Presidential address

I commend the Gauntlet for preparing a special supplement on the history of the University of Calgary.

Universities are creatures of history and this university is no exception. As I have discovered as the new President, the U of C has a fascinating history and one that is longer than most would expect.

Recently we marked the 89th anniversary of the first classes at the original University of Calgary. On October 4, 1912 the first University of Calgary, a private university called Calgary College, opened for classes in the Carnegie Library (now the Memorial Park Branch of the Calgary Public Library) with 125 students registered in Arts and in Law. There was tremendous community support from within Calgary and lukewarm support in Edmonton.

It was believed that a university would be good for business, would bring scientific and technical experts to Calgary and would assure local access to university education for young Calgarians. The fledgling university closed its doors in 1915, a victim of economic downturn and the refusal by the provincial government to legislate degree granting status because it believed one university in the province was quite enough.

But, the idea of a university for Calgary did not go away.

There were many discussions of the need for a university in and of Calgary for 30 years after Calgary College closed. There was a tremendous renewal of interest in 1945 as Calgary began to plan for its post-war future and more than 500 people showed up to reactivate the University of Calgary Committee.

The university movement continued to pressure Premier Ernest Manning for a separate university in Calgary. Responses from government varied from “When U of A is finished!” to “Definitely out of the
question!”

Calgary never accepted no as an answer.

In 1945 the provincial government transferred responsibilities for teacher education from three Normal Schools to the University of Alberta. As a result, Calgary got a university presence–through the back door–established on what is now the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology campus. Between 1946 and 1958, the University of Alberta brought initial years of Education, Arts, Science, Commerce and Engineering to Calgary.

In 1958, the province agreed to a new campus for the U of A at Calgary. In 1960, after a summer of dust, operations moved to the new campus with two buildings Arts and Education, the Library (now Administration) and Science and Engineering (now Science A).

In 1963–the age of student activism–an autonomy movement of 2,071 students, led by the late Scott Seville among others, adopted confederate symbols and demonstrated with crowds, posters, bumper stickers and occasional repainting of the U of A branch signs.

This was an idea whose time had come.

In 1964, academic autonomy was yielded and on April 15, 1966 the Universities Act was proclaimed creating the University of Calgary, effective April 1, under the first President, Herb Armstrong. We then had 4,000 students and 300 permanent Faculty. While circumstances in 1912 never led to degree granting status, the fundamental character of Calgary’s university was already established in the minds of Calgarians: Strong community support, access to higher education for Calgarians and infusion of expertise into the community.

The key to the successful evolution of the University of Calgary has always been people. The citizens of Calgary who were visionary and tenacious, the faculty who came to this new university on the prairie and invested their careers and reputations in giving it a character of quality, the students who chose it as the launching point for their working lives, the support staff who made it all work, and the volunteers on the Board of Governors and the Senate who maintained the connection to the community. Soon there will be 100,000 graduates who call the U of C their university, and each has played a part in writing the history of the University of Calgary. May the times for the next 100,000 be just as interesting.

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