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Donor of the Month: Dr. Jim Silver

Wed. Nov. 8, 2023

A close up portrait of Jim smiling

The University of Winnipeg is an institution defined by its location. Born in the downtown area, the University has continued to grow over the last 150 years, spreading its roots from the main campus on Portage Avenue to other areas of the city. The furthest of these roots stretches from the West End neighborhood that hosts the University, across the Logan-CPR railyard and into Winnipeg’s North End. On Selkirk Avenue, one of the main roadways that spans the neighborhood, sits Merchants Corner. Originally the Merchants Hotel, the building had developed a reputation in its later years as a hub for criminal activity. Keen to repurpose the crumbling building, the provincial government purchased the building and turned it over to the University of Winnipeg—thanks in large part to Dr. Jim Silver.

A political science graduate from 1975 who found himself working for his alma mater in the early 80s after receiving his Masters degree from Carleton and PhD from the University of Sussex in England, Jim’s career at UWinnipeg is closely tied to the development of Merchants Corner and the Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies.

“Initially, I had no interest in teaching.” says Jim. “But during my undergrad, I had the opportunity to teach in West Africa for a couple of years as part of the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) program, and I fell in love with it.”

After starting as a professor at the University in 1982, Jim taught political science for the first 25 years of his career. Focused on helping his students learn about the political landscape of urban environments and the conditions affecting the lives of those living in them, Jim’s passion for the inner city helped contribute to the course structure the newly created Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies would use going forward.

“Before 2007, there was no Urban Studies Program that offered courses to students at the University. The Institute of Urban Studies that had been established was for professional research, not undergraduates.” Jim says. “With the creation of the Department, we wanted to incorporate inner-city teachings and viewpoints that our students would be interested in and that would lead to further learning and hands-on research opportunities. Our courses on poverty, law, and more specific topics like low-income housing came to define the program.”

As one of the key figures who lobbied the provincial government to turn ownership of Merchants Hotel over to the University, Jim comments on how critical it is for a downtown university like UWinnipeg to have a North End campus. “I wanted the Department to be in a prominent and easily accessible part of the North End … for the inner-city students who might not be able to make it to the Portage campus on a consistent basis. Being able to teach in the area allows our University to remain connected to the most vulnerable parts of our city, and gives our institution the ability to help provide for the community by sharing our space with high schools and other groups. The unique pairing we have developed with community partners in the area, especially the CEDA (Community Education Development Association) Pathways to Education program, means we can help young individuals realize that post-secondary education is something they can attain.”

A consistent donor since 1991, Jim has helped support a number of funds over the course of his 37-year tenure. The most recent being the Jim Silver Award, an endowment that was created and funded primarily by Mr. Michael Nesbitt, a businessman and colleague who was a particularly important contributor to the development of Merchants Corner and someone who saw the value in the work Jim had achieved during his working career. “The Jim Silver Award provides financial support to a student in the Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies who is involved with their community and in need of extra funding in order to graduate. Lots of people who want to succeed at university can’t for want of money, and bursaries play a big part in helping enable young people,” says Jim.

In closing, Jim comments, “I believe in the idea of our University and what universities do, and I believe UWinnipeg is an outstanding institution with the ability to transform lives.”

Despite formally retiring, Jim continues to teach part time at Merchants Corner, helping first year students make a successful start in their university career.

Those wishing to give to the Jim Silver Award can do so online or by calling the Foundation at 204-786-9995.