June 22, 2011


Backgrounder –

The Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences

Hamilton, Ont. June 22, 2011The Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences is McMaster’s highest capital project priority. The liberal arts facility will improve access to education for under-represented groups such as Aboriginal people, Crown wards and first-generation students, opening new pathways into the university and from the university into the community.


The project will create significant new capacity for teaching, learning, research and community participation, becoming the new centre for the liberal arts and adding about 65 per cent to existing space for the Faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences. The additional facilities will support overall enrolment growth, in keeping with the Province of Ontario’s 70 per cent post-secondary attainment goal.


Flexible new teaching and research spaces equipped with state-of-the-art technology will enhance students’ learning experience. New institutes and facilities will significantly broaden the scope of research, collaboration and outreach.


The project is being designed to meet the LEED gold standard for sustainable development.


Here’s a look at what’s planned.


The building:


  • 104,000 square feet (9,700 square metres) of new classrooms, lecture halls, learning commons, student spaces and offices, adding to 161,000 square feet (15,000 square metres) of existing space for Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Funding includes $45.5 million from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, a $10-million gift from McMaster Chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson and a $1-million gift from the McMaster Association of Part-Time Students


  • project commencing in 2012, construction planned for 2013


  • located at the main Hamilton campus, at a precise site to be determined. The government’s investment announcement allows the location to be finalized. The site will provide the best possible access and proximity for students studying in the Humanities and Social Sciences, with access to parking to enhance community participation in the activities of the building. The site will be determined through the university’s normal process, and will reflect the priorities of the campus plan.


What will happen there?                                    


The building will create space for 1,275 more students on campus overall. At least 13,000 students will have classes there – more than half the entire student population.


Beyond students enrolled specifically in Humanities and Social Sciences, the new building will be critical to students in other faculties, for whom the Humanities and Social Sciences form an integral part of the interdisciplinary education that is characteristic of McMaster.


The Wilson building will also be a hub for new collaborations with the broader community.


A flexible design will facilitate teaching, learning and research, while broadening community access to McMaster programs, research and public events.


The new building will feature spaces to accommodate the full range of teaching and learning methods, from large groups attending lectures to small spaces for groups engaged in problem-based learning. Research nodes arranged around central hubs will encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.


The building will be home to:


  • Pathways Institute: concentrating on building a complete community through research and education, emphasizing experiential education, outreach and removing barriers to education. The institute will be home to McMaster’s Indigenous Studies program.


  • Language Learning Commons: enabling language instruction and research across the university and fostering global citizenship with leading-edge computer software for language instruction, the Commons will include spaces for self-directed learning and collaboration, and a dedicated Francophonie media room.


  • Wilson Institute for Canadian History: training the next generation to understand Canada’s history in the context of its role in the global community in such areas as international migration, world health, and global trade and finance.


  • Centre for Performing Arts and New Media: purpose-built for music and theatre performances and art studios that will foster creativity and innovation in arts education and research, and attract outside performers to campus.


  • Cognitive Science of Language Laboratory: a component of the Centre for Performing Arts and New Media, the laboratory will serve as a centre for studying the interplay between music, language, communication technology, culture and the brain, using cutting-edge brain imaging, multimedia, communication and musical technology.


  • Centre for Collaborations for Health and Well-Being: building on existing research in Social Sciences and collaborating with colleagues from health sciences and public health, the centre will also house graduate students and research in health policy and health and aging. The centre will both support and be anchored by the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, which works to improve the lives of older adults through research, education, outreach and collaboration.


  • Centre for Policy Studies and Change Management: bringing together faculty and graduate students from areas as diverse as economics, political science, engineering, labour studies, social work, and health, aging and society for research and teaching in applied  policy and social research.


Listening to students


Last year, students organized a letter-writing campaign asking the province to support the project and describing the benefits it would bring to the university, the city and the province. They signed copies of a letter to Minister of Colleges Training and Universities John Milloy that said, in part:


 “The importance of this building to the liberal arts at McMaster cannot be overstated. It would open new doors for collaborative learning between Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts and Science with all other faculties. It would provide new opportunities for some of the smaller programs at McMaster, such as Indigenous Studies, as well as act as home to many of the wonderful institutes housed on campus. Students educated in the Humanities and Social Sciences gain critical skills that are highly valued and sought after in today’s workforce.”


Project partners


Lynton (Red) Wilson is a liberal arts graduate of McMaster, having earned his Economics degree in 1962. He credits his education for launching him on successful careers in public service and in business, including leadership positions at many of Canada’s largest companies.


Wilson has long been dedicated to promoting the liberal arts and fostering the broad understanding of Canadian history. He is a founding co-chairman of the Historica Foundation of Canada.

Wilson is an enduring symbol of and advocate for McMaster at home and abroad.


In 2007, soon after being named McMaster’s Chancellor, Wilson made a significant announcement of his own: that he was donating $10 million toward the construction of a new liberal arts building on campus, demonstrating the value he ascribes to the Humanities and Social Sciences.


The gift forms part of Wilson’s considerable contribution to McMaster. He had earlier given $1 million to fund the LR Wilson Professor in Canadian History, and $500,000, matched by BCE, to fund the L.R. Wilson/Bell Canada Chair in Data Communications in the Faculty of Engineering. In 2008, he made a $2.5 million gift to the Wilson Centre for Canadian History at McMaster.


Last year the McMaster Association of Part-time Students announced it would be donating a further $1 million toward the liberal arts project.




For more information, please contact:


Wade Hemsworth

Media Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988



Michelle Donovan

Media Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869