The University of Waterloo has broken ground on the Waterloo Eye Institute (WEI), the School of Optometry and Vision Science’s new centre of excellence in vision research, optometric education and patient care. 

“Today marks a significant milestone in our region’s history,” says Dr. Stanley Woo, director of the School. “One in five Canadians is at risk of losing their sight due to eye disease. The Waterloo Eye Institute will help address this urgent problem by harnessing our research strengths to develop innovative solutions and by delivering expert care to patients in Waterloo and surrounding communities.” 

Dr. Stanley Woo holding a shovel while speaking at the podium

Dr. Stanley Woo, director of the School of Optometry and Vision Science, holding a shovel while addressing the audience at the Waterloo Eye Institute ceremony.

With 68,000 square feet of new and renovated space, the WEI will extend its impact, providing essential services to patients of all ages. The need is widespread: in addition to the millions of adults in Canada living with eye disease, 60 per cent of children with reading difficulties have undetected or uncorrected vision problems. 

“It is imperative that Canadians have access to care when they need it most,” says The Right Honourable David Johnston, former Governor General of Canada, past president of the University of Waterloo and honorary chair of the Seeing Beyond 20/20 fundraising campaign.  

“Helping people see is crucial for individual quality of life as well as for productivity, equity and inclusion on a national level. The WEI will change vision care not only for patients in Waterloo region but also for the underserved communities that will benefit from the teleoptometry centre and the future patients who will benefit from the WEI’s research.”     

The Right Honourable David Johnston addressing the audience attending the groundbreaking Waterloo Eye Institute ceremony

The Right Honourable David Johnston, and former Governor General of Canada, reflects on the Waterloo Eye Institute's importance to the community at a ceremony with regional stakeholders and champions.

As an epicentre for learning and innovation, the WEI will provide critical resources for interdisciplinary Waterloo researchers to apply their deep knowledge of biomedical sciences and ocular imaging to make advances in earlier diagnosis and treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes. 

“The WEI is a perfect example of how the University of Waterloo applies its research strengths to benefit communities locally and globally,” says Vivek Goel, President and Vice-Chancellor of Waterloo. “It addresses a growing need for specialized care in our region and beyond in areas such as vision therapy, myopia control and dry eye disease, while combining deep insights from across academic disciplines to solve complex health problems facing humanity.” 

The School of Optometry and Vision Science has raised $27.5 million of its $35 million goal. Leading gifts include $5 million from FYidoctors, which was comprised of $2.5 million from Alan and Karen Ulsifer and individual member optometrists and then matched with a $2.5 million gift from the company; $3.5 million from IRIS; $2 million from Dr. Marta Witer (OD ’79) and the Ihnatowycz Family Foundation; $1.5 million from longtime supporters Dr. George (OD ’64, DSc ’19) and Judy Woo; $1 million from the Region of Waterloo; and $600,000 from Dr. Carol Cressman (OD ’79).  

“The region is proud to support the Waterloo Eye Institute,” says Karen Redman, chair of the Region of Waterloo. “The WEI is not only a critical resource for patient care in our region, but a national resource for education and research. We look forward to witnessing the impact of the WEI on our communities and nation as a whole.” 

Dr. Stanley Woo, Dr. Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of Waterloo, and other senior leaders participate in digging

Construction of the Waterloo Eye Institute is expected to take two years. The completed building will feature expanded and modernized patient care spaces, including an updated optical dispensary full of natural light. All patient care will be on one floor, which will assist with accessibility and patient flow. 

During the construction process, all patient care will move to a nearby interim location, which will offer all services currently offered at 200 Columbia St. W., from comprehensive eye exams for all ages to specialized services such as vision therapy, low vision rehabilitation, advanced contact lenses and ocular disease care. 

To learn more about the Waterloo Eye Institute and the campaign, please contact: 

Kelsey Gagnon   
Associate Director, Advancement   
School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo 

Banner feature credit: Jay Mielke, Faculty of Science