Oct. 12, 2018

Honouring an entrepreneurial spirit

Whether it’s filled with student-designed vehicles, food trucks and lively music or world-class pancakes – the courtyard outside the Schulich School of Engineering’s main complex has become a festive gathering place for our community.
Jeff and Liz Anne Tonken Plaza

On Thursday, Oct. 11, the courtyard was officially dedicated as the Jeff and Liz Anne Tonken Plaza to honour their tremendous business leadership in Calgary, Alberta and beyond.

“The Jeff and Liz Anne Tonken Plaza is the heart of our engineering campus. It’s fitting that it has been named in honour of those with the entrepreneurial spirit and drive we hope to inspire in all of our engineers,” said Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering.

President and CEO of Birchcliff Energy Ltd. Jeff Tonken has nearly 40 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. A trained lawyer, in the early 1990s he led the creation of Stampeder Exploration. He went on to create Big Bear Exploration Ltd. and Case Resources Inc. before founding Birchcliff Energy more than a decade ago.

It was his friendship with prominent Canadian philanthropist Seymour Schulich that led to the dedication. They have long been friends and business partners. Schulich wanted to acknowledge Tonken’s impact on the energy industry and our community with the naming of this plaza.

“Seymour Schulich has been an incredible mentor and friend who invested in Birchcliff Energy because he believed in our team and what it could accomplish,” said Tonken.

“I see that he has applied the same belief to students at the University of Calgary and nationally by giving generously to them directly through scholarships and to creating spaces where they can have meaningful team experiences. It is truly humbling for myself, my team, and my family that Mr. Schulich would dedicate the plaza in front of the CNRL Engineering Complex in the Tonken name.”

The distinctive space, with its meandering pathways, benches and trees, welcomes students and guests to the bright new engineering building with its prominent Schulich gear. It has become a central gathering place for school-wide celebrations. Orientation activities for new students, Stampede breakfasts and graduation festivities are regularly held in the plaza, which can accommodate thousands.

On the day of the dedication, the plaza resembled more of a winter wonderland with sugar white snow dusting the landscape. In the warmer months, students gather to eat lunch or relax after a long day of classes.

“Spaces such as the Jeff and Liz Anne Tonken Plaza are key to supporting student success because they offer a place to gather, to informally work together and to build relationships that will last long after graduation day,” said Rosehart.

“What better way to honour the friendship between Seymour Schulich and Jeff Tonken than with a space where student friendships form every day.”