“On my first day of classes at U of T, I joined the camera club at Hart House.”
That was back in 1958, and Bill Dowkes has been involved with Hart House ever since. During this 60-year span, Bill acted as program director, secretary and chair of the camera club. He submitted over 300 photographs to the camera club photo contest and had over 100 prints on show. Over the years, Bill won dozens of awards and prizes for his work. You can see his name displayed on trophies throughout Hart House. He was an early adopter of digital technology and encouraged the club to embrace it. In 2001, he established the Bill Dowkes Award for Digital Photography. By 2009, digital photography had become so popular that the prize was split into three separate awards—people, places and nature.
He remembers how another camera club award was established, “When I was in the camera club, I met Yousuf Karsh. It was a surprise. I didn’t know he would be a [photo contest] judge until I saw him walking down the stairs from the Warden’s residence, which used to be on the third floor at Hart House. Karsh was a famous photographer, so for a student to meet someone like him—that could only happen at Hart House. Later Karsh donated a trophy that is awarded annually to a camera club member for best capturing “campus life and activities.”
Bill has taught film development and printing classes at Hart House for many years. When he resigned as chair of the camera club, he was awarded a lifetime membership at Hart House. Over the years, he has been a generous donor and was the leader in creating a permanent endowment supporting the Hart House Camera Club. In addition to his own philanthropy, he has also been active as a fundraiser asking other alumni to support the endowment. He wants to ensure that current and future U of T students get the same opportunities that he enjoyed.
“You gotta join a club and do something other than grind away at the books. Go up to Hart House and figure out what you’d like to do,” Bill says with enthusiasm.
He would offer this advice to anyone on campus today. And he speaks with good authority—Bill has been involved in almost every aspect of Hart House from arts to wellness. He was a member of the Hart House Underwater Club and taught scuba diving. As a member of the Hart House master swimmers, he won three Ontario firsts and three Canadian firsts, winning the T. Holder award for top athlete.
According to Bill, “If you want to get involved, Hart House is the place to come. [My life] wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. I wouldn’t have been socially involved. Hart House opened the whole university to me.”
Aside from his “Doctorate in Boundless Opportunities,” Bill is a retired senior lecturer in Chemical Engineering at U of T. He is an Arbor Award winner, a King’s College Circle Heritage Society donor and is currently a U of T Engineering Alumni Ambassador.