By Edith Park
The Banff School was started in 1933 as the result of a grant to the University by the Carnegie Corporation for the purpose of developing a Fine Arts program. It began modestly enough as a Summer School in the Arts Related to the Theatre, the purpose being to provide specialized training for teachers and others interested in giving leadership in community drama. The response was immediate and encouraging. Enrollment was about three times that expected and so enthusiastic were the students that the school was continued. In 1935 the drama school was joined by an art class hitherto sponsored by the Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary, and also by a master piano class. This augmented school was now called the Banff School of Fine Arts.
In succeeding years courses were added in choral singing, creative writing, oral French, and applied arts such as weaving and design, modelling and pottery. Students began to attend from other provinces of Canada and from the United States so that it became necessary to provide dining and dormitory facilities. In 1943, the Western Canada Theatre Conference was established as an adjunct of the school with the purpose of bringing leaders of little theatre and community drama groups into contact with students. In the following year a Rockefeller grant provided for the establishment of an Alberta Writers' Conference. This has since become the Western Canada Writers' Conference, a 10 day meeting of writers under the leadership of well-known authorities in creative writing.
Begun in depression times, the Banff School has prospered through lean years and years of war, inspiring and enriching our local and national culture and achieving for itself a favorable international reputation. It has always been the policy of the school to engage distinguished teachers from all over America, thus providing the highest standards of instruction. At the same time fees have been moderate. In addition a considerable number of scholarships are available through gifts of private individuals, societies, school boards, the Government of France, and the school itself.
Attracted by the growing fame of the school, and by its magnificent setting, an ever increasing number of students have enrolled each year. School teachers and art students mingle with vacationing millionaires, young and old sit down together. One season has seen such diverse people as a judge of the Supreme Court, studying Oral French; a lady sheriff from Mexico, taking painting; and the negro head of the drama department of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Last year students attended from all but one province of Canada and from 16 states of the United States.
For the past three years it has been necessary to refuse a number of applicants because of the lack of accommodation. This naturally is not in the best interests of the school. On the other hand it requires an enrollment of 500 at present fee levels to operate the school, without taking into consideration the pressing need for new buildings.
The most immediate requirement is a new dining hall and sleeping quarters to accommodate 350 students, plus additional classrooms and studios. With this and a projected additional program in mind, the University has established the Banff Foundation, with the object of raising a fund in excess of $1,000,000 with help from private sources.
A sketch of the projected building program appears on the cover of this issue of the New Trail. It is planned to build in 1947 the Administration building and one or two chalets, each chalet capable of providing sleeping and lounge accommodation for 30 to 60 students.
As funds become available other buildings will be added. First, a music and drama building containing a stage, small auditorium, theatre workshops, music rooms, studios and a radio studio; then a studio building, comprising eight artists' studios, lecture rooms and applied art workshops; and finally, a central heating plant, and a gymnasium with additional applied art workshops for woodcarving, ceramics, etc., on the ground floor.
In addition, a number of chalets, each accommodating 30 to 60 students, would be built each year over a 10 year period, up to the number of 20 or 30 chalets.
As may be seen from the sketches accompanying this article, these buildings will be modern in style, finished in Mount Rundle stone and rough-sawn cedar, and designed to harmonize with their mountain setting. The Administration building will have on the ground floor a kitchen big enough to feed 1,200 students, and a dining room for 300. On the second floor will be offices and on the third floor two temporary classrooms later to be converted into a library. The first floor of the main wing will be a central student lounge 35 feet by 90 feet with a 20-foot ceiling.
The music and drama building will contain music studios for piano, choral and orchestra classes and practice rooms in one wing. The opposite wing will contain stagecraft workshops and production classrooms. The auditorium will seat 500 people and will have a fully equipped modern stage arrangement highly suitable for experimental theatre. Above the rear section will be a broadcasting studio.
The studio building is to contain 14 classrooms in addition to staff offices, storage space, seven artists' studios and metal and stone-working shops, pottery and ceramics workshops, textile and weaving rooms, and three photographic laboratories.
Each chalet will be individually designed to suit the natural contours of the site. The typical chalet will contain 15 rooms equipped with two single beds, for a total of 30 students. There will be a central lounge in each chalet.
On completion the school will have accommodation for a maximum of 1,000 students. This is an ambitious program and could only be made practicable by the operation of the school on a year-round basis. It is hoped that as soon as sufficient permanent buildings are completed a winter term will be inaugurated. The winter term will offer advanced work for students who intend to specialize in specific fields. An enrollment of approximately 325 is expected.
Various plans are under consideration for the use of the remaining space during the winter months. Already well along is a plan for a School of Forestry and Wildlife Conservation, to be operated in conjunction with the dominion and provincial governments. Another suggestion is that of establishing a special residential high school in co-operation with the Banff School Board for from 100-150 students. It has been suggested also that a first-class private preparatory school be set up, to accommodate 100 boys and 100 girls. The buildings might also be used for specialized courses such as recreational courses in such subjects as physical education, fly-casting, fishing, hunting and natural history and geological studies, to be treated from a scientific, conservational and sportsman's viewpoint. Educational conventions and other meetings of provincial and dominion organizations might also be accommodated when space is available.
The ultimate aim will be to establish at Banff a year-round school of Fine Arts, offering the highest standards in instruction by guest artists and teachers selected from the best talent in Europe and America; a well-planned and varied curriculum, and the finest possible accommodation in a setting unrivalled in its natural beauty.
At a time such as this when so many institutions are catering to the demand for quick, so-called "practical" education, it is to the credit of the University of Alberta that her leaders are giving attention to the development of a School of Fine Arts. Owing to the large numbers of veterans who are demanding professional and vocational courses, a good deal of money has to be devoted to increasing facilities in these branches of education. This is only natural and, we hope, transitory; but it is imperative that we do not neglect the Fine Arts to the impoverishment of our cultural life. It is the prime duty of a University to enlighten and enrich the life of the community which fosters it. Alberta has always prided itself on being a pioneer university in all the best sense of the word — and it is in the faith of our founders that this development of the Banff School is undertaken.
Published July 1947.