On the Map | Spring 2021

In Memoriam: Dr. Fred Gilbert

Thunder Bay campus, Lake Tamblyn in summer

Dr. FredLakehead President Dr. Fred Gilbert smiling Gilbert, the sixth President and Vice-Chancellor of Lakehead University, passed away on November 2, 2020. He had metastatic pancreatic cancer and lymphoma. As Dan (Diana), his wife of 39 years, noted, "Fred never did anything by halves."

During his tenure from 1998 to 2010, Dr. Gilbert's bold vision was responsible for transforming the University.

In addition to spearheading the launch of the Lakehead Orillia campus, he continued to work towards the establishment of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which came to fruition during his appointment as President. Additionally, Dr. Gilbert developed the University's research capacity and laid the groundwork for the creation of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law.

Dr. Gilbert was born in 1941 and raised outside of Toronto, Ontario. His first job as a junior forest ranger led to summer forestry and wildlife research opportunities that would shape his career. After attending the University of Toronto and Acadia University, he earned a Master of Zoology and a PhD of Zoology from the University of Guelph.

Dr. Gilbert had a distinguished career in both Canada and the United States. He worked in the State of Maine in a dual appointment as Assistant Professor of Wildlife at the University of Maine (Orono) and Big Game Project Leader for the State of Maine. He subsequently held professorships at the University of Guelph and Washington State University, was Founding Dean of the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Faculty at the new University of Northern British Columbia, and Vice Provost Academic at Colorado State University.

Dr. Fred Gilbert in ceremonial robes during 1998 installation ceremony as Lakehead University president

Dr. Gilbert's 1998 installation ceremony as President and Vice-Chancellor.

On the academic side, his accomplishments include co-authoring the textbook The Philosophy and Practice of Wildlife Management, and the writing of over 60 refereed publications, articles, and book chapters. He also conducted research for the development of humane animal traps. With Dan, he was part of the effort to find, and more particularly, provide Canadian standards (followed by American and international standards) for humane animal traps used in the wild fur industry. These standards allowed Canada to continue to trade in furs with the European Union.

Other milestones during Dr. Gilbert's tenure as Lakehead University President and Vice-Chancellor ranged from building the Advanced Technology and Academic Centre to installing a Cray computer to enable cutting-edge research. A passionate sports enthusiast, he helped revive Lakehead's hockey team—which would become the Thunderwolves—based on a community-support model unusual in Canada at the time. He also facilitated the construction of the student-funded Hangar sports facility.

Lakehead University and City of Orillia officials wearing hard hats and holding shovels during 2010 Orillia campus groundbreaking ceremony

Dr. Gilbert (third from right) at the groundbreaking ceremony for Lakehead Orillia's second campus at 500 University Avenue. The campus, which opened in 2010, was built to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards.

After retiring from Lakehead in 2010, Dr. Gilbert (always a 'closet granola') started an organic farm in Nova Scotia, where he continued to play old-timers' hockey until 2020, at age 78. He was a generous Lakehead donor and established strong ties with the Lakehead University Alumni Association, which granted him an Honorary Membership in 2017. While in Nova Scotia, he also became involved with the Alumni Association at Acadia University in Wolfville.
"Fred was a crusty and cussed old so-and-so, but one of immense personal integrity, intellectual vigour, humour, and very often, real kindness," said Dan, who is utterly bereft at his passing.

Dr. Fred Gilbert will be remembered by Lakehead University for his legacy of leadership and innovation (and, possibly, all of the above).

Please visit Lakehead University's giving page if you would like to make a donation to the Frederick F. Gilbert Aboriginal Scholarship or the Frederick F. Gilbert Second Chance Late Bloomer Bursary in honour of Dr. Gilbert's memory.

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