Bannerman was the first full-time faculty member at Algoma University when the institution first opened its doors in 1967 at Sault College as Algoma University College. As the most senior faculty member, Bannerman was instrumental in developing an advanced curriculum and guiding the institution in its earliest days toward its current identity.
When Algoma University College first moved from its original locale at Sault College to its current location at the former Shingwauk Indian Residential Schools Site, controversy ensued and tensions arouse between the local community, the First Nations population, and the Ontario government, which eventually resulted in a Human Rights Commission and a Royal Commission. Acting as a guide, mentor, and liaison officer, Bannerman worked with other faculty members at Algoma University College and the Board of Governors to strengthen the relationship and redefine the purpose and mission of Algoma University College. In doing so, he cultivated a cross-cultural curriculum, which emphasized Algoma University College’s commitment to cross-cultural learning and diversity. More importantly, he co-founded The Shingwauk Project in 1979, which laid the foundation for the reaffirmation of the relationship between Algoma University College and the First Nations peoples and gave Algoma University College its Charter with a special mandate to engage in cross-cultural learning and to be a valuable resource for Anishinaabe people and peoples.
Bannerman’s sincere understanding entrenched Algoma University College’s commitment to healing and reconciliation with the First Nations population, and was the basis for the first-ever reunion of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School Survivors in 1981. The reunion was essential in solidifying the relationship between the post-secondary institution and the First Nations populace, and demonstrated to the Ontario government Algoma University College’s reason to continue to operate and its challenging educational need. While others struggled to understand the identity crisis of Algoma University College, Bannerman gave all his time and effort to ensure the continued success of the institution. He refused to allow the Ontario government to close Sault Ste. Marie’s university, and felt passionately about keeping a place of higher learning open and available for local citizens. His commitment and integrity made him the figurehead of Algoma University College in its formative years. Bannerman often spoke about how privileged he felt to be involved in a post-secondary institution from its inception.
Bannerman’s attitude and deep commitment to education and higher learning helped drive Algoma University College forward in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. He led by example and his students and fellow colleagues looked to him for advice, mentorship, and guidance. He had nothing but respect for his peers and students, and them likewise. With many full courses, his students regarded his classes as eye-opening, inspirational, and life-changing. His course on death and dying was one of the most popular courses prior to his early retirement in the 1980s. Bannerman’s wife, Leah, and his daughter Maja, had the privilege of taking his courses. Although Leah remarks that her mark was the lowest in her husband’s class, his lessons were profound and refreshingly off-centre. For Maja, her father remains one of her two favourite and most inspirational professors.
Primarily, Bannerman was a philosopher. He earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto and had a gift for teaching, believing that it was the ultimate gift he could bestow on the community. When he wasn’t teaching, he was often travelling the globe to gain a better understanding and appreciation of people of differing cultures and ethnicities. He specialized in Indian and Chinese philosophy and often claimed that Confucius was his master. His studies often brought him to India and China. Due to his worldly view and philosophy, Bannerman was accepting and respectful of differences and was often called upon by others for moral advice and guidance. He embraced diversity.
Even after his retirement, Bannerman often frequented Algoma University to attend Shingwauk Indian Residential School reunions or to attend Homecoming events. His wisdom and insight will never be forgotten and his presence will forever be missed.
Bannerman has been described as eccentric and having great character by his fellow colleagues and by his students. He broke from the traditional faculty stereotype. He was a true original, not cliché or predictable. He dressed in robes, believed in magic, and stored books in a coffin. He seldom was seen without a medallion around his neck or talismanic rings on his fingers. Bannerman had a true appreciation for the absurd. He even had mastered the art of reading tea leaves and the Tarot, and took these rituals very seriously.
Prior to arriving in Sault Ste. Marie, Bannerman taught at Laurentian High School in Ottawa. He also spent his years in Toronto, Ingleside, Stratford, and St. Catharines with his wife and children, Guy, Christopher, Jonathan, and Maja. No matter where he lived, he impacted anyone and everyone he met, and welcomed everyone into his family with open arms.
A celebration of Bannerman’s life is scheduled for the date of what would have been his 100th birthday, Sunday, May 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm in the Shingwauk Auditorium at Algoma University’s campus. His ashes will be scattered around the campus in accordance with his wishes.
Algoma University would like to thank Maja Bannerman, Professor Don Jackson, and Colleen Flood for their input in remembering Bannerman.
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