The Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo has evolved from a fledgling program with two dozen students to one of the largest and most prestigious programs of its kind in Canada.

Growing need for professionals

The first real need for trained recreation specialists became apparent in the mid-1950s when demand for personnel far exceeded the trained people available. This gave an opportunity for the University of Western Ontario to establish an in-service training course in 1954.

It soon, however, became apparent that this could not be a permanent solution. The need for technical training was still in high demand in the late 1950s. In order to allow students to experience a technical aspect of recreation, the University of Guelph introduced a two-year diploma course. These initial steps provided some growth to the area of recreation and leisure studies, but in many ways there was still great need for further development.

Answering the call

In the Spring of 1967, the Ontario Ministry of Education requested the University of Waterloo and the University of Ottawa to initiate a degree program in recreation. It was decided that the Department of Recreation would be formed within the jurisdiction of the School of Physical and Health Education.

The Recreation Department at the University of Waterloo offered, for the first time, academic programs which prepared student to provide leadership in the leisure needs of society. The program combined knowledge of people, environment, and management into an academic package that prepared graduates for careers in a variety of public and private agencies.

The first lectures took place in the Physical Activities Complex in the Fall of 1968 with 28 students and two faculty members: the Department Chair, Roger Dion, and Professor Jack Pearse. Within the next year, Charles A. Griffith arrived as another professor and replaced Roger Dion as Chair of the department. At that time the department was in its early stages with challenging roads ahead.

As the years went by, the size of the department increased. In 1970, a regular system of study was added in addition to the inaugural co-op option. In the first decade of its existence, the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies had to be moved off-campus to the Phillip Street building to accommodate the growth that it experienced both in the number of students and the number of faculty members. In 1980, the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies settled into its final home in B.C. Matthews Hall (BMH). The department continued to grow in numbers and initiatives over the next few decades as outlined in the milestones below.


Year Milestone
1972 four elective areas of concentration developed: leisure studies, therapeutic recreation, recreation administration, and outdoor recreation and education
1973 Leisure Studies Data Bank founded to obtain, store and provide access to numerous statistical data sets related to leisure studies for teaching and research
1975 Business Option established with Wilfrid Laurier University's School of Business; several joint honours degrees added with other disciplines across campus
1975 Master of Arts in Recreation and Leisure Studies added; first students admitted in September 1975; first graduate in 1977
1985 four additional elective areas of concentration added: cultural recreation, leisure and the humanities, tourism and commercial recreation, and urban and municipal recreation
late 1980's to early 1990's Parks Option, Therapeutic Recreation Option and Tourism Option established
late 1990's Leisure Studies Data Bank collection moved to the University of Waterloo Library for ongoing management
1993 first PhD in Recreation and Leisure Studies in Canada added; first students admitted September 1994; first graduate in 1997
2001 Master of Arts in Tourism Policy and Planning added in collaboration with the Faculty of Environment; first students admitted in September 2002; first graduate in 2004
2002 two major degrees added in Recreation and Business, and Therapeutic Recreation; four-year General Bachelor of Arts degree added
2005 new collaborative PhD in Aging, Health and Well-being added within Applied Health Sciences' three departments; first students admitted September 2006
2007 new collaborative PhD in Work and Health added within Applied Health Sciences' three departments; first students admitted September 2008
2012 Recreation and Business evolves into Recreation and Sport Business degree; Tourism and Parks Management degree added