Donald Sobey’s name has become familiar to generations of Canadians in Atlantic Canada and beyond, for they have been fed by the eponymous chain of grocery stores begun by his grandfather almost a century ago. Yet during his long career in the Sobeys family of businesses, Mr. Sobey has made it his personal business to provide other forms of nurture as well, feeding his fellow citizens’ material, educational, aesthetic and spiritual needs in a robust parallel career of philanthropy.
Born in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County, Donald Sobey first joined his brothers and father in the family enterprise in 1958, after completing a Commerce degree at Queen’s University. In 1963 he took a position on the board of the Stellarton-headquartered Empire Company Limited, a diversified entity which operates such well-recognised brands as Sobeys Incorporated, Crombie Properties, and Empire Theatres. Mr. Sobey was named President of Empire in 1969, Chairman in 1985, and, upon his retirement in 2004, Chairman Emeritus.
The Empire Mr. Sobey ruled encompasses the everyday lives of innumerable people in what they eat, where they live, and how they are entertained. Yet the realm of his humane service extended and continues to reach far beyond the board room. He has worked for global conservation and the environment through a directorship on the World Wildlife Federation, and he has helped foster mutual understanding and international cooperation through membership on the Trilateral Commission. As the scion of a family that has always cherished its connection to home, however, it is fair to say that Mr. Sobey has lavished his most creative generosity on building community in Canada, most notably through educational sponsorship and leadership in the arts. Notable among his many contributions to postsecondary education has been his service on the Advisory Council of Queen’s University and on the Board of Governors of Dalhousie University, as well as his chairmanship of a 44-million dollar fundraising campaign on our sister institution’s behalf. His concern for developing local aspirations within a national context is evident in the educational initiative of which he is proudest, the D & R Sobey Atlantic Leadership Awards, inaugurated by Mr. Sobey in 1999. This programme annually selects six Atlantic Canadian students and sends them to study business at Queen’s with four years of full funding. As a complement to the millions of dollars his family’s [Sobey] Foundation has contributed to student scholarship, research and building at universities in our own region, the D & R Sobey Award offers students both wider exposure to the career world for which they are preparing, and the persuasive example of their home-grown benefactor, who himself chose to bring the wealth of insight he gained from his studies in Ontario back to Atlantic Canada, using it to foster the development of national and international businesses headquartered here.
In the fine arts too Mr. Sobey has matched a lifelong love for the work of Canadian artists with the desire and wherewithal to make that work known to a wider Canadian public. Board Chair of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa for two consecutive terms, he and his wife Beth have also been generous donors to the Gallery’s research programmes and to its collection, most recently gracing it with the monumental outdoor sculpture, “Majestic” by Michel de Broin. This Montreal artist is himself emblematic of Mr. Sobey’s desire to nurture creative makers as well as to enjoy their products, for he was a recipient in 2007 of the Sobey Art Foundation’s annual Award. Under the presidency of Mr. Sobey since 2002, the Art Award, with a top prize of $50,000, is bestowed each year upon emerging Canadian Artists. As is typical of so many of Mr. Sobey’s endeavours, the Sobey Art Award is national in scope, but locally grounded, being administered by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia here in Halifax. It is hardly surprising, with the depth and range of his commitments, that Mr. Sobey has been singled out for special distinctions multiple times over the years. He has received several honourary degrees, the Keith Kelly Award for Cultural Leadership, and has been inducted into both the Nova Scotia and the Canadian Business Halls of Fame. It should be no wonder then that we at King’s–an institution which cherishes education and the arts are so deeply; an institution imbued with a powerful genius loci yet ever attractive to students from near and far–should wish to honour this paragon of international success so close to home. I therefore ask you, Mr. Chancellor, to confer upon Donald R. Sobey in the name of King’s College the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (honoris causa).
In 1995, when Dr. Tom Traves became President of Dalhousie University, he began the final stage of a progressively eastward-tracking career in academics and university administration. A native of Winnipeg, Dr. Traves took his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Manitoba before moving to Toronto’s York University, completing a PhD in History and accepting a professorship there in 1976. At an unusually early stage, he began to pair his teaching and research on Canadian business and labour history with administrative responsibilities, becoming Chair of the Division of Social Sciences in 1981. Just two years later, Dr. Traves was named Dean of York’s burgeoning Faculty of Arts, a unit that boasted an enrolment of 16,000 students during his time. By 1991, Dr. Traves had departed Upper Canada for the Maritimes, becoming Academic Vice-President at the University of New Brunswick. His next orientation brought him at last from Fredericton to our sister institution in Halifax, once fondly called “the College by the Sea.” Indeed, no less an obstacle than the great Atlantic Ocean could prevent Tom Traves’ continued march toward the rising of the sun. Dr. Traves has accordingly stayed with us for four terms and eighteen years, devoting his energy and talent to shepherding Dalhousie through a period of unprecedented growth in its numbers of students and faculty, in research dollars, and in world-wide reputation.
Part of the story of change under Tom Traves’ tenure can be captured in numbers. Between 1995 and 2013, for example, total student enrolments at Dalhousie grew by over half, from some 11,000 to almost 18,000. Accompanying that growth was a rise in student entrance averages to their present 85%, and an ever greater focus on developing Dalhousie’s status as Atlantic Canada’s premier Research University. Total research income at Dalhousie now stands at 149 million dollars per annum, and Dr. Traves’ administration has both boosted the number of research professorships and introduced a university-wide honours system to recognise Dalhousie Research Professors. All of this expansion has of course required increased funding and physical space. Under Dr. Traves’ leadership, Dalhousie has managed delicate governmental partnerships and robust fundraising campaigns, with an unprecedented 280 million dollar initiative, aptly named “Bold Ambitions,” successfully wrapping up this very day! The look of the Dalhousie campus itself has changed markedly over the past eighteen years, with the construction of nine new academic buildings, the building or acquisition of four (soon to be five) residences, and substantial modifications and upgrades designed for new realities, such as two new Learning Commons.
It is no doubt safe to assume that Dr. Traves had not foreseen every aspect of his Dalhousie position when he first stepped into it. Among these unexpected duties, perhaps, was his obligation to keep up relations with the odd little principality he found in the northwest corner of his new campus; a University College with its own regal name, its own programmes and proud traditions, yet inextricably linked in educational mission with its larger –albeit younger–sibling. Most of our graduates today will have developed a keen sense of the interdependency of Dalhousie and King’s: home programmes that require joint honours in subjects at Dalhousie, for example, and the presence in King’s classes of Dal students who choose to access unique offerings here. While the post-fire endowment that brought King’s to Halifax mandated such interdependency, the individual growth and individual success of Dalhousie and King’s could only and can only be achieved in the spirit of collegial mutuality. The growth of Dalhousie during Dr. Traves’ terms is paralleled by signal development at King’s during the same period: the consolidation of the new Contemporary Studies Programme and the introduction of the programmes in Early Modern Studies and the History of Science and Technology during his first decade, and the more recent alliance between the School of Journalism and Dal’s Faculty of Graduate Studies for two new programmes, the Master of Journalism and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction. These enhancements to King’s could have been realized only with the support and cooperation of many at the Dalhousie led by Tom Traves.
As president of Dalhousie, Tom Traves made significant contributions to the community both in Nova Scotia and in the nation at large, and both inside and outside the world of post-secondary education. To cull a few examples from a list too long to rehearse, he is at present Chair of the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust Fund, Chairman and Trustee of the Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund, and a director of Innovacorp, the provincial economic development agency. As he enters the phase of life we arbitrarily call retirement, it is impossible to imagine that this man of action will cease to act, just as it is impossible to imagine that he will cease to be a friend to King’s College, now that we claim him as our own. I ask you to make that claim good, Mr. Chancellor, by conferring upon Thomas Traves, in the name of King’s College, the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (honoris causa).
When the University of King’s College Alumni Association bestowed its Judge Elliott J. Hudson Award upon David K. Wilson in 2009, it did so to honour a personal relationship with our University that dates back to 1948, when Mr. Wilson was a student here. His association with the King’s tradition, however, goes back even further, for Mr. Wilson had come to Halifax as an “Old Boy” from what was then King’s Collegiate in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Indeed, his lifetime of generosity both to our King’s cousin in the Valley and to our own University College may cause one to wonder whether Mr. Wilson’s middle initial actually stands for “King’s”: In Windsor, the Senior School building is named for him, after all, and his abiding devotion to the University in Halifax has been no less evident. In the 1950’s Mr. Wilson’s was followed to King’s College by his younger brother Peter, and in the 1980’s and 1990’s by his sons Stephen and Gregor. David Wilson has been a constant supporter of the College through the years, repeatedly donating within the Inglis Circle to our Annual Fund, making substantial contributions to our Library’s “Rare Find” campaign in 1990, and giving again to the “Building a Strong Foundation” initiative later in the decade. In recent years Mr. Wilson, along with his sister-in-law Rose, has provided an enthusiastic Presenting Sponsorship for our Chapel Choir’s “King’s in the Cathedral” series through Wilson Fuels, of which he is co-Chair.
The education that Mr. Wilson, his brother and his sons received at King’s is the kind of education that strives to form the whole individual: it is a collaborative formation of body, mind and soul within a community of others. This kind of collegial education teaches full respect for difference, but also for the bonds of geographical space and of historical commonality. David Wilson comes from a family with deep roots in Colchester County, a family that emerges early in the annals of provincial commerce as the owners of a construction business that helped rebuilding efforts in Dartmouth after the Halifax explosion of 1917, and which has sought to “give back” in numerous ways since.
Later in the last century, the family’s business interests turned decisively towards domestic comfort and transportation, developing into the company now known as Wilson Fuels. David Wilson co-Chairs this company as the largest independent retailer of home heating fuel and gasoline in Atlantic Canada. Mr. Wilson is also Chair of Kerr Controls and Smart Energy, based in Truro. His Chairships of Ski Wentworth in Nova Scotia and Crabbe Mountain, a similar winter sporting venue in New Brunswick, testify to his engrained understanding that physical culture, preferably of the sort that promotes athleticism in the outdoors, plays a crucial role in shaping the whole individual. Mr. Wilson founded the Truro Bear Cats Rugby club in the late 1950’s, and was for sixteen years a dedicated Scout Master, for which he was awarded the Canadian Commemorative Medal. Mr. Wilson is patron of the Colchester Community Workshops Foundation and has served on numerous boards, including the Colchester YMCA, the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, and the Central Nova Tourism Association. In 2009 he was named Atlantic Canada Entrepreneur of the Year, and he is a member of the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame. In 2011 David Wilson, along with his sister-in-law Rose, received the Canadian Red Cross Humanitarian award in recognition of their efforts individual, familial, and corporate, to improve the community they come from, live in, and will bequeath to fellow citizens of the future. Today we honour David Wilson for his service to community, grateful and proud to see in it the pattern of humanity King’s has always striven to instill in her own. For his contributions to King’s no less than for his contributions as a Kingsman, I therefore ask you, Mr. Chancellor, to confer upon David Kerr Wilson, in the name of King’s College the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (honoris causa).
The Loyalist founders of King’s College used to compare themselves with the ancient Romans, who like them came to learn the true meaning of home through loss, relocation, and rebuilding. For the Romans the hearth, or household fire, was quite literally the focus, the source of sustaining warmth and nourishment worshipped as a domestic goddess who dwelled within. The Romans venerated the same goddess at the heart of their civic cult, binding the good of the community at large and the health of the community at home in a common devotion. Though we may well stop short of paying her divine honours today, we recognise in Rose Wilson a woman who understands the importance of keeping the fire of community burning both in its broadest and in its most intimate of hearths.
With her late husband George Peter Wilson, brother of David K. Wilson and President of Wilson Fuel, Rose cultivated a lifelong habit of stintless support for the various forms of community she has lived in, whether familial, corporate, or public. Her generosity to educational causes runs from those at the preschool level through to university and beyond. Mrs. Wilson has served on the Board of Directors of the Halifax Early Childhood School, supported the Citadel High Legacy Campaign, and received a Community Achievement award for her work in behalf of Gorsebrook Junior High. She is a past invigilator of the Canadian Millennial Scholarship Foundation, and is currently a mentor in the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation, which grants four-year financial awards to university students not only on the basis of academic talent, but also of character, service, and leadership potential. The Wilson Fuel Family scholarship, established in 2009, further reflects Rose’s devotion to the principle of accessible post-secondary education to those who desire and deserve it. Mrs. Wilson has contributed to health care through her support of the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and she has given attention to other charitable causes through her support of the Salvation Army and the United Way. With her long and varied contributions, it is no wonder that the Canadian Red Cross chose to bestow its Humanitarian Award upon Mrs. Wilson in 2011. Furthermore, knowing the role that music can play in rendering the soul humane, Rose has been an enthusiastic patron of Symphony Nova Scotia and has stood behind Wilson Fuel’s generous underwriting of concerts performed by the King’s College Chapel Choir in this Cathedral and in other historic buildings in our province.
Rose Wilson’s relationship with King’s is one that grew with the partnership she shared with her late husband, who attended King’s in the late 1950’s and was a proud and giving alumnus thereafter, serving as Atlantic Canada corporate co-chair of the College’s “Building on a Strong Foundation” campaign in the 1990’s. When G. Peter Wilson passed away in 1999, Rose not only saw fit to continue his corporate role in the family business, but also to extend his benevolent influence at King’s, endowing a well-used and cherished room in his memory. A second-floor chamber in the New Academic Building, the G. Peter Wilson Common Room is filled with natural light, and is at once a capacious and a comfortable space. In the course of a typical in-term week, the Wilson Room does constant service as an informal place for students and professors to gather and debate topics high and low; as the designated venue of the Foundation Year Programme’s General tutorial; as the congenial hall where guest scholars deliver lectures and seminars; as the salon where visiting poets and novelists are welcome to read their works, and as a central reception area where the College’s achievements are celebrated and toasted. In a word, the Wilson room has become a microcosm of the community of learning and fellowship that makes King’s the distinctive and vibrant collegium that it is. And at the centre of that room, under a portrait of the man for whom it is named, is its focus: the fire-hearth that warms the bodies of those present, and which will also leave them a memorial in days to come of the ideas and friendships kindled there, images of community to be built and sustained wherever they may go. For her example in kindling and fueling the fires of community at King’s and beyond, Mr. Chancellor, I ask you, in the name of King’s College, to confer upon Rose Wilson the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (honoris causa).