A Monument to Learning and Caring for Others

Governor General officially opens University Gates and Centre of Excellence

By Kristian Partington

It’s fitting that as The Village at University Gates and the Schlegel Centre of Excellence for Research and Innovation marked their official grand opening in Waterloo on Oct. 30, the village’s general manager, Chris-Anne Preston shared the stage with Canada’s Head of State, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.  

Sharon Johnston, wife of the Governal General, signs at a podium as Ron Schlegel and David Johnston stand nearby
Ron Schlegel watches proudly as his friend, Governor General David 
Johnston, and his wife, Sharon, sign the guestbook at University Gates.

Within Schlegel Villages, the hierarchies that once existed, separating front-line team members into roles and silos and management above them have been flattened. On this auspicious day, as the Governor General spoke alongside Ontario’s Deputy Premier, Deb Matthews, the presidents of the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA), hierarchies once again seemed to disappear.  Chris-Anne’s role in helping this dream become a reality is as important as the role His Excellency played years ago, and no more or less important than the role of the research assistant, personal support worker or housekeeping team member working in the village every day. 

Governor General Johnston was the president of the University of Waterloo in the 1990s when his friend, Ron Schlegel, first presented the idea of a state-of-the-art home for research and innovation in aging. He envisioned a place where research would inform education and practice and all three would come together in a village where the elders who make their home can share their wisdom and experience.

Chris Anne was a new nurse around that time, working at the newly opened Village of Winston Park in Kitchener. She would take on many roles at Winston Park, from charge nurse (when they were still referred to that way) to assistant general manager. All the while Schlegel Villages continued to expand, sharpening its vision for a different approach to seniors’ care that puts living first and provides opportunities for every resident to live each day to the fullest.

Today at the Centre of Excellence and University Gates, these two visions are a reality, and the grand opening ceremony acknowledged that this concept is unique in the entire world.

“This is your monument,” His Excellency said to Ron and the many partners who worked to bring this dream to fruition. “It is a monument to learning and caring for others; it’s a monument to innovation and excellence and it’s a monument to a smart and caring community and a smart and caring Canada.

“The centre puts people first and is rooted in practicality,” His Excellency continued, noting that for the first time in the Canada’s history there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under 15.

“This is our reality and the quality of care we are able provide to aging Canadians will determine not only their well being but also what kind of people and what kind of country we are.”

Chris-Anne and the team members within the villages, along with care partners working in many different environments in communities across the country, are the ones that will reshape the way we care for the elders of our society. It is only through partnerships and sharing of knowledge and experience that this can happen, she said, and her pride in the role she plays in these partnerships is clear.

“On Aug. 24, this dream and the Village at University Gates became home as we began to welcome residents that have chosen to live here,” Chris-Anne said. “There’s a sense of excitement and possibility amongst residents and team members in the village. We have a hope for a very bright future as we work together, learning and growing and living up to the challenge to be truly excellent.”