A page in time: Pauline Vanier, uOttawa’s first woman chancellor

Pauline Vanier

Pauline Vanier, the first woman to hold the position of chancellor at the University of Ottawa (1966). AUO-PHO-NB-6-1300. PHOTO : G. Hollington.

From 1889—the year in which the University received its pontifical charter—to the institution’s restructuring in 1965, the prestigious position of chancellor was held systematically by Ottawa’s Catholic archbishop. Msgr. Joseph-Thomas Duhamel, a former College of Bytown student in 1848, was our institution’s first-ever chancellor.

Starting in 1965, the chancellor’s position was open to all, and, on November 22 that same year, the University announced that Pauline Vanier, the wife of General Georges Vanier, governor general of Canada, had been selected for the post. The appointment was a milestone in uOttawa’s history in that it marked the first time that both a lay person and a woman would serve as chancellor.

The chancellor is the titular head of the University and, as such, holds the place of honour at convocation and at other important ceremonies. The chancellor is also an ex-officio member of the Senate and, since 1987, an honourary member of the Board of Governors.

Now, 45 years after the appointment of Pauline Vanier, the University’s Board of Governors has announced that Michaëlle Jean, former governor general of Canada and current UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti, will replace Huguette Labelle as chancellor. Ms. Labelle held the position for 18 years, the longest tenure for a chancellor since the restructuring of 1965.

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