As uOttawa students, many of you may be wondering who in the world our buildings are named after. I know I did, at least. In this short series, I’ll be highlighting the namesakes for uOttawa’s most iconic spots and why they’re are named after these historical figures – starting with psychology department headquarters, Vanier Hall!
Vanier Hall is located near the centre of campus, close to the University Square and the on-campus OC Transpo LRT station. Vanier Hall was named after Canadian Georges Vanier. But who is he, and why do we commemorate him on our campus buildings?
Georges Vanier (1888-1967) was one of the few French Canadians who voluntarily joined the First World War, and played a significant role in organizing the first battalion of French Canadians (the Royal 22e Regiment), commanding the regiment for two years. He fought alongside fellow Canadians in many important events, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge. For his efforts in the war, Vanier won the famed Military Cross and a Distinguished Service Order.
Following WWI, Vanier became a diplomat for the Canadian government, and by 1928 was named a member of Canada’s military delegation for disarmament to the League of Nations.
In 1939, with Europe on the brink of war, Vanier was appointed as the Canadian Minister to France. Within a year, he was forced to leave the post and Paris as the Germans made their way into France in 1940. Vanier upheld his commitment to public service though, and was able to arrange for the evacuation of Canadian citizens and other refugees seeking escape.
As the war continued, Vanier was one of the only forces urging the Canadian government to offer Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis asylum in Canada. Following the war, Vanier was one of few men who toured a concentration camp in Germany, and later spoke to CBC Radio on the horrors he witnessed. Vanier became an advocate, urging Canada to adopt more humane immigration policies for those displaced and seeking a safer life following the war.
In 1944, Vanier’s reputation, diplomatic experience and military history led to his appointment as the first ever Canadian Ambassador to France. By then, Vanier had become Major-General Vanier, adding to his long list of career achievements.
After retiring as Ambassador, Vanier returned home, only to became the first French Canadian to serve as Governor General of Canada in 1959. He used his position to begin promoting anglophone and francophone harmony in Canada, and it was Vanier, in 1965, who inaugurated Canada’s new national flag (today’s current flag).
In 1965, Vanier and his wife Pauline – who has a long list of achievements on her own – founded the Vanier Institute of the Family. The goal for their new organization was to encourage cooperation among charitable, religious, educational, welfare, cultural, and other organizations while also seeking various faiths in Canada to further their joint endeavors for family betterment.
Vanier died in office as Governor General in 1967. Following his passing, Pauline Vanier returned to her hometown of Montreal, and later served as a Chancellor of the University of Ottawa (the first woman to do so!)
In 1998, Maclean’s magazine named Georges Vanier as the most important Canadian in history. Today, we continue to remember Vanier for his service to Canada, with streets, neighborhoods, buildings, and many schools named in his honour.