This award was created by the Alumni of Victoria College Executive in 1997 and is given annually to a Victoria College Alumna/us who has distinguished themselves through extraordinary contribution to society at large, through social, business, political, educational, cultural, or religious life. Such contributions can be at the local, national or international level in recognition of recent or lifetime achievement.
2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient - Heather Onyett Vic 6T7
After graduating from Victoria College in 1967 Heather Onyett spent two life-changing years as a volunteer with Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) in Africa. She worked as a teacher in rural Burundi and spent her summers hitch-hiking the continent.
Heather went on to earn a MD from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1974, graduating as its first pediatrician. She spent the next five years with the International Grenfell Association as its chief of paediatrics, working as the sole paediatrician for Indigenous and settler children living in the far-reaching northern communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Heather earned a professional Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (Liverpool, U.K.), a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and became a paediatric infectious diseases specialist of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. In 1987 she joined the Faculty of Medicine at Queen’s University.
Heather served on numerous Queen’s, national and international committees, including serving as president of the medical staff of the Hotel Dieu Hospital, Kingston. For 25 years of clinical practice she was the only paediatric infectious diseases physician in Kingston. For over 50 years, she remained committed to global health issues, both professionally and personally.
Heather passed away in December 2019.
Nominations for the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award are due by December 31, 2020. Please submit your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kindly include the following four details to the best of your ability.
1. Name of nominee, graduation year and contact information.
2. A brief letter of support outlining why your nominee should be considered for the award for example, highlights could include achievements, awards, volunteer work, etc.
3. Name of nominee, graduation year (if applicable) and contact information.
4. Name of supporting nominator, graduation year (if applicable) and contact information.
Read About Past Recipents
2018 Chandra "Bose" Sookdeosingh Vic 7T1
Bose Sookdeosingh immigrated to Canada with a young family in the late 1960s. Working many jobs, he enrolled at Victoria College. He went on to earn a BA in economics and political science. Then he earned an MA from U of T in criminology. This master’s degree was the first step in a career of nearly 40 years dedicated to corrections with the Ontario Public Service.
Sookdeosingh’s work has made a profound impact on the professional practices of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. He changed the landscape of correctional services within Ontario’s Central Region: upon his retirement in 2011, then Deputy Minister Jay Hope remarked that Sookdeosingh had been “almost single-handedly responsible for diversifying Central Region” and had been “largely responsible for Community Services—as a division—being as diverse as it is today.”
2017 W. David Wilson Vic 6T8
W. David Wilson was recognized for his professional accomplishments as an investment banker and securities regulator as well as for his dedication to giving back to Victoria University, to U of T and to non-profits for over 35 years. Currently, Wilson is chair of the Board of Trustees for Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and chair of the Board of Directors for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
2016 Sonia A. Baxendale Vic 8T4
Recognized for her professional accomplishments in the financial sector and for her commitment to advocating for women in leadership. She currently serves as corporate director on the boards of CI Financial Corp., Laurentian Bank and Foresters Financial and on the board of SickKids. She has received numerous honours and was listed three times as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.
2015 Joanne Kotsopoulos Vic 9T9
Joanne Kotsopoulos was recognized for her award-winning research for the advancement of women's health. Kotsopoulos is a scientist in the Familial Breast Cancer Research Program at the Women's College Research Institute. She focuses her research on the prevention, treatment and management of breast and ovarian cancer, specifically among women with a genetic predisposition. She is the recipient of a Cancer Care Ontario Research Chair in Population Studies and a Canadian Cancer Society Career Development Award in Prevention.
2014 George F. MacDonald Vic 6T1
Well known for his leadership as executive director of the Canadian Museum of History, George MacDonald has had an extraordinary career as an archaeologist, anthropologist and professor. He was commissioned to represent Canada in negotiations with the Smithsonian Institution in repatriating the Kwakiutl potlatch collection from its Museum of the American Indian; in 1996, he was named a member of Thematic Studies of the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada; in 2013, he was appointed to the ad hoc Canadian Committee for Memory of the World Register of UNESCO. He continues to remain involved with both academia and museum life at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and as director emeritus at the Canadian Museum of History.
2013 Maxwell Yalden Vic 5T2
Maxwell Yalden has had an extraordinary career as a Canadian civil servant and diplomat. He was elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1996 and re-elected in 2000. He was Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission from 1987 to 1996 and the Commissioner of Official Languages from 1977 to 1984.
2012 Robert C. Wong Vic 6T3
Robert C. Wong is vice-chair and senior portfolio manager at Leon Frazer and Associates; however, his personal history reflects a varied and interesting career path. While completing an MBA in finance, Wong taught high school math, physics and pioneered the teaching of computer science at the high-school level, and wrote textbooks on the subject. in 1987 when he was elected MPP to the Toronto riding of Fort York and thereafter was appointed Ontario’s Minister of Energy in Premier David Peterson’s government. This appointment made Wong the first cabinet minister in Canada of Chinese descent. Two years later, he took on the citizenship portfolio. His time in parliament was marked by making major changes to the Power Corporation Act and for promoting multiculturalism and equity among Ontario’s diverse population.
2011 Anne Tait Vic 5T4
Anne (Weldon) Tait is a Toronto-based film producer, writer, casting director and broadcaster. She is best known for producing the epic film Iron Road in 2009.
2010 Paul Wilson Vic 6T3
Writer, editor, translator and radio producer Paul Wilson is an English Language and Literature graduate, “Wilson’s work embodies Vic’s strong literary and arts tradition and it is wonderful to celebrate his accomplishments during Vic’s 175th anniversary” said Rita Schepok Vic 9T1, chair of the selection committee.
Following graduation, Wilson attended King’s College, University of London followed by ten years in The Czech Republic where he taught English. After being expelled by the Communist government in 1977 for his association with the dissident movement, and his role as a member of the rock band The Plastic People of the Universe, Wilson returned to Canada and actively promoted the work of dissident writers and musicians in the West. He has published over 20 books of translations of Czech literature and contributed to many North American and European publications.
2009 Steve Paikin Vic 8T1
For over 25 years, Paikin has helped to inform the public’s understanding of complex social and political issues. In his current role as anchor and senior editor of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Paikin can be seen nightly addressing the pressing issues facing the world today, providing a forum for thought-provoking discussion among newsmakers and experts.
2008 Nancy (Adams) Ruhnke Vic 7T8
Nancy Ruhnke has been a member of the Friends of the Victoria University Library since the group’s inception in 1992. She served as the executive’s chair from 1998 to 2008 and chaired the organizing committee for the group’s annual book sale from 1997 to 2008. In both areas of involvement, she helped the Friends consistently raise a wealth of support for library initiatives.
Ruhnke has been called the “heart and soul” of the Vic Book Sale by her fellow volunteers. Each year, in addition to her executive responsibilities for the event, which requires the services of over 160 volunteers, Ruhnke has managed the process of transporting, sorting and pricing the tens of thousands of books donated for sale. This task alone is a full-time, intensive job that demands perseverance, expert organizational skills and patience.
2007 Stan Farrow Vic 5T8
Stan Farrow’s abilities as a musician and writer are at the heart of his volunteer pursuits. Twenty-four years as a musical entertainer for the patients of Scarborough Hospital, 37 years as a pianist for the Scarborough Gilbert and Sullivan Society and 60 years of service to his church, in a variety of areas, are among some of his many contributions to the community. A teacher of classics for 35 years at Scarborough’s David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute, he was actively involved in the school’s stage productions. The auditorium was named in Farrow’s honour upon his retirement in 1994.
2006 Catherine Young Bates Vic 5T6
At Vic, Catherine Young Bates studied art and archeology and was a resident of Waldie House on Bloor Street (where the Colonnade now stands). After graduation, Catherine pursued graduate work at McGill University. She studied painting at The Baltimore Museum of Art, and printmaking at The Maryland Institute, and spent a year in England focusing on drawing. She taught in the Fine Arts Department of Dawson College in Quebec for many years. Her works continue to be displayed in Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Montreal. In 2001, she was also elected as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
2005 Ben Chan Vic 8T7
He is a bush-plane-travelling doctor, a respected medical researcher, an avid blues musician, and a committed health care advocate. Ben Chan has worked closely with provincial and national policy-makers to improve health care in the areas of physician human resource planning, primary care delivery and assessment of quality of care.
2004 Carole (Goss) Taylor Vic 6T7
Carole Taylor began her broadcasting career as host of CTV’s After Four while still a student at Victoria College. She went on to host CTV’s Canada AM and W5 before joining the CBC to host Pacific Report and Authors, as well as Scene from Here and Vancouver Life.
Taylor, who often interviewed politicians, turned to politics herself in 1986 and was elected to Vancouver City Council as an independent. Taylor went on to become the Minister of Finance for the province of British Columbia where she introduced the ground-breaking carbon tax bill which has inspired similar efforts by other governments. Taylor was made an officer of the Order of Canada and appointed chair of CBC/Radio-Canada’s board of directors in 2001. As well as serving on many corporate and non-profit boards, Taylor also contributes her leadership and expertise to Victoria University as member of the president’s advisory board for Vic One.
2003 Jack Batten Vic 5T4
Author and broadcaster whose book, The Man Who Ran Faster than Everyone: The Story of Tom Longboat, won the Norma Fleck Award for non-fiction, the biggest prize in Canadian children's literature.
2002 Pauline (Mills) McGibbon Vic 3T3
When the history of Victoria University's second century is written, and a list is made of alumni who had the greatest national impact, Pauline McGibbon will join Pearson and Frye near the top. An entire column in Who's Who is required to list her accomplishments, and "first woman" appears nine times - "first woman chancellor of U of T," "first woman director of IBM," and, of course, "first woman Lieutenant-Governor in the Commonwealth.
2001 Joan (Foster) Mactavish Vic 4T2
Awarded in recognition of her extraordinary contribution and commitment to her society, community and college. In 1967 Joan was engaged by the CNIB to be Mae Brown's tutor and assistant. A year after Mae's death she turned her efforts to developing services for all adults who were deaf and/or blind in Ontario.
2000 Donald Harron Vic 4T8
Since the arrival of his alter ego Charlie Farquharson, Don Harron has made thousands of people laugh. He has worked in radio and television, made a number of albums, and is the author of several best-selling books.
1999 Ruth Bentley Vic 4T3
Since graduation, Ruth Bentley has continued to give so much back to the Vic community. Few of Victoria's alumni are more extraordinary than Bentley. In 1986, she was the Chair of the Sesquicenntenial dinner which drew almost 3,000 Vic alumni and friends, one of the largest alumni events in U of T history. She was also one of the founders of the Friends of the Library and the Victoria College Book Sale.
1998 Past Chairs of the Board of Regents
To celebrate the inaugural year of the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Victoria University Board of Regents was honoured, with recognition being offered to each past board chair. With service spanning five decades, the Board of Regents of Victoria University have led Victoria through times of rapid change and development. Past chairs include:
Ralph Mills (2T5), 1962-70
Dennis Lane (5T4), 1977-82
Henry Sissons (3T7), 1982-85
David Pretty (4T7), 1985-89
Ruth (Manning) Alexander (5T0), 1989-92
Paul Fox (4T4), 1992-95
Richard Cousland (5T4)