A key builder of the University of Regina, who also contributed significantly to the business and First Nations communities, Lloyd Barber died on Sept. 16, in what is the university’s centennial year.
He was born on March 8, 1932, into an entrepreneurial family. His grandfather had come to Regina as a businessman, and his father ran the lumberyard, insurance and real estate offices and hardware store in the resort town of Regina Beach. When young Lloyd went off to university, it wasn’t with the intention of becoming an academic. He was preparing for the day when he would take over his father’s businesses.
That never happened – perhaps because of father-son frictions, perhaps because of his love of learning. “Mankind has an innate curiosity to find out how and why,” he said in an interview not long before his death.
This innate curiosity pushed him to take not only a BA in economics and a bachelor of commerce at the University of Saskatchewan, but also an MBA in marketing at the University of California at Berkeley, which he finished off with a doctorate of business administration, focusing on public administration and finance, at the University of Washington.
In 1955, MBA in hand, he became an instructor, and eventually a full professor, of commerce at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1966 he was made dean of commerce, and in 1968 vice-president, a post he held until 1974.
His career as a respected adviser to governments began in 1964-65, when he served on the Saskatchewan Royal Commission on Government Administration.
Three years later, he found himself on the North West Territorial Council, one of a number of federal appointees supplementing the locally elected representatives. While this may have owed something to his friendship with then prime minister Pierre Trudeau (something of a love-hate relationship, as the men often disagreed, but appreciated each other’s sharp minds and debating skills), it is also true that Barber was a natural for the job. His hometown of Regina Beach bordered on Last Mountain Lake 80A Indian Reservation, and he had grown up seeing successful native business people, and chumming with aboriginal and Métis youngsters, many of whom went on, like Barber, to become accomplished leaders. He mingled easily with the people of the territories, and brought a businessman’s mind and plainspokenness to the tasks of governance. He served until 1970.
In 1969, the federal government issued a white paper intending to achieve aboriginal equality by bringing natives into the societal mainstream, ending their special status. As part of the implementation of this, Barber was named Indian claims commissioner, mandated to receive and study grievances over finances and land, and to suggest processes by which particular claims could be adjudicated.
First Nations opposition to the white paper was nearly unanimous, and suspicion of Barber’s office ran high, as his mandate specifically excluded any recognition of aboriginal rights (reflecting Trudeau’s personal stand on the matter). Barber, however, was not afraid to point out that the country’s original inhabitants had not yet been in a position “to make their case and insist on rights that the rest of us would tend to take for granted.” He won respect for his evenhandedness and his willingness to listen to all sides.
The paper was formally retracted in 1971; Barber continued as commissioner until 1977. Little was resolved, and the experiment did not continue after 1977, but Barber did significantly educate government officials and the general public about the issues involved, paving the way for future progress. He went on to serve as a negotiator for treaty land entitlement in Saskatchewan on behalf of 27 Indian bands.
In 1974, the Regina campus of the University of Saskatchewan was constituted as an independent degree-granting institution, The University of Regina. When its inaugural president retired two years later, Barber became president and vice-chancellor.
The university had chosen a difficult time to be born. After the boom years of the 1960s, enrolment was starting to drop off, and finances were chronically tight. The phone system was so obsolete the only place parts could be found was in Mexico. It was uncertain whether the school would survive.
But Barber entertained no doubts. A year into his tenure he produced a “Future Directions” document identifying niche opportunities for the university, and promptly set about reallocating scarce dollars for new programs such as journalism, kinesiology and human justice studies. Rather than tearing things down in tough times, he kept building, determined not to lose momentum.
In his first year in office, he accomplished what the University of Saskatchewan had not managed in 10 years of negotiations: a joint venture with the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, which eventually became the First Nations University of Canada, the first in the world to be developed and operated by aboriginal people.
In bringing this about, Barber had two huge advantages over the Saskatoon school. He was heading a younger, more flexible institution, and he knew many of the organizers personally. Trusted as someone who would neither bully nor be bullied, and with the rare ability not only to know where he wanted to go but who to bring with him, he was a man who could make things happen. He placed the new college front and centre on his campus, symbolic of the kind of school he was building.
During these early years at the University of Regina, he was honoured as an officer of the Order of Canada (upgraded to companion in 1993), and as an honorary Saskatchewan Indian chief, as well as receiving the Vanier Medal of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. Never one to rest on his laurels, he began making contacts with the People’s Republic of China, and in 1981 led a delegation there, making U of R one of the first North American universities to have formal relations with Chinese counterparts. The exchanges and cross-pollination have continued for 30 years.
Meanwhile, Barber never forgot his entrepreneurial roots. Widely respected for his financial and administrative acumen, he sat on a number of corporate boards from 1977 through 1992, including the Bank of Nova Scotia, Teck Cominco, Canadian Pacific Ltd., Husky Oil, Molson Ltd., CanWest Global and the Winnipeg Commodities Exchange.
He also provided formal leadership to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and to the Association of Commonwealth Universities, all while continuing to expand his own school. By the time he retired in 1990, enrolment at the University of Regina had almost tripled, and its scope and reputation were similarly enlarged.
During the 1980s, Barber received several honorary degrees. In 1995, he received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the province’s highest honour. His greatest joy, however, was to have time to enjoy his home and family. It was at home in Regina Beach, where the fifth generation of Barbers now live, that he slipped away in his sleep.
He leaves his wife, Duna, six children and 27 grandchildren.
Special to The Globe and Mail