Spotting a deer in the backyard of their Old Town home this week, Ken Chan and his husband Warren Duffy were quite certain they weren’t living in downtown Toronto any longer.
When Chan was named Brock University’s new vice-president, administration, back in January, the couple began hunting for a home in their favourite spot in the Niagara Region. The move here two weeks ago brings them closer to Warren’s mother in Grimsby, and also allows for the more relaxed, yet active lifestyle they enjoy.
“I’ve been exploring the trails in Niagara-on-the-Lake both on foot, and on bicycle,” says the 46-year-old Chan. “Niagara-on-the-Lake has always been one of the communities that has always been familiar to us. I’m a history buff. It’s one of the communities that is seminal to the history of Canada. I’m also a fan of tourism and culture. Niagara-on-the-Lake offers all of that.”
Since their arrival, the avid runner has marvelled at the opportunity to take in his new environment. His Twitter account (@thekenchan) is full of great photos of Fort Mississauga, Queen Street and the Voices of Freedom Park. The self-described newspaper junkie has also posted shots snapped while relaxing at the waterfront leafing through The NOTL Local.
“Just walking Queen Street, and the barracks, you just realize the history and the heritage of the surroundings,” Chan says. “That’s something that is so appealing. We are so fortunate to be able to live in such a community.”
Upon assuming his new role at Brock on Tuesday, June 1, he says his first order of business is to get to know the people at the university, as well as business and community leaders in Niagara.
As VP, administration, Chan is responsible for providing leadership for the finance and information technology departments. He will also oversee campus security, infrastructure and facilities, dining services and residences.
“It’s quite a diverse portfolio,” he tells The Local.
Diversity is a word that applies perfectly to the career path that brought Chan to Niagara. In 1997, after completing a masters degree in business administration at City University of Seattle, Chan worked as an immigration officer for a year, before being hired by Peel Regional Police in 1999.
“I started out as a patrol officer,” he says, “then spent a year in Drugs, then a little over a year in Homicide. Then, from there I went to the province, working for a cabinet minister.”
Chan spent more than four years as a senior advisor and policy director for the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, before moving to the U.K. in 2008, where he worked for two years before returning to the Ontario government. During his stint overseas, he served as then-London mayor Boris Johnson’s policing and community security advisor.
“It was really one of those roles that brought together my time as a police officer and my experience as a policy advisor,” he says.
Of Johnson, the current British Prime Minister and a polarizing figure to many, Chan says, “what you see on TV is what you get in person. He certainly has a background in the media. Whether he is speaking to five people or 500, he’s the same.”
Chan also spent time in the biotech field, and has experience in the non-profit sector as well. From 2011 to 2015 he was vice-president, advocacy, research and healthcare for Cystic Fibrosis Canada. As well, he currently sits on the board of the ALS Society of Canada.
From 2017 until just recently, Chan had been again employed with the Ontario government. Last December, he shifted from an assistant deputy minister role with the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture to one that put him in the thick of things with the province’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
As the assistant deputy minister with the vaccine distribution secretariat at the Ministry of the Solicitor General, Chan started up and then led the secretariat responsible for supporting the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force.
“The vaccine rollout is a project that one would expect all hands on deck,” Chan says. “We’ve got multiple departments within the Ontario government and beyond, including the public health units, the hospitals, the municipalities and even the private sector working together. The task force played a key role in advising the government on the rollout.”
“The role of the secretariat is to support the task force,” Chan adds. “The role I played was to support the chair (first, retired General Rick Hillier, then Dr. Homer Tien), the ministers and the deputy ministers in connecting the dots and pulling together the various work streams responsible for the rollout in a way that took a much more strategic view.”
He’s been following the progress of Niagara’s vaccinations, and at press time was happy to discover that the region had surpassed the 250,000 doses milestone.
His experience with the secretariat perhaps makes Chan an ideal candidate to lead Brock into its post-pandemic future.
“I see a lot of potential there, and look forward to providing leadership and working with our partners both on campus and off in realizing what the post-pandemic environment has to offer all of us,” he says. “There are very exciting times ahead for Brock.”
Chan sat in on a community engagement session at the end of March, which brought business leaders together with representatives from the university. The experience made him realize that Brock needs to play an important role in both drawing talent to Niagara and retaining it.
“We heard loud and clear what the community expects of Brock as an anchor in terms of helping the region grow,” states Chan, “not only from an academic standpoint, but certainly in being an enabler of the region playing a much more critical role in overall provincial and national growth. A stronger province and country will mean much higher potential for the region.”
The recent announcement of the departure of Brock President Gervan Fearon came as a surprise to Chan. However, he remains impressed by what Fearon accomplished in his role, and looks forward to working with current Provost Lynn Wells, who will become interim president of the university on July 1.
With his vast experience in many sectors of business, the Brock appointment is Chan’s first in the world of academia. The lifelong learner, however, is no stranger to the academic world. He holds a number of degrees from various universities, most recently a master of forensic accounting from the University of Toronto. And he has had input in post-secondary decision-making in the past.
“I’ve been involved in the education sector for a number of years,” he explains. “I was an alumni member of the academic board at the University of Toronto. I was also on the board of Lambeth College in London, England. I started an executive PhD in business at ESCP (École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris) in France. So I myself am now a graduate student and a grad researcher as well.”
As he settles in to his new job at Brock, and as he and Warren, who works for Capital One, continue to settle in to their new home in NOTL, he looks forward to a post-pandemic environment where the couple can get out and more fully explore not just their immediate surroundings, but everything the Niagara region has to offer.
For now, though, they are happy to stay in town mostly, supporting local businesses, and sampling the fare of restaurants such as the Irish Harp, Niagara’s Finest Thai, pie’ZA Pizzeria and Butler’s Sports Bar. But Chan is really anticipating sampling one local delicacy in particular.
“The one that I really look forward to trying,” enthuses Chan, “is the fish and chips over at the Legion hall. I hear that they do make a good fish and chips, so that’s certainly on my list.”
As much as Brock, and Niagara Region, is in for a treat with the experience Chan brings to his new role, Chan himself is in for a treat one upcoming Thursday night.