ANTIGONISH: Sixty-four years after arriving at StFX University at only 16-years-old, carrying a cardboard suitcase and wearing the only blazer he owned in the fall of 1955, Brian Mulroney said StFX taught him about the power of ideas to transform the country, from one century to the next, and failure was never an option.
Mulroney was back on the campus of his alma mater on September 18, a place where he learned big ideas are about leadership and fundamental change, for the official opening of the $100-million Brian Mulroney Institute of Government (BMIG) and Mulroney Hall.
Reminiscing about a conversation he had with his father Benedict – who was an electrician at the local paper mill in Baie-Comeau, Que., about seeking an apprenticeship at the mill, because the family was struggling financially – the now 80-year-old Mulroney, was overcome with emotion as he recalled his father’s words.
“My father’s reply is engraved in my memory: “I know Brian, that times are tough and we could sure use the extra you would bring in,” Mulroney said as he fought back tears. “But I have learned one thing: the only way out of a paper mill town is through a university door – and you are going to university.”
He indicated his father, who died 53-years-ago when he was only 61, never got a chance to see any of the good things of his hard work and would have been extremely proud a building like Mulroney Hall exists – stating he’s come a long way from his tiny mill house in Baie-Comeau.
Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, who graduated from StFX in 1959, said the BMIG will provide opportunities for young Canadians and others from around the globe to learn, lead and help build a better world.
“When I left this campus with my classmates – to head to the big city with the bright lights, to conquer to world – or so we all hoped – I had no money, no connections and no influence,” Mulroney said. “But I had two things of far greater worth: a degree from StFX and the values that had been inculcated into us by a superb faculty and university leaders, here in Antigonish.”
The four-storey, $52 million, 93,000 square foot glass-walled building, designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, the architectural firm responsible for designing the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo and the Museum of War in Ottawa, is a focal point on the campus, connecting the lower and upper campuses.
With the edition of the BMIG on campus, something the university calls the most transformational project in the history of the university; StFX now offers a new bachelor program in public policy and governance – the first of its kind in Canada.
For Mulroney and thousands of other Xaverians like him, StFX represents not a big city, but a big opportunity.
The BMIG aims to find creative solutions to complex national and global public policy and governance questions, it conducts public outreach to stimulate and influence national and international discourse on political, economic and social issues, and provides students with the skillsets to take on leadership roles in the public sector and beyond.
The building houses memorabilia commemorating Mulroney’s nine-years in office, a time in which he aided in ending the apartheid in South Africa, negotiated the acid rain treaty and the North American Free-Trade Agreement.
Encompassing displays throughout Mulroney Hall are a 2004 personal letter from South African leader Nelson Mandela and a walking stick that was given to him at Camp David by U.S. President George H.W Bush.
The centerpiece of the building however, is the stunningly true-to-detail replica of the Prime Minister’s Office during Mulroney’s tenure, down to the exact same walnut desk, 150-year-old Persian rug, standing floor globe, family photos, tables and lamps.
Mulroney personally spearheaded a campaign that raised $100-million to create the cornerstone of the StFX Xaverian Commons project, which will transform the university’s upper campus.
Among the funds raised, $65-million was raised through private donors, $30-million from the federal government and $5-million from the Province of Nova Scotia. A total of $16-million was raised specifically for over 200 student scholarships and bursaries annually, while another $10-million was created for academic programming and chairs.
“My years at StFX were defining ones; I got my start here and the relationships I forged, and the leadership skills I learned introduced me to the value of service to others. Service is in the ethos of StFX, and I am humbled by the opportunity to give back to the institution in a way that will positively affect those long after I’m gone,” Mulroney said. “I am proud to be able to support the education of our future leaders, individuals who I know will make a difference to this country.”