Honorary Degree: Senator Dan Christmas

Senator Dan Christmas

Senator Dan Christmas

Senator Dan Christmas has served in various leadership positions in the Mi’kmaw Nation of Nova Scotia. After serving five years as the Band Manager for the Community of Membertou, Senator Christmas worked for the Union of Nova Scotia Indians for 15 years—the last ten as its Director.   He was actively involved in the recognition and implementation of Mi’kmaw aboriginal and treaty rights in Nova Scotia. 

From 1997 to 2016, Senator Christmas held the position as Senior Advisor with Membertou and had assisted the Chief and Council and its Management Team with the day-to-day operations of the Community of Membertou.   Senator Christmas also served as elected councilor for Membertou for 18 years.  

Senator Christmas has been active in a number of international, national, provincial and local agencies in a wide range of fields including aboriginal & treaty rights, justice, policing, education, health care, human rights, adult training, business development and the environment.   

In 2005, Senator Christmas was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Dalhousie University and an honorary diploma from the Nova Scotia Community College in 2016.  In 2008, he was the recipient of the National Excellence in Aboriginal Leadership Award from the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada. 

In December 2016, Senator Christmas was sworn in as an Independent Senator for Nova Scotia.  Senator Christmas is the first Mi’kmaw senator to be appointed to the Senate of Canada.


Honorary Degree: Lady Sandra Williams

Lady Sandra Williams

Lady Sandra Williams

Her Excellency Lady Sandra Williams BA’86 was born in St. John’s, Antigua on July 15, 1963. She attended nursery school in Antigua before moving to Ottawa, Canada, at the age of three with her family, and later on to Toronto. After returning to Antigua for two years, she then moved to North Wales, United Kingdom and later to Guyana, South America where she completed high school.

Lady Williams enrolled at Saint Mary’s University in 1981, where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Department of Modern Languages and English, attaining distinction in her selected double major and minor. She was later awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a Master of Science Degree in Tourism Management at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, and earned her postgraduate Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, also in the United Kingdom. She is a full member of the Institute, and over the years has pursued various career-related courses in Japan, Austria, Spain, Germany, France and Barbados.

Lady Williams has held significant senior managerial positions, including Director of Marketing for a regional airline and Director of Tourism in both England and Germany. She is currently the President of the Antigua and Barbuda China Friendship Association. She is also the President and Founder of The Halo Foundation, an umbrella charity established in December 2014 that addresses the needs of 32 charities under the patronage of the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda.

 Some of the initiatives of the Halo Foundation include:

  • Colours of Charity, an event for the various local charities headlined by HRH Prince Harry on his visit to Antigua in 2017;

  • a two-year anti-bullying campaign currently being executed in six pilot schools;

  • full four-year university scholarships to Saint Mary’s University for students from Antigua and Barbuda who have exhibited acts of kindness or bravery;

  • scholarships to local institutions for children with special needs;

  • the provision of musical instruments to the Youth Symphony Orchestra;

  • part sponsorship of Team Antigua Island Girls’ row across the Atlantic Ocean; and

  • the spearheading of a youth arm of the Halo Foundation, known as Generation Y, which focuses on sensitizing young people to the importance of helping others

In 2018, Lady Williams was given the Faithful and Meritorious Cross for outstanding voluntary service to the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. She is the spouse of the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams, and has one son, Brent.

Honorary Degree: Padraig O'Malley

Padraig O’Malley

Padraig O’Malley

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Padraig O’Malley is an award-winning author and expert on democratic transitions and divided societies, with special expertise on Northern Ireland, South Africa, Iraq, Israel and Palestine. O'Malley is the John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Professor O’Malley has earned a global reputation for breaking deadlocks by bringing together parties in intractable conflicts and opening the way to dialogue. In 2009, O'Malley launched the Forum for Cities in Transition a global forum of divided societies founded on the principle that one divided society is in the best position to help another. In September 2010, he led an intercessional symposium on the Arm Trade Treaty the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, and the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2016, he launched the Global Alliance of Muslim's for Equality (GAME), a movement led by young Muslims across Europe & the United States to redress false perceptions of Islam, counter negative stereotypes, Islamophobia. 

Professor O’Malley was a member of the Opsahl Commission on Northern Ireland (1993), which laid much of the groundwork for peace talks culminating in the Good Friday/Belfast agreement (1998). His fifteen-year documentation of the transition from Apartheid to democracy in South Africa, The Heart of Hope is available at the Nelson Mandela Foundation website. Professor O’Malley is the subject of a documentary by James Demo, The Peacemaker – a film about O'Malley's 30+ years of work at the vanguard of peacemaking.  Professor O’Malley is also the founding editor of the New England Journal of Public Policy. A published author, his most recent title is The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – A Tale of Two Narratives (2015).

In 2018, Professor O’Malley received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award. Other awards include the Jean Mayer Global Peacemakers Award, (Tufts University) 2015; The Liberal International Freedom Prize (European Union), 2008; and the Eire Society Gold Medal (Boston), 2008.

Honorary Degree: Al MacPhee

Al MacPhee

Al MacPhee

Al MacPhee has been in the auto industry since the early 1960s. Originally from Cape Breton, he is the past Chairman of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, is a Past President of the Nova Scotia Automobile Dealers Association as well as the Halifax/Dartmouth Automobile Dealers Association. Currently, he is the Chairman of Leader Auto Resources Inc. a national automotive buying group. During his career, he has served on almost every General Motors Advisory Board and Communication Team.

For over 27 years, from 1983 to 2011, Mr. MacPhee was the owner of MacPhee Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC Ltd., the largest General Motors dealership in Nova Scotia and the third largest dealership in Canada. At present, he is the President of MacPhee Ford in Dartmouth, NS.

Currently, he and his wife Mary are very involved with the MacPhee Centre for Creative Learning. The MCCL is a not-for-profit charitable organization whose vision is to provide an alternative education model for youth in marginalized and disadvantaged circumstances. Located in downtown Dartmouth this centre focuses on youths that are underperforming in the conventional school environment and are at serious risk of abandoning their schooling entirely.

In 2009, Mr. MacPhee was inducted into the Junior Achievement Nova Scotia’s Business Hall of Fame. He is also very honoured to be designated one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEO’.

In June 2013, the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association announced that Mr. MacPhee had won the CADA’s Laureate Dealer Recognition Award for 2013. The Laureate Award is considered to be the highest honour a new car and truck dealer can receive over the course of his or her career.

 On March 22, 2018, Mr. MacPhee was recognized as a Ford Motor Company 2018 Salute To Dealers Honoree. He was one of six Dealer Principals from Ford’s global network to receive this prestigious award which was presented by Edsel B. Ford II. This award recognized his tremendous efforts and contributions to his community throughout his career.

After 58 years in the business, Mr. MacPhee continues to work 60 hours a week in his dealership in Dartmouth.

Honorary Degree: Rob Steele

Robert (Rob) G. Steele, Doctor of Commerce, Honoris Causa
President & CEO, Newfoundland Capital Corporation Limited CEO, Steele Auto Group

Rob Steele

Rob Steele

Recognized as one of Atlantic Canada's top chief executive officers, entrepreneur Rob Steele is a natural-born trailblazer.

With more than 18 years in the communications industry, Mr. Steele, a Canadian Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame inductee, also has an impressive record of success in the auto sales sector; he has built the region’s largest and most diversified automobile group.

Through meaningful and targeted philanthropy, Mr. Steele’s companies, Newcap Radio and the Steele Auto Group, support many charitable causes, and he is personally involved with the Alzheimer's Society, the Mental Health Foundation, Family SOS, Daffodil House, Feed Nova Scotia, and the Arthritis Society.

Committed to giving back to the community, Mr. Steele currently sits on the boards of Montreal-based Stingray Digital and Atlantic Signature Mortgage of Halifax. He also serves as a director of the Halifax Mooseheads and is on the advisory committee for Junior Achievement of Nova Scotia; he will be inducted into the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame in June of this year.

Mr. Steele is past co-chair of the East Coast Music Awards (ECMA) event committee and continues to be involved with the ECMAs in an advisory capacity. He is also a former Halifax Metro Chamber of Commerce board member and former director of Advancement Nova Scotia, an advocacy organization designed to help build a stronger Nova Scotia economy.

Honorary Degree: Dr. Bernie Francis

Dr. Bernie Francis, Doctor of Civil Law, Honoris Causa
Author, Linguist, Advocate

Dr. Bernie Francis

Dr. Bernie Francis

A thoughtful and passionate voice for the Mi'kmaw people, Dr. Bernie Francis, along with his mentor and friend, Doug Smith, helped preserve the Mi’kmaw language through an easy-to-learn orthography, which is officially recognized by Mi’kmaw chiefs across the province and by the Canada-Nova Scotia-Mi’kmaw Tripartite Forum.

Raised in Cape Breton’s Maupeltu (Membertou) First Nation, Dr. Francis initiated Nova Scotia’s Court Worker Program (CWP). Facing opposition and some harassment, he worked for five years to establish the CWP to ensure the fair and proper treatment of Mi’kmaw people within the provincial and federal court systems.

Dr. Francis, a Grand Chief Donald Marshall Senior Memorial Elder Award recipient, later introduced a Mi’kmaw Language Studies Program at Cape Breton University. He also visited First Nations’ communities across the Atlantic provinces, helping teachers produce curriculum materials.

An author of academic articles on Mi’kmaw law, Mi’kmaw spirituality, the conceptual differences of thought between Mi’kmaw People and Europeans and books explaining Mi’kmaw tradition and language, Dr. Francis has contributed to the Saint Mary's University community through participation in numerous colloquia, seminars, and conferences.

As a published storyteller and successful linguist, Dr. Francis has expanded people’s understanding of the Mi'kmaw language and geographical vision of traditional Mi’kmaw territory, including Nova Scotia. His work has contributed so much to the appreciation of Mi'kma'ki – even among his own people.

Pride has arisen in leaps and bounds, raising great hope for future generations of the First Peoples of this land, Mi’kma’ki!

Honorary Degree: Paul Gauthier

Paul Gauthier, Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa
Founder & President, Cole Harbour Foundation

Paul Gauthier

Paul Gauthier

Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native Paul Gauthier is one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs. As founder and president of the Cole Harbour Foundation, a non-profit focused on improving educational opportunities for children and youth, Mr. Gauthier has a close connection to Saint Mary's through the many students his Foundation has helped over the years.

The Cole Harbour Foundation supports the children and youth of Cole Harbour, from birth through university graduation. It provides thousands of free books each month for parents to read to their infants and pre-schoolers. The Foundation supports students through math and literacy tutoring and by offering classroom materials to teachers. And this year, the Foundation will award its 100th university scholarship.

Previous to launching the Cole Harbour Foundation, Mr. Gauthier was the chief technology officer at Groupon, where he worked to scale the global platform for local e-commerce. Before his time there, he co-founded Inktomi, a Silicon Valley-based software business that developed search engine technology employed by some of the world’s biggest brands. He was also a co-founder of Ludic Labs; there, he designed and developed a new class of online promotional tools.

With a bold and ambitious vision to protect The 100 Wild Islands along Nova Scotia’s eastern shore, Mr. Gauthier is also a strategic environmentalist. He donated what is believed to be the largest philanthropic gift to environmental conservation in Nova Scotia’s history.

Honorary Degree: Dominic Barton

Dominic Barton, Doctor of Commerce, Honoris Causa
Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company London-based

Dominic Barton

Dominic Barton

Dominic Barton, global managing partner of consulting firm McKinsey & Company, is committed to the internationalization of Canadian universities and colleges; he leads his company’s focus on the role business leadership plays in creating long-term social and economic value.

Author of more than 80 articles on business and society, the issues and opportunities facing markets worldwide, and other related topics, Mr. Barton is the chair of the Canadian Minister of Finance’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth and of the Seoul International Business Advisory Council.

A trustee of the Rhodes Trust and the Brookings Institution, Mr. Barton has received multiple accolades for his corporate leadership and contributions to the communities in which he has lived and worked.

Ahead of becoming McKinsey’s managing partner, Mr. Barton served as its Shanghai-based Asia chairman. Before that, Mr. Barton headed McKinsey's Korea office. In recognition of this work, he was awarded South Korea’s Order of Civil Merit and received the Singaporean Public Service Star.

Mr. Barton, an honorary fellow at Brasenose College and an adjunct professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, is also a member of the Singapore Economic Development Board’s International Advisory Council. He also serves on the boards of the University of Oxford Saïd Business School, Memorial Sloan Kettering, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and FCLT Global.

Honorary Degree: Judith Dietz

Judith Dietz

Judith Dietz

Judith Dietz is a curator, historian and Saint Mary’s University alumna, BA'84, MA'07, whose discovery at Saint Mary’s Patrick Power Library made national and international headlines and brought a lost relic from over 450 years ago into the public eye.

The daughter of the late Robert Dietz, the first Director and Curator of Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, Ms. Dietz was born into the arts. Her passion for art and history brought her to the Nova Scotia Museum of Fine Arts in 1973, the predecessor of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

She would go on to become the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s first Registrar in 1984 and the Manager of Collections and Gallery Services in 1994. In this capacity, she was responsible for the Permanent Collection and temporary loans, overseeing the growth of the collection from 300 to 12,000 artworks.In addition to curating numerous exhibitions from historical to contemporary, as well as folk art, she has also written a number of related collection and exhibition articles.Over the course of her time at the gallery, she has mentored numerous art and history students.

Her 1998 exhibition and publication, An Expression of Faith: Sacred Art of Centuries Past, brought focus and attention to a small but significant historical collection of religious art. In 1999 Ms. Dietz was looking through the rare book collection at the Patrick Power Library when she came across a large leather-bound book. Catalogued initially as a “Roman Catholic Antiphonary,” Ms. Dietz quickly realized that there was potentially much more to this illuminated manuscript containing full-page illuminations, numerous portraits of nuns with associated inscriptions, as well as patron’s coats of arms. Subsequent study led to research visits to England, Belgium, the Vatican Secret Archives, and Rome.  Ms. Dietz was able to identify the manuscript as the Salzinnes Antiphonal, a hand-scribed illuminated choir book dated 1554 and 1555, commissioned by Dame Julienne de Glymes, Prioress and former Cantrix of the Cistercian Abbey of Salzinnes, near Namur, in present-day Belgium. 

Ms. Dietz was invited to present her research at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, England in 2003 and the International Medieval Studies Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA in 2009, 2010, and 2013; International Workshop on Cultural Dialogues, Religion and Communication, in Ottawa, 2009; the Care and Conservation of Manuscript Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2011, among others. She would go on to write her thesis on the Salzinnes Antiphonal as a graduate student at Saint Mary’s University. Her research was a key element in the justification for the conservation of the Salzinnes Antiphonal by the Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, in partnership with Library and Archives Canada.

The detailed study of the antiphonal led to several significant national and international partnerships and related multidisciplinary projects that have culminated in a publication and the acclaimed exhibition, Centuries of Silence: The Discovery of the Salzinnes Antiphonal on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, May 5, 2017 to January 28, 2018. The exhibition is scheduled to travel to Namur, Belgium in 2020.

Ms. Dietz has been a member of numerous advisory committees including the Canadian Heritage Information Network, Canadian Museums Association, and the Museum’s Assistance Program. She received recognition for her contributions from the Canadian Museums Association in 2000 and in 2005 the Honourable Myra A. Freeman, former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, presented her with a certificate recognizing her years of dedicated service to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and to Government House. In 2007, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Atlantic Provinces Art Galleries Association.

In 2005, Ms. Dietz opted to retire to pursue her research interests, but continues her affiliation with the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia as Associate Curator of Historical European Art.

Saint Mary’s University is honored to bestow a Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa to Judith Dietz.

Honorary Degree: Melvin (Mel) Boutilier C.M. O.N.S.


Melvin Boutilier is an incredible entrepreneur and trailblazer of social enterprise, whose commitment to community has helped two generations of those in need in the greater Halifax Regional Municipality.

Melvin Boutilier was born in a rural community in Nova Scotia on January 29, 1928.  He was one of ten children and felt early in life the pain of poverty. It was here in this humble setting that he developed his sensitivities to the needs of the poor and underprivileged. At eight years old he set up a podium (a wooden orange crate) and spoke to an imaginary audience. He told them that he intended that “when he grew up, to make a positive difference in the lives of others, relieving want and hardships wherever he could do so.”

After a successful career in government and the construction industry, some people may look to quietly take an early retirement but not Melvin Boutilier; he took the opportunity to fulfill his dream as a volunteer and focus on addressing challenges in the Halifax community. His wife was also shared his dream and was happy to assist him by remaining in her career for 65 years.

Melvin Boutilier

Melvin Boutilier

In 1983, with no funds and a limited food source, he and five friends established Community Care Network (commonly known as Parker Street Food Bank) in a single car garage. This venture grew more rapidly than expected and exposed many other needed services such as providing clothing, shoes, household items including furniture. A furniture bank was started in a rent-free building and was a great help to many families. An emergency fund was created to care for crisis situations in low-income families such as being unable to pay for heating fuel, power or fill medical prescriptions. Two thrift stores were set up to help support these programs. Later, it was possible to buy a warehouse in which all the services could be housed with greater efficiency.

The necessity of another step to help eliminate poverty was clear, people wanted and needed self-sufficiency. Training began with computer skills for students supported by the provincial government. Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) assessed the program and determined that the program could be used as credit for students who wished to continue at NSCC. Every student was given a donated computer refurbished by the program’s refurbishing department, staffed by two full-time technologists. Later an adjacent building was purchased and used as The Skills Development Centre. Working with the provincial government, Nova Scotia Community College and Millwright College, over 100 students in various trades graduated and 80% found employment.

After being Executive Director of the Community Care Network for 31 years, Mr. Boutilier left the network and organized another charity named the Metro Care and Share Society. This charity is centered on education and using knowledge to help eradicate poverty. The Halifax Scholars Program (HSP) provides guidance to students currently in high school and awards scholarships to those facing financial and other barriers, hindering their access to post-secondary institutions. HSP wants to cultivate in youth the presence of hope, determination, and a realization of the importance of education.

After decades of service to his community, it is fitting that Mr. Boutilier’s work has been recognized by the municipal, provincial and federal governments and 15 community organizations. Among his recognitions are: the Order of Canada, Order of Nova Scotia, Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year, and the Theresa Casgrain Award for Outstanding Volunteerism, awarded yearly to one man and one woman in Canada.

Mr. Boutilier is a role model for the graduates of Saint Mary’s University and demonstrates the values that help to build stronger and healthier communities.

Saint Mary’s University is honoured to bestow a Doctor of Civil Law, Honoris Causa to Melvin Boutilier.

Exceptional Canadians recognized with honorary degrees

The accomplishments of two exceptional Canadians will be recognized at the end of September with honorary degrees at Saint Mary’s University’s fall 2017 convocation ceremony.
Saint Mary’s is pleased to recognize the extraordinary achievements of:

  • Commander (Retired) Heather J. Armstrong, BComm’83, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran and Saint Mary’s alumna who has dedicated her life to serving Canadians; and
  • Dr. Ian McKay, a well-known historian, researcher, professor and author who has helped shape the public’s understanding of Canadian history. 

“These degrees represent the highest honour that we can bestow,” said Saint Mary’s University President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray. “Both Commander Armstrong and Dr. McKay are commendable leaders. Their accomplishments exemplify what it means to be engaged global citizens, and are deserving of recognition and acclaim.” 

A Saint Mary’s alumna, Commander Armstrong began her career in the Canadian Armed Forces in 1978, serving in both the regular and reserve components of the Personnel Administration and Logistics branches.  Commander Armstrong followed those years of military service in Halifax, Shearwater, Cold Lake and Ottawa, with another 10 years in senior civilian leadership positions with the Department of National Defence in Ottawa. Commander Armstrong graduated from Saint Mary’s with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1983.

Dr. McKay began his career as a historian after completing his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in 1975. His time spent in Halifax inspired him to base his honours essay on the area, entitled The Working Class of Metropolitan Halifax, 1850-1889. He would later return to Halifax to complete his PhD, Work and Community in the Cumberland Coalfields, 1848-1927.  As an author, Dr. McKay has won numerous awards for his works, including the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, the pre-eminent prize awarded by the Canadian Historical Association for best book each year in Canadian history.