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Reaching Beyond for 90 Years

The University of Alberta's Faculty of Extension has endured many growing pains and enjoyed many successes since its humble beginnings in 1912. Originally founded as the Department of Extension — it didn't become a faculty until 1975 — it has grown through two world wars, the Depression, an economic boom, and innovations in transportation, communications, and technologies.

The first president of the University of Alberta, Henry Marshall Tory, once said, "The job of the extension department is to find out from the people what the University can do for them beyond the classroom and the laboratory." Extension has been "carrying the University to the people" ever since. By reaching beyond the classroom, developing healthy partnerships in the local and global communities, and staying true to its original mandate, the Faculty of Extension has continued throughout the years to break down barriers and build bridges that connect the University with the people.

Wagons, buses, automobiles, and trains

A. E. Ottewell, the first director of the Department of Extension, was an energetic, persevering educator whose visits to rural communities became so popular they were in high demand across Alberta. According to one of his successors, Ottewell began his work "with a battered Ford car, a magic lantern and an assortment of slides, a few boxes of books for travelling libraries, and a firm belief that he had a bigger job than any young man in Canada." Other Extension staff of the time would travel to rural communities by train. Some of the trains they took weren't meant to carry passengers, however, so the educators wound up sitting inside the caboose.

In the early days of the Department of Extension, when horse-and-wagon was a common means of travel, educators faced many hurdles in reaching their students. One cold winter's night, this mode of transport forced former director of the Department of Extension E. A. Corbett to do without his teaching materials. During the nine-mile journey to a small rural schoolhouse, the cutter he was riding in overturned. Corbett and his staff righted the cutter and set off unaware that their precious cargo, consisting of a moving picture machine, film, slide projector and slides, was now lying in the snow. When the group arrived at the schoolhouse more than an hour late, they realized that the presentation had to go on without their technology to assist them.

Innovations in transportation brought about more opportunities to connect the University with the people in rural Alberta. Professor of Fine Arts Harry Wohlfarth visited hundreds of communities over the years, teaching at art clubs throughout the province from the mid-1950s until his retirement in the 1990s. Professor Wohlfarth never got his driver's license, but his mode of transportation was much easier that that of the early Extension pioneer — he eventually clocked nearly 2 million kilometres on the bus travelling for Extension.


In the 1920s, Department of Extension staff started to grow tired of travelling across the province in what were often poor conditions, so when the possibility to use radio as an educational tool arose, it was an option they accepted whole-heartedly. On 21 November 1927, CKUA took to the airwaves. The station carried University lectures and courses, information about agricultural practices, music, and locally produced dramatic programs. The station also boasted its own 23-piece orchestra.

In September 1944 a Radio Program Committee of the University took over the responsibility of CKUA from the Department of Extension; then, on 1 May 1945, Alberta Government Telephones took over CKUA and moved it to the Provincial Building in downtown Edmonton. This year, the listener-supported station celebrates its 75th anniversary and has a global audience via the Internet.


Today, the Faculty of Extension continues to provide programming and educational services for lifelong learners on and off campus. The off-campus angle has changed most dramatically, with access to learning resources and distance education made much simpler by modern technologies such as the Internet. In the beginning, students all over Alberta flocked to schoolhouses and community halls for educational presentations and resources; now, students from as far away as Beijing can log on to their computers to connect to the University of Alberta. The Internet offers possibilities that Henry Marshall Tory could only have dreamed of. Not only are Extension's programs and services accessed in rural and urban areas in western Canada, they are realized around the globe.

90th Anniversary Celebrations

In its 90th year, Extension celebrates its founding mandate to provide "unique and essential learning opportunities to the community," recognizing the successes that have been achieved and the opportunities that lie ahead. In honour of its 90-year history, the Faculty of Extension will run a variety of events throughout the academic year.

In recognition of CKUA's 75th anniversary and its Extension roots, the faculty is partnering with the radio station to produce a series of "Heritage Trails" broadcasts featuring highlights from Extension's history. The series will air from 9 September to 4 October.

During homecoming weekend, Dr. John V. Byrne, President Emeritus of Oregon State University, will deliver his lecture "Are Traditional Universities Obsolete?" at the TELUS Centre for Professional Development on 5 October 2002. Dr. Byrne served as the executive director of the U. S.-based Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-grant Universities from 1995 through its conclusion in March 2000. His lecture is co-hosted by the Faculty of Extension and the Alumni Association. A light lunch will be served at noon in the TELUS Centre foyer. The lecture begins at 12:30 p.m. For more information, contact the Office of Alumni Affairs at (780) 492-3224.

Published Autumn 2002.

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