The Berkeley of Sudbury: Student Radicalism at Laurentian University in the Sixties


  • Sara Z. Burke Laurentian University


Canada, University, Student Activism, The Sixties, Bilingualism, Laurentian University, Higher Education, Campus, Protest, Sara Z. Burke, 2008, 2009, HIC


A key factor in student activism at Laurentian University was the ability of the two student populations - French and English - to join together to form an effective campaign for the advancement of collective undergraduate interests. This paper asserts that during the crisis years between 1968 and 1970, Francophone students gave leadership to the emerging student movement at Laurentian by drawing on their experience of French-rights activism to campaign more widely for a student voice in the politics of university reform. Tension over the issue of bilingualism early on became the defining characteristic of undergraduate culture, and Francophone students established a separate tradition of activism for French-language rights. The radicalization that occurred at the end of the sixties, however, had the effect of temporarily uniting Laurentian students around the broader cause of gaining representation in university governance. For students at Laurentian, the sit-ins, pickets, and mass meetings of 1969 and 1970 represented the high point of effective politicization, and the unity of the radical years could not be sustained in the face of ingrained differences that marked the student body. During the early 1970s, Francophone students returned the focus of their activism to securing French-language rights both within and beyond the university, and in 1974 broke from Laurentian's largely Anglophone student organization to form the separate Association des étudiant(e)s francophones (AEF).

Author Biography

Sara Z. Burke, Laurentian University

Sara Z. Burke is an associate professor in the Department of History at Laurentian University. Her research focuses on the history of women in higher education, and the early years of co-education in Canada.