with his Waterloo professors. When McLaughlin accepted a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship at Dalhousie he wanted to visit Waterloo before leaving for Halifax. Newly married, he took his wife, Elizabeth, to show her the campus and meet the professors that had inspired him.

“We walked into the history department and ran into the chair, Paul Cornell. He told me they were moving into a new humanities building that was under construction. Paul said, ‘We’re identifying offices for people on the blueprint, and we put your name on this office.’ I was flattered but I had already accepted the Killam at Dalhousie.”

Soon after, McLaughlin wrote to Cornell saying he would like to come back to Waterloo. 

“It was the link between the professors and students, and the personal touch of Waterloo that moved me — literally.” He and his wife left Halifax and McLaughlin officially joined Waterloo faculty in 1970. “For me, it was coming home.” 

 John Hallman, Ken McLaughlin, Willem vanHeiningen.

“The McLaughlin family at St. Jerome’s for the introduction for my book, Race, Religion and Politics.” (2019). Front row, from left: Jamie Hallman, Skye vanHeiningen, Carrie Hallman, Janet McLaughlin, Nicola McLaughlin, Dylan Hallman, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Sebastian vanHeiningen. Back row, from left: John Hallman, Ken McLaughlin, Willem vanHeiningen. 

Waterloo has remained home to McLaughlin and his family ever since. He chuckles recalling that his daughters, Nicola and Janet, were practically raised on campus, attending social events and spending weekends together at St. Jerome’s where he began teaching in 1975. McLaughlin believes that families are vital to academic and professional success. “It is the support of family of all generations that makes it possible.”  

Rt. Hon. David Johnston

“My granddaughter, Carrie Hallman, at age 1 and her dog, Shadow, watching over her at my 65th birthday with the Rt. Hon. David Johnston who said, ‘You need to meet people on their level’.” (2008)

His grandchildren are now part of the traditions. McLaughlin remembers the exact moment he understood the generational impact Waterloo has had on his family.   

“I used to bring my grandchildren to the engineering science quest summer program. One day they took me to see their projects, marching me across the campus and leading me on their own route. It was in through the Physics and Mathematics building, the very one I had first been in when I came to campus. It is so full of memories for me and to see this new generation — a third generation now — running through the same hallways of this building is amazing. They have the same excitement of being on campus as I had.” 

McLaughlin hopes Waterloo will continue to be a campus where the excitement of learning, in whatever field students embrace, is combined with a sense of community. 

He is now retired but still no stranger to campus. His work has helped tell the story of Waterloo — and both the University and McLaughlin are better because of it. 

“I have always felt incredibly fortunate to have been part of Waterloo. And I still do. It has shaped my life in ways that no other university could have done.”

Vivek Goel and Kenneth McLaughlin

“Touring campus with the current President and Vice-Chancellor, Vivek Goel.” (2022)

“I have always felt incredibly fortunate to have been part of Waterloo. And I still do. It has shaped my life in ways that no other university could have done.”  

Dr. Kenneth McLaughlin (BA 65)

Watch Beyond Tradition

Take a walk through time with McLaughlin as he uncovers some of Waterloo’s most historic legacies.