From Roberta Bondar to Oscar Peterson: Here are 12 famous honorary degree recipients from U of T convocations past

Oscar Peterson plays the piano at his Honorary Degree ceremony
Jazz legend Oscar Peterson, who received an honorary degree from U of T, plays the piano at a convocation ceremony in 1985 (photo by Robert Lansdale/University of Toronto Archives)

Since Henry Holmes Croft was awarded a Doctor of Civil Law in 1850, the University of Toronto has upheld a long tradition of recognizing individuals with honorary degrees.

Whether it was the first Canadian female astronaut or a winner of the World Series championship, the degrees are awarded to those whose accomplishments inspire U of T graduates, and who bring honour and distinction to the university by their very presence.

As U of T’s spring convocation continues this week, U of T News photo/video coordinator David Lee and archivist Marnee Gamble found several historical photos of impressive honorary degree recipients through the ages:

(photo by University of Toronto Archives)

At spring convocation in 1992, Roberta Bondar was awarded a Doctor of Science, in the category of “Academic Disciplines and Professions – Aeronautics.” The honour coincided with the 25th anniversary of Erindale College (known today as U of T Mississauga). Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space, has a PhD in neuroscience from U of T. 


(photo by Andre Souroujon)

Cito Gaston, the manager who guided the Toronto Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series championships, received an honorary degree from U of T in 1994 – a Doctor of Laws in the category of “Academic Disciplines and Professions – Sport.” 


(photo by Jewel Randolph)

At spring convocation in 1998, June Callwood was awarded a Doctor of Laws in the “Public/Community/Volunteer Service” category. The journalist, author and social activist, who died in 2007, was also honoured with a professorship in social justice at Victoria College


(photo by Robert Lansdale)

Legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, the multiple Grammy Award winner, was awarded a Doctor of Laws honorary degree in June 1985 in the “Arts – Music category.” The Montreal-born Peterson was a renowned soloist and his work also appears on over 200 albums by jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. Louis Armstrong called Peterson “the man with four hands.” A U of T Mississauga residence hall was named in his honour.


(photo by David Wohlfahr)

Mary Robinson, the first woman to become president of Ireland and hold the office of United Nations high commissioner for human rights, received a Doctor of Laws in the “Public Affairs category” during a special convocation ceremony in 1994.


(photo by Jack Marshall)

On June 1, 1964, classical pianist Glenn Gould received a Doctor of Laws. The multiple Juno- and Grammy-winning artist was an alumnus of the Royal Conservatory of Music, which founded the Glenn Gould School in 1997.


(photo by University of Toronto Archives)

The 14th Dalai Lama, whose religious name is Tenzin Gyatso, was awarded a Doctor of Laws in the “Public Service” category on April 27, 2004. He received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for heading non-violent opposition to China's occupation of Tibet.


(photo by University of Toronto Archives)

Christopher Plummer, an Oscar-winning actor whose career has spanned six decades, was awarded a Doctor of Laws on June 16, 2003 in the “Arts – Theatre” category. The Toronto-born actor has also won a Golden Globe, two Tonys and two Emmys.


(photo by University of Toronto Archives)

In June 1999, ballet icon and U of T honorary degree holder Karen Kain was on hand to see fellow dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov receive his Doctor of Laws in the “Arts – Dance” category. Kain, one of Canada’s most renowned dancers, was awarded a Doctor of Laws in 1993. Baryshnikov is one of the most celebrated male ballet dancers in history. 


(photo by University of Toronto Archives)

In June 1995, former Paralympian and humanitarian Rick Hansen received a Doctor of Laws in the “Public Affairs” category. Hansen, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after an accident in his youth, won six Paralympic medals and three world championships in wheelchair racing. He founded the Rick Hansen Foundation in 1988 to fund spinal cord research and to change attitudes toward people with disabilities and remove barriers. 

(photo by Janine Photo Studio)

In 1977, astronomer Helen Sawyer Hogg, known internationally for her research on globular star clusters, received an honorary degree, a Doctor of Science in the “Academic Disciplines and Professions – Astronomy” category. The honour coincided with the sesquicentennial of the University of Toronto. Here she is pictured beside the David Dunlap optical telescope in the early 1960s.


(photo by University of Toronto Archives)

Stompin' Tom Connors received a Doctor of Laws from U of T on June 19, 2000, in the “Arts – Music” category. The Juno-winning singer-songwriter, who played guitar and fiddle, has also received honorary degrees from St. Thomas University and the University of Prince Edward Island.

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