April 10, 2019

All in the family, engineering style

Patriarch of Calgary's Stewart Clan never forgot the help he was given in getting to university
Stewart Family
Stewart Family Colleen De Neve

The ladder of success was James (Jim) Stewart’s to climb, but the petroleum engineer never forgot who lifted him up to that first rung.

The family farm was gone, swallowed up in the financial drought of the Great Depression, and Jim’s father Milton died soon after, broken in health and spirit over the stress of losing his Saskatchewan homestead.

Jim Stewart was a young man about to graduate high school in Cluny, Alberta, the province his mother had gone to in pursuit of housekeeping work.  His future that spring of 1951 was uncertain, and his prospects seemed limited.

Uncertain future averted by bursary

But fate had other plans, or rather, the principal of Jim’s high school did.

“Dad’s principal asked him, ‘What are you going to do now’, and he said, ‘Probably just get a job,’” explains Jim's son Jeff Stewart, BSc(Eng)’87.

“The principal said, ‘No you’re not. You’re good at math and sciences, and I got you a bursary and enrolled you at the University of Alberta.’

“My dad said later he didn’t really want to go, but he didn’t want to let down his principal - and that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to him.”

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A life of success and gratitude

Between that bursary and the few dollars his mom had squirrelled away, Jim was soon enrolled in engineering, and in 1955, he graduated into an industry clamouring for petroleum engineers.

From there, it was a wonderful life, and Jim and his wife Lorna were soon raising a brood of happy children in a house only a stone’s throw from what would become the University of Calgary.

The location couldn’t have been better for Sheila, Jeff, Rebecca and Lorraine, with dad’s love of engineering and education encouraging them to take advantage of the university right next door.

Convocation, and great convictions

Take advantage, they did.  And when university graduation came for the entire quartet of Stewart kids, three of the four followed in dad’s engineering footsteps, wearing the iron ring proudly.

“He never pushed us into engineering, but he did want us to get a good education, and engineering was a good fit,” explains Sheila, the eldest and first to graduate in 1985.

And it didn’t stop there either: though Jim passed away in 2011, the patriarch's engineering  legacy continues, with Sheila’s daughter Alexia, and Jeff’s son Jordan, currently enrolled in the Schulich School of Engineering.

Paying it forward, Stewart style

And that serendipitous bursary that got it all started, back in 1951?

Jim never forgot what that first helping hand meant for his life and that of his family, and in 1989 he and Lorna established the Stewart Family Bursary in Engineering Endowment so they could do the same for others.

“Jim was always grateful for that start he got in going to university – he never forgot that, and he said if it hadn’t been for his mom and the principal at the school, he wouldn’t have been where he is today,” explains Lorna.

A family affair

Those values were handed down to the entire Stewart clan, with the kids making annual contributions to the family bursary, culminating in 2018, when they collectively used the University of Calgary’s Giving Day as an opportunity to donate $12,500 towards the growing family fund.

And it’s not just family – friends and a neighbour of the Stewarts have made contributions too, ensuring young students get that same leg up onto the ladder of success.

For the next generation of Stewart engineers, their grandfather’s example is one to follow.

“I was raised on those same values, and while I can’t afford to give money yet, I do give my time,” says Alexia, a volunteer with Meals on Wheels.

Jim would certainly approve.


On April 25, 2019, the University of Calgary will kick off its third-annual Giving Day. The Schulich School of Engineering relies on and collaborates with the community to innovate solutions to problems such as providing energy more efficiently, improving security to keep people safe, ensuring clean access to water and discovering better solutions for health. This Giving Day, you can make a difference by fueling collaborative, interdisciplinary education that spans research across a range of disciplines. Find out more about how you can support the future of engineering education and research.