Founding & History

Space for Dialogue

The SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is both a world class, accredited conference facility and a programming unit with a mandate to foster shared understanding and positive action through dialogue and engagement. 

The Centre was officially opened in September 2000 by British Columbia Lt. Governor Garde Gardom. Today, this building remains the only known facility in North America that is purpose-built for convening dialogue and is home to many prominent local and international gatherings.

The Making of a World-class Dialogue Centre

The SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue building was originally designed by architect Woodruff Marbury Somervell and built as a branch of the Toronto Dominion Bank in 1920. The magnificent temple-style building was donated to Simon Fraser University in 1993 by philanthropist and real estate developer Peter Eng as a result of then university president Dr. Jack P. Blaney's efforts in engaging with community leaders with the vision of creating a space for dialogue and community interaction.

Architect Alan Endall was commissioned to redesign the building with the goal of ensuring the preservation of its historic façade. Using the unique dome structure in the centre of the building, Endall created the architecturally distinct and striking Jack P. Blaney Asia Pacific Hall, the iconic circular hall that has defined the building as a place of civic discourse.

After Vancouver philanthropist Morris J. Wosk made a significant donation toward the reconstruction of the building and creation of the Centre, the university named the Centre after him in grateful recognition of his generosity.

The Centre’s early vision and programming was defined by a range of dialogue practitioners and researchers, including Bob Anderson, Joanna Ashworth, Ann Cowan, Tony Penikett, Glenn Sigurdson and Mark Winston.

Celebrating More than 20 Years of Impact

More than twenty years later, Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue has designed and facilitated hundreds of events locally, nationally and internationally reaching hundreds of thousands of participants. During this time, the Centre has grown from a team of two staff to over 30 dialogue practitioners, faculty members, fellows and staff, with more than 60 dialogue associates and 1000 alumni.

Programming legacies include hosting dignitaries such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Professor Shirin Ebadi, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, creating a platform for students to practice active citizenship through programs such as Semester in Dialogue, and establishing units to build capacity within the fields of dialogue and engagement and promote a stronger culture of democracy.

In 2004, the Centre helped to spark a global trend in deliberative democracy by providing a physical home for the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, chaired by now President Emeritus Jack P. Blaney. This global trend was recently recognized by the OECD as a “deliberative wave” that has the potential to renew democracy in the 21st Century. Since that time, the Centre has continued to showcase new innovations in participatory democracy through processes such as Imagine BC, Canada’s World and the Citizen Dialogues on Canada’s Energy Future.