8 Universities in Ontario

Most people don’t spend their travels visiting universities, but as a high school college counselor, that’s sometimes how I find myself occupying my days. I’ve recently been in southern Ontario, and I’m happy to offer highlights, oddities, delights, and the occasional disappointment from eight different schools.

University of Toronto, St. George Campus

The University of Toronto, founded in 1827, is the oldest institution of higher learning in all of Canada. With 90,000 students across three campuses, it is truly enormous. Most of the undergraduates are at the historic St. George campus, which sits right in the middle of downtown Toronto. The buildings range from the centuries-old to the new.

Soldiers’ Tower


This Gothic Revival tower, which commemorates the fallen of the two world wars, is the only university building that has a working carillon (a bell instrument that’s played with a keyboard).


Medical Science Building


This 1969 building is made out of “shaggy dog” precast concrete

Trinity College


One of seven colleges at the university, Trinity boasts towers of both the Jacobethan and the Tudor Revival style.

Ontario College of Art and Design University

Ontario College of Art and Design U., or OCAD, is Canada’s largest and oldest art school. It has the very best building in all of Toronto.

Sharp Centre for Design


This tabletop checkerboard, built in 2004, sits four stories up in the air. It is supported by a series of colorful pillars …


… which make it look like it’s floating above the ground:


Western University

Once called Western Ontario University, Western has been around since 1878. Its large, expansive campus sits in the otherwise uninspired town of London, Ontario.

Arts Building


This is one of those 1920s Collegiate Gothic buildings that screams “quintessential college campus” to me.

Ivey Business School


A 2013 “geode” on the opposite end of the architectural spectrum.



I had the privilege of going out on the ice, home to the Western Mustangs hockey team, on the opening night of a conference hosted by Western.

University of Guelph

Originally founded as an agricultural college, Guelph had the happiest-sounding students of any of the campuses I visited. It still has plenty of callbacks to its farming and horticultural roots.



This 400-acre plant collection includes a Honey Bee Research Centre!

Conservatory and Gardens



The Bullring


I’m a sucker for any perfectly round building, especially for one that was built to hold livestock auctions and now houses a coffee shop.

Lots of Grey-Beige Buildings


Greyish-beige buildings are a feature of many Canadian universities (we’ll see more as we go along).

Gryphons Athletic Centre


I love the look of this 2017 behemoth.

University of Waterloo

Canada’s STEM powerhouse, Waterloo is best known for engineering and its extensive co-op programs.

Quantum-Nano Centre


Orange people doing science in an orange room!

Rock Garden


They have an actual giant rock garden where you can learn about rocks and minerals.

Museum of Earth Sciences


This somewhat outdated space has lots of indoor rocks, including petrified wood from Arizona …


… and a replica of a mine!


Grey-Beige Buildings


You’ll start to see a theme here.

Yummy Restaurants

Ok, these technically aren’t part of Waterloo itself — but it’s worth noting that you can get really great food in Kitchener, Waterloo’s hometown. I would recommend The China Bowl for excellent Chinese food and the Loloan Lobby Bar for a fabulous setting and out-of-this-world cocktails inspired by South East Asian cuisine.

McMaster University

Mac has been around since 1890, but it moved to its present location in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1930.

University Hall


Another of those university buildings from the 1930s built in the Collegiate Gothic style, this looks pretty much like no other building at Mac.

Grey-Beige Buildings


There’s a lot of beige at Mac. I would have to say that Canadian universities were not growing at the best time for architecture …

Jigsaw Puzzles


I loved this display in the library!

Public Art


Why isn’t there more outdoor art on campuses in Canada (or college campuses in general)? I appreciated their having it here.fullsizeoutput_4a66

York University

A large commuter school forty-five minutes north of central Toronto by subway (but still technically within the city’s borders), York has a wide, rambling campus.

The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence


The exterior of this grand space is meant to evoke clouds.

Vari Hall


With my friend Shruti from Singapore!

The architecture firm that designed this building in 1990 says that it was created “to give York University’s sprawling suburban campus a sense of urban order.”

Cool Subway Stations


York has two subway stations right on its campus!

Grey-Beige Buildings


There’s a whole lot of grey-beige going on at York, but I thought the inside of the library was more interesting than most.

Dog Art


Ryerson University

Smack in the heart of Toronto, Ryerson is a true city university, as urban as they come (but it still has grey-beige buildings — just look at the tall structure to the right below).

Tiny Green Space


This is about all the grass that Ryerson has to offer (but it doesn’t usually have tiny soccer goals — that’s just a summer camp thing).

Student Learning Centre


Completed in 2015, this is the most architecturally interesting building on Ryerson’s largely blocky campus.

Canada’s Cathedral of Hockey


Ryerson’s ice rink sits in the same building that was once known as Maple Leaf Gardens, home to everything from Elvis Presley performances to Muhammed Ali bouts to Toronto Maple Leaf games.

The Arch


Once part of the facade of the Toronto Normal School, this structure forms the entrance to Ryerson’s underground athletic center.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s