Dr. Thomas Henry Bull Symons

May 30, 1929January 1, 2021

Thomas Henry Bull Symons, CC, O.Ont, 30 May 1929–1 January, 2021

Thomas H. B. Symons was a teacher and educator. Founding President of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario (1963-72), he went on to lead many Canadian and international organizations and initiatives.

Born in Toronto, the son of Harry Lutz Symons and Dorothy (Bull) Symons, educated at Crescent School, Upper Canada College, the University of Toronto Schools, Trinity College, University of Toronto and Oriel College, Oxford University.

While at Trent, Tom was involved in a wide variety of public issues. He helped establish a landmark Ontario-Quebec Educational Exchange Program that continues today, led the “Symons Commissions” which laid the basis for French-language education in Ontario and began his lifelong interest in indigenous and northern studies and supporting Canada’s indigenous communities.

After Trent, Tom continued to act as chair of Robert Stanfield’s policy advisory committee for the federal Progressive Conservative Party. He also undertook the Commission on Canadian Studies for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, producing the “Symons Report,” To Know Ourselves, and was chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, initiating a fundamental review of the Ontario Human Rights Code which transformed the landscape of human rights in Ontario.

Tom served as a leader of many organizations, including as chair of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the United World Colleges, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, the Ontario Heritage Trust, the National Statistics Council of Canada, the National Library Advisory Board, the Board of the Bata Shoe Organization and the Peterborough Lakefield Police Services Board. For over 30 years, he was a board member of the Broadview Press.

Awards and honours he received include Companion of the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Queen’s Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, a Vatican Knighthood in the Order of St. Sylvester and numerous honorary degrees from universities in Canada and abroad. He was elected a trustee and an honorary fellow by Oriel College, Oxford University and a visiting scholar and fellow by Cambridge University. In 2004, the Confederation Centre of the Arts established the Symons Medal which is awarded annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to Canadian life.

Tom loved Peterborough. No matter what opportunities came his way, he refused to move away from his community. He enjoyed entertaining in his home, Marchbanks, welcoming people in for tea or something stronger. He also loved Prince Edward Island - in particular, the Confederation Centre of the Arts and Shaw’s Hotel, which he stumbled across when he was traveling as a young man and to which he returned almost every year thereafter for the rest of his life.

Tom leaves his beloved wife Christine, a partner in all his adventures, his children Mary, Ryerson (Michele) and Jeffrey (Christine) and his grandchildren, Wilson, Leighton, Ava, Charlotte and Olivia.

Donations in memory of Tom may be made to the Symons Trust at Trent University or the Symons Trust at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.


  • Currently Tentative Private Arrangements, Public Arrangements may be announced at a later date


Dr. Thomas Henry Bull Symons

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Brendan Moher

January 11, 2021

Dear Christine and family....Please accept sincere condolences from Janet and I on the passing of a great man who was one of the most generous with his time toward so many worthy causes over many decades. I first met Prof. Symons during my years as a student at Trent University and more recently he and I shared many years together on the Board of Trustees of Sacred Heart College. His contributions to education here in the Peterborough community and indeed throughout the Province and country are an incredible legacy that will survive Tom for many generations to come. Tom Symons will be missed by many.
Kind regards,
Brendan and Janet Moher

Terry McLaren

January 7, 2021

Christine & Family.
Our sincerest condolences on your loss of such a wonderful human being. I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Symons through his role as Chair of the Police Services Board. Dr. Symons always had the safety of the community in his governance decisions and all the while he would express his genuine concerns for the safety and wellbeing for all the Civilian Members and Police Officers of the Police Service. Peterborough and Canada has loss the wisdom and guidance of an iconic man.

Terry & Pam McLaren - Chief of Police (retired)

Kenneth Ludlow

January 5, 2021

Very sad to hear of THB's passing. He was the reason I enrolled at Trent in 1967. My family knew him as well through his annual vacations at Shaw's Hotel, Brackley Beach, PEI, where we also stayed. He was a friend to me and a mentor, and the world is a lesser place without him. On behalf of my family I send sincere condolences to Christine , his children, and grandchildren.

Roseann Runte

January 5, 2021

Dear Family and Friends,
Tom Symons was a nation-builder. By giving value to Canadian Studies, he taught us about our country and its worth. He traced a path of knowledge along which we might travel. Tom was also a global thinker and when he displayed the map of the world as seen from the North, he placed Canada in an international perspective, identifying the importance of the North to Canada and the world.
Tom was a strong friend and ally on whose excellent advice I often relied. He will be missed by former students and colleagues and by our country as he helped Canada know itself and understand its place in the world. Sincere condolences, Roseann Runte

Deirdre Kessler

January 5, 2021

Dear Christine and family,
What sad news. My deep condolences to you. Tom was to me heart and soul of Canada. What an honour it was to know him, to learn from him, to see him in action.
Warmest regards to you all,
Deirdre Kessler

mickey decarlo

January 4, 2021

I send my condolences to your family
many years ago I worked as a house keeper for your family and your dad was so nice to me and my family. He helped my son get into a private school Upper Canada College on a scholarship. I had the opportunity to meet your whole family and I enjoyed many good conversations with your Mom and Dad. Sad to hear this news and when I seen Mr Symons picture on TV his smile was the same as I remember and it is true that he loved to talk to people and took time for them

may you be consoled at your time of sorrow

Jamie Darling

January 4, 2021

I consider THB to be one of my very first mentors as I played and stayed for so many meals and memories at 361 Park street. Always interested in what my ten year old self was up to, Tom was obviously a huge intellect but forever willing to engage and challenge his son’s friends on their opinions and actions. I often thought of the Symons house as my home away from home, due in large part to the warmth and welcome Tom and Christine always showed me. Our time together in PEI remains a powerfully positive memory of my childhood. My deepest condolences to Mary, Rye, Jeff, and their mom in this difficult time.

Karen Hicks

January 4, 2021

My deepest condolences. Dr. Symons was such an interesting man. We had many conversations about so many topics, and he was a wealth of knowledge on them all. May your fondest memories guide you through the next months and years.

Thomas A Lynch

January 4, 2021

Professor Symons was instrumental in the establishment of Sacred Heart College of the Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for a number of years and brought both his professional expertise, wide circle of invaluable contacts, good humour, and insight to his task. He helped us broaden the ecumenical outreach of our new university and constantly encouraged its trustees, staff, faculty, and students to think creatively about how to build one of the newest universities on the Canadian landscape. He will be sorely missed, but we were fortunate to be one of his many endeavors.
Requiescat in pace.
Fr. Thomas A. Lynch. Principal of Sacred Heart College, Peterborough.

Harry Hobbs

January 3, 2021

So sorry to learn about the passing of Professor Symons. I was so privileged to be in the first class of Trent University and have him as my history tutor and supervisor of studies. I remember how bowled over we were in his tutorial when the phone rang and he'd say "You will have to excuse the interruption but it is the premier on the phone. I remember the naming of the Harry Hobbs Memorial Library at Peter Robinson College. I got handed the plaque at a college dinner and had no idea it wasn't sanctioned by the university. I called home to call my parents and my dad a journalist called the press. The problem was the press got a lot of the story wrong. President Symons knew nothing about it. He told me himself that he was bowled over when a reporter asked him if it was true that Trent was naming their new library after an undergraduate and when he said no they showed him the news release. He graciously sent me a note of congratulations and all the clippings. Every year I got a note from him encouraging me as I completed my degree and well into the future he continued his interest. I loved the parties he hosted and both he and you Mrs Symons were wonderful hosts. Trent put my life on the right course and I will always be in awe of the kindness of this wonderful man who always had the time for students no matter how busy his schedule. My deepest sympathy to the family