WUSC was established in 1939 through the initiative of J.D. Bickersteth, then Warden of Hart House at the University of Toronto. WUSC, with its headquarters in Toronto, initially focused on building up local university committees to raise money for the relief of the war-devastated university centres throughout Europe in the 1950s. WUSC evolved into the main campus organisation for building an international awareness, with some activities extending into Canadian society.
Programming focus gradually changed in the 1960s from helping university communities to linking resources to the larger community through economic and social development.
Much of the financial support for WUSC national activities and the WUS International Programme of Action (IPA) in the 1950’s and 1960’s can be credited to the inspiration of Ethel Mulvany, who spent years in a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in Changi, Singapore. While a prisoner, Ethel developed a strong determination to help people in Asia and Africa to overcome their poverty, should she survive the starvation of Changi. Suzanne Evans (2015) In her book, Culinary Imagination as a Survival Tool Ethel Mulvany and the Changi Jail Prisoners of War Cookbook, describes “the unbreakable power of imagination, generosity and pure heart of Mulvany.”
Ethel teamed up with several WUSC General Secretaries, including Lewis Perinbam and Douglas Mayer. Both men were highly gifted with organizational and entrepreneurial leadership skills. They introduced and built Treasure Van into a major institution for fostering an appreciation of handicraft and cultural traditions around the globe. Treasure Van promoted and sold a large array of international handicraft that benefited cottage industries in some 40 countries, often in association with handicraft cooperatives. By1969 Treasure Van had evolved into a travelling bazaar where the university community and public would purchase incense, elephant bells, camel saddles, ceremonial swords and silver jewellery.
I remember the three-day sales in the gym of Mount Allison University in the month leading up to Christmas. It attracted large enthusiastic crowds of students, faculty and townspeople from many communities surrounding Sackville, New Brunswick. Treasure Van gave local WUSC Committees energy, funding for activities and a high profile for the campus community. In the 1960s Treasure Van was generating $400,000 each year, which was a very large revenue for an NGO at that time. Approximately $50,000 of Treasure Van revenue was earmarked for WUS’s International Programme of Action. Community groups helped to publicise campus sales through the support of local chapters of the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), church groups, campus United Nations Associations and YWCAs/YMCAs.
The Radical Student Movement & Treasure Van
The student revolution on Canadian campuses in 1968 led to a radical group in the Canadian Union of Students (CUS) condemning Treasure Van as a capitalist venture that should be eliminated. At the 1968 WUSC Annual Meeting, a number of National Committee members were elected, whose agenda was to destroy all existing programming. At the same time, The World Exhibition that took place in Montreal (Expo 67) was a major venue for handicraft displays and sales. The idea caught on and handicraft stores opened up across Canada. As a result, Treasure Van was becoming much less profitable. The WUSC National Committee voted to end the Treasure Van Programme in1969, when it was returned to Ethel Mulvany through the tireless efforts of then Executive Director David Hoye.
National Federation of Canadian University Students (NFCUS)
WUSC had a very close relationship with the National Federation of Canadian University Students (NFCUS) for many years. The President of NFCUS and the Vice President for International Affairs serve on the National Committee and were active in policy development. Together the two organisations co-operated closely on fundraising projects. Examples included earthquake relief in Chile, World Refugee Year, including support for Algerian Refugees and Bantu Students in South Africa.
WUSC and NFCUS jointly played a key role in the establishment of Canadian University Service Oversees (CUSO). WUSC was also responsible for establishing the Canadian Centre for Overseas Students and Trainees (CSOST) that was later renamed the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE). Until 1968, WUSC also managed a SHARE program on university campuses with Student Representative Councils (SRCs).
It collected approximately $1 from each student, and similar contributions were made by University Faculty and Administrators that was donated to WUS.
Restoring WUSC presence on Canadian university campuses
The student upheavals on campuses had seriously undermined the credibility of WUSC, and there was much questioning about the direction of its national and international programming. On a memorable evening during the 1973 Annual Meeting of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), 20 university presidents gathered together and joined WUSC as paid Institutional Members.
This was a turning point for WUSC’s campus image. It became possible because of the support and long association with WUSC of Tom Simmons, the President of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. The year 1973 also marked the return of a university president to lead the WUSC National Committee. Dr. Michael Oliver, President of Carleton University, became the new WUSC President upon the retirement of Dr. James Brash.
WUSC National Programmes Through the Decades
WUSC International seminar program
WUSC launched its first International Seminar in1948, which took place in Germany. The Seminar provided a student and faculty group of 40 participants drawn from all Canadian universities the opportunity to visit a different country each year. Upon their return from a seminar, students were required to share their experiences though campus and community presentations and writing articles for the student newspapers.
This helped to strengthen fund-raising for WUS. The most famous WUSC seminar participant was former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was part of the group that visited Ghana in 1957.
When I became the Executive Director of WUSC in 1970, the very successful International Seminar had been replaced by a small study group that visited Mexico. I had been a participant on the 1964 Seminar in Algeria, an experience that transformed my world view and future career direction. I was shocked that students and faculty would no longer be able to gain a first had appreciation of people, cultures and development challenges in a different seminar location each year. This was an ideologically driven decision based on the misconception that the International Seminars were an elitist club. The reality was that student and faculty seminar participants were selected through an open competition, based on their qualifications and and a strong interest in international affairs. It provided an opportunity to engage in cross-cultural exchanges of knowledge, culture and skills.
Having just returned from a year doing graduate research in Latin America, I knew there was a growing interest in Canada regarding that region of the world. To restart the seminars programme, we chose Columbia (1971) and Peru( 1972) for our initial focus. A return exchange component was added from both countries, through which a group of 10 students, faculty and administrators visited university campuses across Canada. They shared perspectives on international development and their culture and political systems.
At the same time as the reintroduced seminars, WUSC launched the University Programme for International Development (UPID) in which returning Seminar participants and campus committees undertook development education activities. Learning materials and a multi-media slide show were created to highlight international development issues in various regions of Latin America.
WUSC Campus Committees organised the International Night fundraiser that gave a new appreciation and understanding of cultures and traditions from around the world. Foreign students prepared a dinner featuring dishes from their country, and this was followed by a dance and music from many developing countries. The mu The student upheavals on campuses had seriously undermined the credibility of WUSC, and there was much questioning about the direction of its national and international programming. On a memorable evening during the 1973 Annual Meeting of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), 20 university presidents gathered together and joined WUSC as paid Institutional Members. This was a turning point for WUSC’s campus image. It became possible because of the support and long association with WUSC of Tom Simmons, the President of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. The year 1973 also marked the return of a university president to lead the WUSC National Committee. Dr. Michael Oliver, President of Carleton University, became the new WUSC President upon the retirement of Dr. James Brash.
Miles for Millions
In 1969 the Executive Director of WUSC, David Hoye, recognised the importance of the new walk phenomenon as an important way to raise funds for international development. WUSC was a member of the National Committee based in Ottawa and one of twelve members of the Toronto Miles for Millions Walk Committee. WUSC spearheaded development education programming for the Toronto Committee. The multimedia slide kits for our Latin American focus were adapted for use in schools across Metropolitan Toronto. The slide kits proved to be a helpful catalyst in successfully motivating students and their families to take part in the walks. Providing leadership for the development education carried out in Toronto was a great success and important in sustaining our membership on the Toronto “Miles for Millions Walk Committee”.
The “Miles for Millions” phenomena that spread across Canada in 1967 was imported by Oxfam Canada from its sister agency in England. “Millions” referred to the populations of a large number of countries worldwide that were then seen as “underdeveloped” and needing financial and in-kind support for education, health care and economic development. Miles for Millions had a National Planning Committee in Ottawa overseeing marches, however local development agencies decided on how to share funds raised with their community partners.
In 1969 the Executive Director of WUSC, David Hoye, recognised the importance of the new walk phenomenon as an important way to raise funds for international development. WUSC was a member of the National Committee based in Ottawa and one of twelve members of the Toronto Miles for Millions Walk Committee.
WUSC spearheaded development education programming for the Toronto Committee. The multimedia slide kits for our Latin American focus were adapted for use in schools across Metropolitan Toronto. The slide kits proved to be a helpful catalyst in successfully motivating students and their families to take part in the walks. Providing leadership for the development education carried out in Toronto was a great success and important in sustaining our membership on the Toronto “Miles for Millions Walk Committee”.
Each agency in Toronto was also responsible for operating a checkpoint to handle registrants and provide water and first aid to march participants. The WUSC checkpoint was located at Glendon College (York University). Idealism and a desire to help people in developing countries enabled WUSC to operate the checkpoint with a wide assortment of university student groups, political party members and radical pressure groups. Each marcher collected pledges for every mile walked and received a Certificate of Participation. Toronto had 20 checkpoints along a 32.7-mile (53 kilometres) route, which was a daylong event for many marchers. WUSC’s share of the Toronto Walks was over $100,000 each year from 1968 to 1972, and these funds were forwarded to WUS for its international programs.
At its height, over 100 marches were held between 1969 and 1970. Almost 450,000 marchers participated, and $4.5 million was raised for international aid and development. Canadians opened their hearts and wallets.
The reality was that when we moved the WUSC Office from Toronto to Ottawa in 1973, most of the international funding from the “Miles for Millions Walks” had dried up with much less support for the marches.
Once in Ottawa, we were fortunate in obtaining a generous contribution for WUS from the Department of External Affairs (External Aid Office). It represented Canada’s first contribution to Zimbabwe in the form of a grant of $50,000 to help secondary school students to complete their studies and gain entry into university.
International development projects
In 1974 my successor, Bill McNeill, became the Executive Director of WUSC. He was recruited from the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) where he was the Director of Canadian Operations. Bill was not interested in the WUS International Programme of Action (IPA)and focused on WUS-Canada doing its own international development projects. He built a program which involved Canadian and International donors in some 20 countries worldwide. Bill was very successful in capturing the attention and funding of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). WUSC also established a partnership with the United Nations Volunteer Programme (UNV) to recruit Canadian volunteers. Bill also established a successful WUSC volunteer program similar to CUSO’s volunteer sending programs. He also launched a student refugee program that to date has brought more than 1,700 young scholars from almost 40 countries to Canada. The strong foundation he built for WUSC international development programming continues to this day.
Roger Roy participated as a student in the WUS Canada international seminar to Algeria in 1964 and from 1970 to 1974 was WUSC’s Executive Director. He went on to lifetime work in international affairs, including as policy advisor to the UNDP in New York. Other assignments have been with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and as senior advisor at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the Commonwealth of Learning. He has subsequently been the first voluntary Executive Director of the Native Brotherhood Working Skills Institute.