An institution is born

The University of Calgary had several false starts before becoming the lively and enlightened centre of higher learning we know today.

After a half-century of waiting, increasing enrolment in the ’50s at the third incarnation of the university necessitated that the University of Alberta, Calgary Branch move off the 40-year-old SAIT campus. A new campus was built to the west at the 4,300-acre Banff Trail site, the current location of the University of Calgary.

Construction on the new campus began on Nov. 1, 1958 after UAC’s first convocation ceremony at the Jubilee Auditorium. The Honourable Minister without portfolio F. C. Colborne turned the first sod. Two weeks later, U of A President Walter H. Johns called for an autonomous university in Calgary in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

The first two buildings erected at the current grounds were the Arts and Education building (now Administration), which housed the library, bookstore, and student media; and the Science and Engineering building (now Science A) which contained laboratories and the cafeteria.

The new campus opened on Oct. 28, 1960 under Principal Dr. M. G. Taylor. All of 1,082 students enrolled at University of Alberta, Calgary and 400 more were expected in the next year. This unprecedented growth necessitated the rapid construction of a Gymnasium (currently the Red and Gold Gyms), the first of many additions to the campus. The first class of graduates who earned the entirety of their degrees at UAC would graduate in three years.

In 1963, 78.5 per cent of students voted for separation after Justice McLaurin’s public call for autonomy in the previous year.

Growth of enrolment, facilities and programs and increasing ire by faculty over having to run major decisions through Edmonton by telephone precipitated the formation of a General Faculties Council at UAC to make academic and financial decisions locally. Following a “policy of discretion and common sense,” they no longer consulted departments in Edmonton. Despite prolonged objections from the U of A that administrative efforts would be duplicated, U of A’s Board of Governors begrudgingly endorsed a separate Faculties Council for UAC in 1964. On May 1, UAC gained complete academic and financial autonomy from the U of A under President H. S. Armstrong and changed its name to University of Alberta at Calgary. But while UAC had de facto autonomy in 1965, degrees were still awarded by the U of A.

After years of intense lobbying by students, faculty and university officials, the provincial Universities Act was revised to allow a second autonomous degree-granting university in Alberta. Finally, after delays at the legislature, Grant MacEwan gave Royal Ascent to the revised Universities Act on April 1, 1966, granting the UAC full autonomy from the U of A to become the University of Calgary.