Push on for Lakehead University vet school

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle Journal

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) made a deputation to city council seeking approval for a $500,000 city investment toward a veterinary program at Lakehead University.

The group cites a critical shortage of veterinarians in their request. Being a subsidiary of the city, they must seek approval for project spending over $100,000. 

Lakehead University has proposed a partnership with the University of Guelph to offer a joint four-year doctor of veterinary medicine program (DVM). Students would attend Lakehead University for the first two years and in the remaining two years they would study in Guelph. 

The University of Guelph is the only school in Ontario offering a veterinary program among five university programs offered in Canada.

The veterinarian shortage has been felt by many pet owners looking for medical treatment for their animals. And the shortfall of trained vets has a major impact on the agricultural sector with the farming of large animals.

Jamie Taylor, chief executive officer of the CEDC, says they looked at this from an economic development lens.

“There is value in supporting a new school that will add 20 new vets per year to Thunder Bay and the region,” she said. “This will bring new employment, increased spending and will support Thunder Bay as an attractive city by having the available support for pet owners. In addition, it will support the agricultural sector for large animals and support greater food security.”

A spokesperson from Lakehead University told The Chronicle-Journal that the proposed collaborative veterinary medicine program would increase overall capacity for veterinary services by 20 per cent in Northern and rural Ontario.

“This program will provide more opportunities for Thunder Bay and Northern Ontario residents to train in veterinary medicine, with a focus on providing expanded access opportunities to northern, rural, and Indigenous communities,” they said. “Steps to establish this collaborative (doctor of veterinary medicine program) are ongoing, with our two universities working together to establish the infrastructure, operational funding, programming, and other supports necessary.”

My Pride Farm veal producer, Mike Visser, says there is a need for more veterinarians, calling it a Canada-wide issue. But he doesn’t have a problem with the lack of veterinary care because he is located near the only licensed large animal veterinarian in the area.

“A lot of this has to do with people in more remote communities like Dorion,” he said. “The veterinarian that services me is not necessarily able to always drive out to Dorion or to communities like that to assist them.”

Brent Cadeau of Wolf River farm in Dorion says he has been working for years to extend more opportunities for schooling in what he calls the main issue. 

“With only a handful of universities offering veterinary programs, 99 per cent of the graduates go to caring for small animals, leaving the availability for new large-animal vets in Canada very, very short,” Cadeau said. “And Northern Ontario is in dire need of large-animal vets.”

Cadeau met with Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Lise Vaugeois and the Dorion town council recently to address the issues.

“We have one large-animal veterinarian in our area, and he has a fairly dedicated program to the dairy operations called the herd health program,” Cadeau said. 

“That requires him to be available in an emergency at all times, but for him to stretch out further rurally (from Slate River) is hard for him — it’s an hour-and-a-half drive.”

Cadeau says farmers have to frequently trailer an animal to the Slate River clinic. 

“A lot of people can’t do it and that has that big impact on services,” he said, adding there are areas within his region that he represents with the Farmers of Ontario that are in even worse circumstances.

Cadeau says they have been petitioning for 100 graduates a year, with at least 10 of the graduates dedicated to large-animal care. He said his group also lobbied for veterinary technicians to be given more autonomy to perform more duties, alleviating the stress on the veterinarians.