Fleming’s Frost Campus celebrates half century
In 1965, Ontario Minister of Education, Bill Davis, convinced Progressive Conservative Premier John Robarts that it was time for the province to invest millions of dollars into post-secondary education to create a system for the 90 per cent of students who did not want to go to university.
Robarts, a builder by nature, was fascinated with the idea and gave Davis the green light to go ahead with his plan for schools that would hopefully provide more technical and practical post-secondary skills for high school graduates.
Within one year of the idea being floated in cabinet, and with the cooperation of the Pearson Liberals in Ottawa, the first two community colleges opened in Toronto and Hamilton in 1966, and by September 1967, another 13 colleges of applied arts and technology opened including Fleming College in Peterborough.
The early days
Fleming’s first president, David B. Sutherland, realized very early on that Fleming Peterborough would be well served putting down roots with a branch campus in Lindsay.
This move was supported by former premier and longtime Lindsay resident Leslie Frost, whose name would soon grace the campus, who lobbied his former Conservative colleagues for a site in Lindsay that would have forestry as a core program. For Frost, Lindsay made sense as a teaching site because it was already home to one of the largest Lands and Forests offices in Ontario, right across the street from Ross Memorial Hospital.
In 1968, Fleming College in Lindsay began when the Ontario Forest and Technical School Program was opened at the St. Joseph’s Convent site on Russell Street East beside St. Mary’s Church.
Long-time Frost Campus technician/instructor Carl Kimmett recalls that running a school out of a still active convent, “was awkward at best. The nuns were shocked by the language of the forestry students.”
The convent site was but a stop gap, and within a year Lindsay council approved the gift of 60 acres of land that had been part of the Victoria Manor tract to Fleming College, off Albert Street. This grant allowed Fleming the space it needed to build its first permanent facility, Frost Campus.
Because Fleming School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences would be housed at the new site, special care was taken in the design and placement of the buildings to complement the natural environment.
The extensive and complicated build moved forward, and the first buildings at the Albert Street site were completed and some classes got underway in January 1974. Because of construction slowdowns, students continued to take classes at both the Albert Street site and the convent. Classes at the convent continued until 1978 when Frost Campus was finally able to consolidate its entire student body in one building.
When fully open and consolidated at Albert Street, the programs offered included forestry, fish and wildlife, cartography, heavy equipment, and geology.
The first principal of Frost Campus turned out to be a brilliant hire. Glenn Crombie, a registered professional forester and employee of Lands and Forests, was principal from 1968 to 1984.
Crombie, brother of former Toronto mayor David Crombie, was the right person at the right time for Frost Campus.
“Glenn was a strong leader,” said Kimmett, “and made decisions quickly. He gave you space to do your work but did not tolerate fools. He had the respect of most staff and negotiated hard for Frost Campus against the Peterborough campus.”
The campus soon grew to include a fish hatchery, a student residence, a living wall, a “green” roof and a butterfly garden.
From 1975 to 1980, Kimmett and his students created the arboretum on campus featuring more than 116 species of shrubs and trees. These plants not only beautified the campus but were key teaching tools in several of the courses offered by the school.
Over time, the fish and wildlife program that attracted students from across Canada grew in scope and size, leading to further growth of the campus.
In 2004, the campus expanded again with a new environmental technology wing. At the time of opening, the facility was recognized as one of Canada’s most environmentally sustainable commercial buildings.
In September 2008, the Frost Campus became home to a new joint degree-diploma program in Ecological Restoration in partnership with Trent University. Students in the program spend two years at Fleming and two years at Trent. They graduate at the conclusion of the joint program with an Honours B.SC. and an Ontario College Diploma in Ecological Restoration.
The original arboretum was restored in 2017.
The campus today
Today, Frost Campus houses 33 full time, part-time and continuing education programs and approximately 1,500 students alongside some of the world’s leading technology and research in water, wastewater and aquaculture production, making the school a magnet for students from around the world.
Construction is currently underway on a new $6 million hatchery at Frost Campus. Once completed, this new facility will have a highly customizable space for multiple cold, cool and warm water fish species, including species which live in freshwater, marine and brackish environments. Notably, this facility will strengthen the college’s ties with the business world where graduates hope to find work.
One of the real strengths of Frost Campus over the decades has been a focus on delivering a small number of programs not found at many other institutions by experienced and passionate staff with a commitment to student excellence.
Stewart O’Brien is one of those long-time instructors, who with the help of dedicated colleagues, has ensured that Frost Campus has offered a cutting-edge cartography and GIS program for the last five decades.
“To my mind,” O’Brien, a Frost Campus graduate himself, told the Advocate, “it was the vision and determination of the early instructors, certainly not administration, (that made this program possible).”
“My fondest memories (of teaching at Frost Campus) are dealing with truly inspiring students,” O’Brien added.
Mark Robbins, first a Frost graduate and later a well-respected instructor, was instrumental in growing a fish and wildlife program that attracts students from across Canada who want to become conservation officers.
Robbins, a veteran conservation officer himself, helped craft the program so that students will have all the skills their local provincial jurisdictions are looking for at hiring time.
“In the 90s I returned to Fleming College as a faculty member, teaching the next generation of would-be ‘game wardens,’” Robbins said.
“While many things like the snowshoes and compasses, hip waders and fish nets remained the same (from my student days), others had changed. The biggest change I remember in the 90s compared to the 70s was the change in the student population itself. The natural resources management field was slowly opening up to female field staff. Where my classes as a student were predominantly, if not exclusively, full of young men, my 90s courses consisted of up to 25 per cent young women.”
Robbins notes that today’s student comes to Fleming, as often as not, with a university degree to their credit and often born somewhere other than Canada.
The changing face of Frost Campus
When first opened in 1973, the student body at Frost Campus was predominantly Caucasian and almost exclusively male, although a few hardy women excelled in programs like forestry and cartography when the school was relatively new.
The phenomenon of international students arriving in Lindsay to earn diplomas and degrees at Frost Campus would soon impact this demographic monolith in a very significant way.
Since early in the new millennium, Frost Campus has seen a steady influx of overseas students, particularly from India. In 2023, the government of Canada reported that there were more than 300,000 Indian students attending colleges and universities coast to coast in Canada with over 1,000 registered at Frost and Brealey campus, often paying tuitions that are significantly higher than Canadian -born students.