-Confederation Centre staff and board fondly remember Canadian luminary, friend, and dedicated member of Centre family-
Confederation Centre of the Arts is mourning the passing of Professor Thomas H.B. Symons, CC, O.Ont, FRSC, LLD, DU, DLitt, DCnL, FRGS, KSS. Professor Symons passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 91.
Professor Symons was a long-time colleague of Confederation Centre of the Arts (CCOA), serving as both board member and governor and was the founding force behind the now annual Symons Medal Lecture. He is widely recognized for his contributions in the areas of public policy, heritage, and education, dedicating his life to community and nation building.
Born in Toronto in 1929, Professor Symons was educated at the University of Toronto and later Oriel College, Oxford. Returning to the University of Toronto he taught both Ancient and Canadian History.
He would later go on to become founder and president of Peterborough’s Trent University. His vision for Trent was a fully-formed collegiate institution where all members of the community would intermingle. Under his guidance, Trent developed the country’s first Indigenous Studies program, as well as the Canadian Studies program and the ground-breaking Journal of Canadian Studies – initiatives that inspired many other programs of the sort across Canada.
Professor Symons made myriad contributions to his larger Ontario community and public initiatives across Canada, while also leaving his mark on Prince Edward Island. He joined the board of CCOA in 1986 and in 2004 led the establishment of the Symons Medal Lecture at CCOA. Each year, this nationally televised ceremony and lecture is held on the Mainstage at Confederation Centre, recognizing an eminent individual who has made a major contribution to Canadian life. The event has grown steadily each year, having recognized 20 Medallists to date.
“It is with deep sadness that we reflect on the passing of Tom Symons, “states Robert Sear, chair of board of the Fathers of Confederation Buildings Trust. “As many Islanders know, Tom was one of the Centre’s most passionate and committed members. He carried a great love for the Island and we are forever thankful for his many contributions and generous guidance over the past 35 years as board member, governor, and friend.”
Says Steve Bellamy, CEO, “Tom has left a profound impact on Confederation Centre of the Arts through his efforts to promote the Centre nationally, particularly through the establishment of the Symons Medal Lecture. We are very proud to have received decades of support and attention from Tom, and are equally proud to ensure that his legacy will live on through the Symons Medal Lecture series.”
Professor Symons has been coming to P.E.I. annually for 50 years and will be missed by many in the community. Says Island Historian Catherine Hennessey, OC, of her colleague, “Tom Symons has long connections with this place, having arrived here as a hitch hiker while he was a teenager. That trip took him to the gate of Shaw’s Hotel in Brackley. His loyalties run deep on this island, spending summers at Shaw’s; caring for us when he was chair of National Historic Sites and Monuments Board; and then later on the Centre’s board. He is a true Canadian icon and I will always be honoured to call him a friend.”
The Centre board and staff wish to extend sympathies to Professor Symons’ wife Christine; their children, Mary, Ryerson and Jeffrey; and the entire Symons family.
In lieu of flowers, the Symons family has asked that donations be made to, among others, The Symons Trust of Confederation Centre of the Arts.