Vianne Timmons
President & Vice Chancellor - Memorial University
Part of the Spotlight on Ocean Innovation in St. John’s

Developing the Ocean Economy Workforce


  1. With academic institutions heavily focused on ocean research, St. John’s has been able to benefit greatly and develop key technologies to expand opportunities in the oceans.
  2. Academic institutions in St. John’s work closely with industry to keep staff well-trained and updated, ensuring a steady flow of high-quality talent and professional development.
  3. It is easy to retain talent in St. John’s due to the availability of career-enriching opportunities through academic institutions and the high quality of life in the city.


With strong ties to academic institutions and a support system network, ocean industries in St. John’s are able to obtain highly qualified personnel and access to cutting-edge research. Technological innovation developed in partnership with academia and government will also further strengthen St. John’s ocean economy.

What are St. John’s competitive advantages in attracting foreign investment into its ocean economy? 

Our physical location is by far our greatest advantage. St. John’s is closer to more distinct ocean zones than any other region in Canada and we are a gateway to the north and the Arctic, which is really unique.

“St. John’s is closer to more distinct ocean zones than any other region in Canada and we are a gateway to the north and the Arctic.”

St. John’s is in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Labrador is a part of Northern Canada. We also have a partnership with Nunavut and the Marine Institute works very closely with the province to do work in the oceans around the Nunavut Territory. Memorial University has done work in all of the Labrador strait, Nunavut area, and Baffin Bay, which truly makes us a gateway to the north. We also have a number of researchers doing really unique research in the north with Nunavut and Labrador.

What are the main sectors of Canada’s ocean economy? 

There is offshore safety, ocean engineering, environmental engineering, and in the north there are small-scale fisheries. Forty per-cent of our research here at Memorial University is ocean-related. Memorial University invested $165 million in research last year, 40% of which is ocean-related, placing us at the forefront of ocean innovation.

What roles does Memorial University play in the regional and national ocean economy? 

The Marine Institute is Canada’s foremost fishery and marine institute. It is the leading and most comprehensive marine institute in North America and it is part of Memorial University. Its strength is in its educational programs but also in its applied research initiatives for the ocean sectors, from sustainable fishing to ocean technology and green shipping. The Marine Institute has connections with industry. They have industry advisory boards on all the programs at the Marine Institute. The institute is able to generate millions of dollars of activity here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the north. It trains people and mariners from all over the world and it enables its students to participate in the marine industry. 

“The Marine Institute makes sure industry is robust by having access to highly qualified personnel for its workforce.”

For companies like Woodward’s, which takes oil up to Nunavut, their mariners are all trained by the Marine Institute. They have to get refresher and upgrade safety courses every now and then. The Marine Institute makes sure industry is robust by having access to highly qualified personnel for its workforce. Another example is the aquaculture industry in the South of Newfoundland. The Marine Institute trains people to work in the aquaculture industry in terms of environmental practices, sustainability, and more. That industry relies heavily on the Marine Institute. 

The ocean is so vast. The Marine Institute is connected to all kinds of marine institutes around the world. It is part of an international marine institute network, which is a really important network that not only does research to protect our oceans but also to make sure fisheries are sustainable and that offshore drilling and oil work is done safely and responsibly in terms of the environment. The Marine Institute is connected to these international institutes and that network plays an important role in our world.

In addition to the Marine Institute, Memorial University is involved with the Ocean Frontier Institute, which is all about partnerships. We are a founding member partner with Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island. Memorial University also has federal partners such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as many industry partners like Ocean Choice International and Cooke Aquaculture.

“It makes sense to locate your business here in St. John’s because of our educational and research focus.”

Any company that is ocean-related should look at our region because we provide education, professional development, and safety training for anyone who works in the ocean. It makes sense to locate your business here in St. John’s because of our educational and research focus on the oceans.

What is the future of the ocean economy and what role will Canada play as a country with access to three oceans? 

The ocean economy is just beginning to emerge. We are just beginning to identify that magnificent resource and what we can do with it. I have great optimism and hope for the future and recognize that it is not just fisheries—there is so much of our oceans that has not been explored. There are opportunities in fisheries and drilling right now, but in the future we will see a lot more variety. 

“Water is going to be so sought after and necessary as our greatest resource, and Canada is uniquely positioned as it is surrounded by three big oceans.”

My youngest daughter has her Master’s degree in marine management and she says that water is the next world oil. Water is going to be so sought after and necessary as our greatest resource, and Canada is uniquely positioned as it is surrounded by three big oceans. Even the north of Canada is so connected to the oceans. If you spend any time in Northern Canada, you would know that working on the water is in everyone’s blood. The water is not just where they get their livelihood, it is also how they travel, often on skidoos. So much in the north is connected to those oceans, and we have only just begun to tap into that resource.

What is the availability and quality of talent in St. John’s for the ocean economy? 

The marine world is uniquely connected to Memorial University. We have many graduate programs that are connected to oceans, so we do draw in a lot of young people who are interested. The entire Marine Institute is connected to the ocean, whether it is ocean technology, ocean history, or ocean culture. St. John’s is well-positioned through technology, research, and innovation in the ocean sector to attract students and researchers nationally and internationally, and work with industry to make sure that they have highly qualified personnel and keep them up-to-date on all the training requirements they need. Many universities are not as connected to industry as Memorial University is. In particular, we are connected through our Marine Institute and it is really fun to see all the programs. We also do a lot of work outside St. John’s—we have Holyrood, Lewisporte, and Harbor Breton. Memorial University and the Marine Institute work closely with organizations to find new opportunities and encourage economic development in Newfoundland and Labrador. Many of these opportunities are through the ocean sector: through program delivery, applied research, and technology innovation. We have amazing innovation on mapping the ocean floor, radar in the waters, and measuring ice in the north so that vessels can safely travel across iced water. There is a lot of great innovation and research happening.

What would you say to foreign investors considering St. John’s and Canada as a destination for investment?

Look at Canada as a place to invest. We have a high standard of publicly funded universities and schools. This is really unique in the world. We also have a publicly funded medical system. Canada has built a society that has access to really unique features and this will be exciting for anyone coming in. Our partnerships with industry here at Memorial University are deep, long-standing, and significant. If you want your personnel to get professional development, access to graduates with the best knowledge in the field, and where applied research for industry is happening, St. John’s is the place. If you are going to invest, take a look at us here. St. John’s is an amazing place with abundant outdoor activities, high quality of life for families, and a great educational system.

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Vianne Timmons
President & Vice Chancellor - Memorial University

Bio: Vianne Timmons is the 13th president and vice-chancellor of Memorial University. Previously, she served as president for the University of Regina. She was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. In 2017, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada for her lifetime contributions to inclusive education, family literacy, Indigenous post-secondary education, and women’s leadership.

Organization Profile: Memorial University is a public university based in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. They offer certificate, diploma, undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate programs, including online courses and degrees, with an overseas campus in Harlow, England as well. Memorial is the largest university in Atlantic Canada, operating and managing over 30 research units.