Creating a better society for all: New chapter for health research at StFX, healthcare in rural Nova Scotia with groundbreaking for Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Hall  

Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Hall groundbreaking
L-r, Dr. Joe Apaloo, Dean of Science; Central Nova MP, the Hon. Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities of Canada; Mona Dahdaleh; Dr. Victor Dahdaleh; StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin; Dennis Flood, Chair, StFX Board of Governors; the Hon Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health and Wellness, and MLA for Antigonish; Katie Wilson, StFX Students' Union VP Finance and Operations; Dr. Amanda Cockshutt, StFX Academic Vice-President and Provost.

As StFX officially broke ground on July 5th for the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Hall, home to the future Victor and Mona Dahdaleh Institute for Innovation in Health, speaker after speaker noted the significance of this moment—and the exciting new era for health research and healthcare in rural Nova Scotia that it brings. 

A large crowd gathered under a tent on upper campus where the building will stand to mark the historic occasion with a symbolic groundbreaking, and excitement for the new ground that building will enable.

“This will be a place where faculty, students, and health practitioners come together to improve the health and wellness of Nova Scotians,” said StFX President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Andy Hakin. “I want to recognize Dr. Victor and Mona Dahdaleh for their generous support, as well as the provincial and federal governments for their investment in supporting health research and rural healthcare.”

It is a milestone moment for this institution, Dr. Hakin said. 

More than a building, the Victor and Mona Dahdaleh Institute for Innovation in Health is a much-anticipated incubator for health research on campus as well as the start of a transformational shift in healthcare support aimed at better health outcomes for all Nova Scotians. It puts StFX on a path that will help build a better society for all, he said. “That is the mission of a university.”

To celebrate, leaders in education, government, and philanthropy joined with Dr. Victor and Mona Dahdaleh at the ceremony.

Dr. Dahdaleh said he is very excited the new institute is now underway at StFX.

“Here, students will prepare to be future health providers; while world class researchers will develop solutions to today’s healthcare needs, having a broad impact on health in rural areas of Nova Scotia, Canada, and beyond,” said Dr. Dahdaleh, who was initially inspired to get involved in this project by the Nova Scotia Government, who he saw facing the challenge of healthcare head-on.

L-r, Mona and Dr. Victor Dahdaleh and StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin 

This building, he said, will be the proof of the power of collaboration, and soon, he hopes the start of breakthrough victories and life-changing discoveries that will impact the region and help create a better future for all.

“Mona and I are so happy thinking about all the 18-year-olds to come who will arrive here and become part of the legacy of StFX.” 

“Health promotion and prevention are just as important as improving access to care or recruitment and retention,” said Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Minister Michelle Thompson.

“This institute will focus on the root causes of poor health and related issues, offer education and training, and test and try new ways of promoting health and wellness – all of which will help Nova Scotians reduce, prevent or better manage their medical concerns.” 

Minister Thompson said she is very proud of the government's investment in this project, and she is excited for the incredible opportunity it creates to better the health and wellness of Nova Scotians.

“This is going to have an impact that will reverberate throughout communities for generations to come,” said Central Nova MP, the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities.

Mr. Fraser says as he speaks with Canadians, health is always at the top of their concerns. The importance of a building like this cannot be overstated. “This facility will be an incubator for health research that will support research and discovery. Investments like this are good for our economy and will help grow our ability to respond to healthcare needs.”

Katie Wilson, Students’ Union Vice-President of Finance and Operation, said the new building will be more than a place for classes and research. It will enable collaboration and significantly enrich student life. 

“It’s a day we’ve been waiting for a long time. It’s just wonderful,” said the Hon. Frank McKenna, TD Bank Group Deputy Chair, former New Brunswick Premier and former Ambassador to the United States. Mr. McKenna and fellow StFX alumnus, the late Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, former Canadian Prime Minister, championed the Xaverian Commons project.

Several faculty members took turns speaking about the significance of the building as they introduced each guest speaker. Among the speakers were Dr. Claire Betker, Dr. Charlene Weaving, Dr. Ann Fox, Dr. Joe Apaloo, Dr. Kara Thompson, and Dr. Erin Austen. Dr. Richard Isnor, StFX Associate Vice-President Research and Graduate Studies, served as ceremony emcee. 

Mike Taylor of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation offered a blessing and smudged the grounds. University Chaplain Father Donald MacGillivray also offered a blessing.  

Board of Governors Chair Dennis Flood, who thanked all partners for their support of the project, noted how appropriate it is at StFX, “where we teach community and looking out for one another,” that this new building will be focused on the wellbeing of others. 

The Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Hall was first announced in April 2023 during a Night for the Blue and White, a gala evening at the Halifax Convention Centre. The Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Charitable Foundation gave $15 million to the project, the single largest gift ever to StFX by a private donor. Also, last spring, the Province of Nova Scotia provided $37.4 million to support the research institute. The federal government had also given $8 million in funding to the Xaverian Commons project, which encompasses the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Hall.

StFX currently has over 75 faculty conducting research in health-related fields. Much of the research is focused on the social determinants of health and is targeted at reducing Nova Scotians’ need for acute medical care. Additionally, about 40 per cent of StFX students are enrolled in health-oriented disciplines.