A Community in Search of a University: The University of Calgary's Pre-History, 1912-66

By Rasporich, A. W. | Alberta History, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

A Community in Search of a University: The University of Calgary's Pre-History, 1912-66


Rasporich, A. W., Alberta History


The struggle for a university in Calgary has been a case of community persistence in the face of adversity, a civic determination to overcome urban competition from the northern capital, a neutral to unsympathetic provincial government, and regional competition within western Canada. At times, even its civic elite had been lukewarm to the prospects of a university in its own city, preferring to send its younger generation elsewhere to complete a post-secondary education--north to the University of Alberta, west to the University of British Columbia, or east to whole host of established colleges and universities in eastern Canada and the United States. And even when faced with a choice of attending some of its homegrown post-secondary colleges as they came on stream in the twentieth century, young Calgarians often chose to leave rather than stay for their education. In the end, civic pride and persistence over several decades overcame apathy and internal resistance, provincialism, and inter-urban competition.

While Calgary failed in its ambitions to become the provincial capital in 1905, it had high hopes of securing a new provincial university. (1) When the decision that year to locate it in the home riding of the provincial premier, A.C. Rutherford of Strathcona, considerable political pressure in the form of petitions and protest from Calgary were voiced against the choice. However, they were of no avail; instead, Calgary received the Alberta Normal School for teacher training in 1906.

Despite this setback, Calgarians persisted in their demands, and through their newly-elected Conservative MLA, R.B. Bennett, (2) presented a petition to the provincial legislature in 1910. Bennett succeeded in getting an act through the legislature incorporating Calgary College, minus however, crucial provisions to grant degrees, and to control examinations governing admission to the learned professions.

What followed in the next four years, as Calgary went from boom to bust, was an exercise in extreme frustration. Two attempts were made in the legislature in 1912 and 1913 to achieve university status, and both failed. In the meantime, the college's backers continued in their quest for funds, raising money through its board chair, Dr. Thomas Blow, and other board members such as R.B. Bennett, H.W. Riley, and W.J. Tregillus. (3) Together they raised $400,000, with further promises to a total of $1 million, and secured a square mile of land from William Tregillus in Strathcona Heights, a tract twice the size of the University of Alberta site in Edmonton.

The city for its part was committed to $150,000 for a building to house the new Faculty of Arts. Recruitment was soon underway, with five professors hired in the Arts, a law department with thirteen part-time members, and classes slated for the interim in the downtown Carnegie library. Booster optimism was the order of the day, exemplified in the blustery optimism of the board chair. Dr. Blow, who proudly declared, "Give me land, and I'll build a university." (4)

Exuding a proud civic spirit, the college's board in 1912 commissioned Toronto architect Dunington-Grubb to draft a grand plan for the new university campus in Strathcona Park. This campus plan drew upon the Oxford Cambridge ideal of a university, replete with gothic buildings housing new faculties, library, student dormitories and dining hall. In the resolute words of the new Dean of Arts, Dr. Edward E. Braithwaite, "It may take 50 years, but it will be done." (5)

In fact an impressive beginning was made towards that end in 1912. Braithwaite, was a graduate of McGill, Oberlin, and Harvard (PhD); these references to the latter were quoted in the Calgary press, stating, "He had a breadth of learning, a firm grasp of method and capacity of construction that fit him eminently both for teaching and independent investigation." (6)

Others appointed to the faculty were: Dr. …

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