Opportunity for Continued Growth - Dan Mathieson

While the University of Waterloo Stratford campus is celebrating its five-year anniversary this October, the idea behind the St. Patrick Street institution started taking shape more than a decade ago.

In 2006, Stratford played host to the Southwest Economic Assembly conference, and Mayor Dan Mathieson found himself sitting with David Johnston, the former president of the University of Waterloo (and also former Governor General).

They talked about the possibility of a satellite campus in Stratford, what it might look like, and what programs it might offer.

Citing the inaugural Council of Canadian Academies study on the state of science and technology in Canada, Johnston pointed to two areas judged to have the highest growth potential – oilsands and digital media.

For Stratford, oilsands were out, of course, but digital media represented an exciting opportunity, said Mathieson - one he didn’t want to let slip away.

On October 16, 2006, Stratford’s city council authorized the mayor to sign a memorandum of understanding with the University of Waterloo and the Stratford Festival to start exploring the possibility of a post-secondary campus in Stratford.

“I was excited by the fact that we finally got traction from the university to do the work,” said Mathieson, “and I was excited that the area they had identified was cutting edge.”

It was in the spring of 2007 that he started having “a real sense that this thing could happen.”

Momentum built quickly.

In 2008, the City committed $10 million to the project, a sum that was matched by both the Province of Ontario and Waterloo-based enterprise software company OpenText.

“After that, it became a question not of if, but when,” recalled Mathieson.

The when, in fact, was October 16, 2012, as a large crowd gathered in the atrium of the impressive glass-fronted building, in front of a three-storey tall Christie MicroTiles Wall, for the highly anticipated ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new University of Waterloo Stratford campus.

“There are a lot of days when you’re in leadership that are a bit like Groundhog Day,” he said, referring to the movie in which the protagonist relives the same day over and over. “There are only so many days that are transformational. That was one of them. It was one of those days where you thought, wow, we’re on the precipice of something really incredible here.”

And the campus has lived up to the hype and high expectations that were launched on that opening day five years ago, said Mathieson.

“I knew it would have strong growth. I didn’t know it would have the impact that it’s had,” he said.

“It has the opportunity for continued growth at a rate far above what others expected, because it's had such a strong foundation.

That’s because of people like Ginny Dybenko, and Ken Coates and Ian Wilson. And it’s the program and the quality of the students that has blown people away.”