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Iconic Victoria College Chapel to be Refurbished

Jan. 29, 2024

Brian Johnston says he believes there is a direct relationship between student success and the physical spaces that inspire them on Victoria University's campus. (Photo by Minh Truong)

As someone who made a career in real estate development, Brian Johnston Vic 8T1 looks for opportunities to help create something extraordinary, whether it be greenfield development or working on existing buildings. “Real estate projects sometimes just start with the smallest feature that can inspire you. A ravine, waterfront or a long vista are all the beginnings of something that can become world-class,” he says. “Victoria University is different. The campus is iconic, indeed, world-class. The starting point is magnificent. We can aspire to create something even more amazing.”

Johnston’s professional credentials certainly give credence to his assessment, and his role as a member of Victoria University’s Board of Regents, and chair of the Property Committee, means that he knows every nook and cranny on campus—as well as opportunities to evolve the University’s spaces, which include many of its century-old buildings. “We can absolutely maintain architectural excellence while at the same time think about what kinds of spaces students need to excel. There is a direct relationship between student success and the spaces that inspire them. All the great universities in the world have inspiring properties. It’s no accident that Vic U’s campus often gets used in television and film to sub in for prestigious universities in the U.S. and U.K. such as Harvard and Oxford.”

Johnston’s passion for Victoria University’s campus led him and his wife Colleen to pledge a generous gift of $500,000 in order to refurbish the chapel in the Old Vic building in the centre of campus. This was above and beyond the scholarship they established a few years ago to honour his late mother, Lecily (White) Johnston Hutcheson Vic 4T9. “Funnily enough, I never went into the chapel during my years studying and living on the Vic U campus,” says Johnston. “It was mostly used for religious purposes in those days. But when Colleen and I decided that we wanted to make a gift to my alma mater, we received a tour of the chapel and I thought it was so cool.” Johnston also volunteers his time on the campaign cabinet for Defy Gravity: The Campaign for Victoria University, which is raising funds to support capital improvements such as the work on the chapel, among other priorities.

The Victoria College Chapel is a well-loved space with a rich history. It was the venue for the opening ceremonies of the Victoria College building in 1892 and has been home to classes, concerts, weddings and religious services ever since. Thanks to the gift from the Johnstons, the space will be refurbished to create a multi-purpose teaching space while retaining its unique architectural features.

There are also plans to highlight its five stained-glass windows, which feature the Victoria University crest, John Milton, John Wesley, Martin Luther and Isaac Newton. “I’m really excited to see what the architects will come up with for this jewel of a room to serve and inspire students,” says Johnston.

Making a gift to support Victoria University’s plans for its campus was the obvious choice for Johnston. “As a student I lived in Burwash residences and had meals in the beautiful dining hall. Today, I feel a great sense of nostalgia for the campus. I know that with tender care and loving, every building and space at Vic U can evolve to meet the needs of today’s students.”


For more information about how you can support Victoria University, please contact Louise Yearwood, executive director, Office of Alumni Affairs & Advancement at louise.yearwood@utoronto.ca or Mary Heinmaa, director of philanthropy at mary.heinmaa@utoronto.ca or call 416-585-4500.

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