Alumni Honour Award - Gary Polonsky

Alumni Honour Award - Gary Polonsky

Dr. Gary Polonsky changed Canada’s postsecondary landscape because of his conviction that “knowledge is the undeniable passport to an individual’s and community’s success.”

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, he learned patience and persistence from his parents. “As with most immigrant Canadians,” Gary says, “they worked hard, lived a life of quiet dignity, loved their kids, and believed in education.” 

When he graduated from high school in 1959, Lakehead did not yet exist as a full-fledged university so Gary enrolled in the University of Manitoba and won early acceptance to medical school.  

Instead of pursuing medicine, Gary decided to return to his hometown and follow a different path. He became part of the evolution of Thunder Bay’s Confederation College between the 1960s and the 1980s. He also found time to complete his Bachelor of Science degree at Lakehead University in 1977.

In the early 80s, Gary became a prominent advocate for the construction of the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. His success attracted attention in college leadership circles and he was hired as vice-president of Lakeland College (with campuses in Alberta and Saskatchewan) and then as president of Winnipeg’s Red River Community College. From 1988 until his retirement in 2006, he was president of Durham College in Oshawa.

While at Durham, Gary embarked upon a bold initiative, creating the first university in the Oshawa area “to improve the overall quality of life for my fellow citizens.”

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) was established in 2001 and Gary was chosen as UOIT’s founding president – making him the only Canadian to serve concurrently as president of a college and a university.

A firm believer in lifelong learning, Gary Polonsky earned his Doctorate in Education from the University of Toronto in 2003 and holds an MA from Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington). In 2007, he was honoured with the prestigious Minister’s Lifetime Achievement Award which recognizes leaders and visionaries within Ontario’s college system.