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Something that we have wanted done for a long time is the preparation of an appropriate summary documenting the history of the University — past and present.

Last fall, on the occasion of their Golden Anniversary, the publishers of the Edmonton Journal made this same request of the University administration.

The redoubtable task was undertaken by Mr. George Samuel, Assistant to the President, and we are most grateful to him and the Journal for permission to reprint the account in two installments.

An Early History of the U of A

By George Samuel

Just 45 years ago, the first calendar of the University of Alberta made the following announcement: 'The University of Alberta will be opened for classes on Sept. 23, 1908, in the City of Strathcona.‘

'Students will be permitted to enter upon the courses of the First and Second Years in Arts, leading to the degrees of B.A. and B.Sc. in Arts, and of the first year of applied science, leading to the degree of B.Sc. in applied science.‘

'The university site is situated in the City of Strathcona immediately across the Saskatchewan River from Edmonton, and just opposite the proposed Legislative buildings. It consists of 258 acres of land. It is a beautifully wooded park which lends itself splendidly to an architectural scheme suitable for university purposes.‘

The Early Beginnings

There being no buildings on the site, the university undertook to see that all students were quartered either in a residence rented for the purpose or in private houses at a monthly cost for room and board of from $18 upward. Instructional fees in arts were $20 per session, in applied science $40.

The university was already provided with four scholarships of $100 each, the forerunners of the present diverse and comprehensive system of financial assistance to students.

There was no list of names of teaching staff, perhaps because the first four appointments were made only on July 6 of that year, at a meeting of the senate held in Calgary.

Behind the issue of the calendar, lay events extending back to the first session of the first Legislature of the new province, held in 1906. The legal basis for the creation of the university was laid down then. But it was not until Dr. Henry Marshall Tory entered on his duties as president on Jan. 1, 1908, that the organism could begin to grow.

He shared responsibility for its growth with Convocation, a body of 364 resident graduates of British and Canadian universities, and with the senate, which was composed of five representatives of Convocation and of 10 members appointed by the government. The first Convocation met in the Opera House, now the Princess Cinema, in October, 1908.

Student enrolment in the first year amounted to 45; in the session 1913–14, it had grown to 434. (The enrolment in 1953 was 3,691.) The full-time teaching staff grew from four to 27 and the teaching departments to 15. Arts and Science instructional fees remained at $20 per session throughout the period. When the residences were built, the monthly cost of room and board was about $23.

In the first year, all studies were carried on in Queen Alexandra school; in the second, plans were being pushed for completion of the first building on the University grounds, but classes were being held in the new and commodious Collegiate Institute of the City of Strathcona, being Strathcona High School.

Though the total enrolment was only 103, the Students' Council, the Literary Society and the Athletic Association had already been founded; and to them were added by 1913 either by fission or by new creation no fewer than sixteen others, including the Glee Club, the Orchestra, the Philoneician Debating Club, the Wauneita Society, the Philosophical Society and the Collegium Agricolarum. From 1911 the student newspaper, the Gateway, ministered to a clientele which at that time numbered only 185 students.

It was announced in the Calendar of 1910–11 that construction of an Arts Building in the collegiate gothic style was in progress. One year later there were two buildings on the grounds: Athabasca Hall, the first residence, and Alberta College, the theological training centre of the Methodist Church, which is now St. Stephen's College. Assiniboia was completely occupied at the beginning of 1913, and Pembina was largely ready by October, 1914.

These three residences were used also for administration, teaching and the library. Even so, in 1913-14 they provided living accommodation for about one-third of the student body, as against one-eighth at the present time.

A complete plan of the proposed scheme of future University buildings was drawn up as the result of consultation between eminent Canadian architects and designers, and a copy dated 1812 now hangs in the ante-room of the president's office.

The library had by 1911 achieved a total of 6,000 volumes as against its present 144,500. The faculty of law was created in 1912; in that year also the work of the department of extension was recognized by the appointment of a secretary.

The following year appeared the faculty of medicine, and teaching began in a separate faculty of applied science in 1914. It was not until 1948 that the last named became known as the faculty of engineering.

The association of the university with the provincial laboratory of public health arose with the founding of the faculty of medicine, the first professor of bacteriology being appointed provincial bacteriologist and later director of the provincial laboratory. In 1914, the nucleus of the present University Hospital was erected.

A Rhodes Scholarship, at first made available in alternate years to the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, was awarded to a U. of A. student in 1913. Professor Morrison, still a member of the staff of the faculty of engineering, began his teaching career at the university in 1912; and in 1910–11 one of the successful candidates for the degree of M.A. is listed as McNally, George Frederick, B.A., of Wetaskiwin.


World War I

Student numbers dropped from 439 in 1914–15 to 309 in 1916–17. But in 1918–19 there was a spectacular rise to 613, pointing toward a great growth to come. In that year, the full-time teaching staff numbered 51. There were 31 teaching departments. Instructional fees in arts were still $20 per session, but the cost of room and board had risen to $30 a month.

Student societies grew in number, though as some were added others dropped out. Among new additions were the Rifle Association, the Mathematics Club, the Modern Languages Club, the Tennis Club, the Women's Athletic Club and the Harriers' Club.

Building proceeded. The present Arts building was occupied in October, 1915. The University Stock Farm was bought in 1919. Already in 1915 an athletic field and cinder track were available.

The various faculties and schools continued to develop. Instruction in pharmacy began in 1914. The following year, Agriculture was established as a faculty. Law was taught at Calgary. Physical Education, compulsory for first and second year students, was introduced, the university reserving the right to impose military drill instead. A school of accountancy, forerunner of the present school of commerce, came into existence in 1916, and the next year the school of pharmacy was established. In 1918 came the department of household economics, and the first students in dentistry. The industrial laboratories received their first mention in the calendar in 1919.

The disciplinary side of the university was further strengthened by the appointment of the first provost, Dr. J. M. McEachran, in 1914. The health of the students was cared for by the institution of the medical service.

In July, 1916, the roll of honor of the university already stood at 222, of whom 11 had been killed including Gordon Stanley Fife, assistant professor of history, who is commemorated in a memorial prize. Fourteen staff members were on active service. By the end of the war, the roll contained some 475 names; 82 died on active service.

The growth of the university in the eyes of the world was marked in 1918 by the allocation of a Rhodes Scholarship to Alberta in place of the arrangement by which one was shared by Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In 1919 there already existed in essence and not necessarily under their present names or forms of organization, the faculties of arts and science, engineering, medicine, law, dentistry and agriculture; and the schools of commerce, graduate studies, household economics and pharmacy.

From World War I to the Great Depression

The increase in registration which had begun in 1919 proceeded. The student numbers were 1,106 in 1919–20, 1,536 in 1927–28, and 1,560 in 1929–30. The dollar continued its downward trend; at the end of this period, room and board were $37 a month and Arts instructional fees $85. The Rhodes Scholarship was raised from £300 to £400.

The full-time teaching staff numbered 100 in 1929–30. The library reached a total of some 35,000 volumes. There were forty departments of instruction.

To provide for Civil Engineering, the South Laboratory was extended, and the North Laboratory built, in 1919. In 1920 work began on the Medical Building, the last construction of any importance to take place for many years. Residential accommodation was now provided for 400 students, against the 450 for whom accommodation is available today.

The great enhancement of Convocation Hall by the construction of the War Memorial Organ in 1925 was the culmination of a vigorous campaign by the Alumni Association in that and the previous year. The organ was later rebuilt and improved as a memorial to those who died in World War II.

By 1926 it was no longer necessary for either medical or dental students to complete their degree course in the East, since full degree courses were available at the University. In 1921, courses for the training of public health nurses were begun.

The whole University curriculum was surveyed and rearranged in 1920, the aim being to allow the greatest possible choice of subjects while giving a sound education; the reorganization made then still is the basis of instruction. And finally, at the end of this period it was arranged that the University would train those candidates for the teaching profession who held academic degrees; thus the School of Education, nucleus of the Faculty of later years, was established within the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Student life was affected by more than the increases in fees and living costs. The resolution of 1911 was extended to cover participation in dramatics, and in debates with outside bodies. A regulation was introduced under which students with unsatisfactory records might be required to withdraw from the University. The Canadian Officers' Training Corps is listed for the first time in the Calendar for 1922-23. The University's doors were opened in 1928-29 to student fraternities and sororities, by a decision to do away with the regulation which required students to declare that they did not belong to secret societies. In 1929, two fraternities and three sororities were established.

At the Summer School, which had operated since 1919, arrangements were made for teachers to be able to attend the School, receive some instruction and be told how to proceed with their studies during the winter; they would then, at the time of the usual winter session final examinations, take these and obtain credit towards a degree. A year later, certain first-year courses were taught as they are now — that is, by giving double periods of instruction so as to present the whole course during the Summer School; but it was not until 1938 that the School held its own final examinations for degree credit.

This period saw the beginnings of the Alberta Research Council. A scientific association formed at the University in 1919-20 came to the conclusion that a thorough study of the facts underlying the economic life of the Province was necessary. This was submitted to the Provincial Government. As a result, the University was entrusted with the duty of carrying on economic research under the general chairmanship of the provincial secretary, and the University Farm was specifically authorized to maintain an experimental station.

The University received in 1923 its first great endowment from private sources; a grant of $500,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation.

After the University had for some three years availed itself of the courtesy of station CJCA for extension broadcasts, it began in 1927 to operate its own station, CKUA. Students and staff maintained and worked the equipment.

This history is not greatly concerned with persons, or with personalities other than that of the University itself. But it seems impossible to pass over the resignation of Dr. Tory, which took place on May 30, 1928. The seventh of the present-day faculties, that of Education, was in effect about to be added in the form of a School; and the fifth of the present-day Schools, that of Nursing, was already offering courses leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science. Almost the whole of the main framework of the University therefore existed when the first President retired.

From the Great Depression to World War II

The economic crisis of the early thirties, which was about to be finally disposed of when the second war broke out, had its effect on student registration. The figures for 1930–31 showed an increase of over 200, to 1,790; those for the two succeeding years were 1,938 and 1,965. A decrease and a rapid recovery brought the enrolment to 2,327 in 1939–40. The full-time teaching staff rose to 109, and the number of teaching departments to 42. Arts and Science instructional fees were increased in 1933–34 to $110 in all years except the first, and in 1937–38 to $110 in all years. As a result, presumably, of the decrease in prices, the cost of room and board fell to $27 a month; but recovered at the end of the period to $30. In 1939, the Library contained some 67,000 volumes.

The question of affiliation of junior colleges was raised in 1931 on application from Mount Royal College in Calgary. Under terms devised by a Senate Committee, Mount Royal was affiliated and began instruction in what were then subjects taught in the second year at the University.

Until the session of 1938–39, students were in fact admitted to the University on the basis of junior matriculation, which was equivalent to the achievement of certain standards in the first years of high school; so that the first University year was similar to the final year of high school. But in 1938–39, senior matriculation, obtained after completion of the high school courses, became the requirement for University entrance except in certain cases in the Faculty of Agriculture. The years of University courses were renumbered accordingly.

The financial position of the University naturally suffered from the general stringency. The annual Provincial contribution was reduced from about $576,000 in 1930–31 to $390,000 in 1933–34; in addition the University was asked to provide for the Research Council out of its own budget, so that in effect the decrease was approximately $200,000. Even by 1939-40, the annual contribution had risen to only $425,000. The teaching staff was given no increments of pay; in fact, two deductions from pay were made. Vacancies on the staff were not filled. Demonstrators were not employed. Where it was possible, without giving up any major field of instruction, courses were abolished and outside services were drastically restricted. Despite these measures, the accumulated deficit on 31st March, 1940, was nearly $18,000; and there were budget deficits after 1940.

New construction had been at a standstill since the opening of the Medical Building in 1921.

It was in 1933 that the School for the Drama, which later developed into the Banff School of Fine Arts, had its beginning. Three years later there were 200 students in music, drama and painting.

The ice rink, financed by the students, was handed over free of debt to the Board of Governors in 1933.

In the next year, the Western Board of Music, which associated the Universities and Departments of Education of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, was set up to conduct examinations of a high standard in music.

The teaching of architecture in the Faculty of Applied Science was abandoned on the retirement of Professor C. S. Burgess in 1940.

Student societies now included five men's fraternities and four women's. But it was laid down that students in their first year might not become members. A reminder of one of the difficulties that may arise within a University is provided by the regulation adopted in these years which prohibited the use of, having, or bringing of liquors on University premises.

In the last year of this period, the School of Education, which was in operation for the training of secondary school teachers in 1931–32, received the title of College.

World War II

As might have been expected, registration fell; but only by some 15%, to 2,023 in 1943–44. The Dominion Government knew that there would be a need for persons with technical training; and it was agreed that the armed services should regulate the intake of recruits from the universities for the fighting forces. In 1944-45, the first group of veterans joined the University's classes, to raise the total registration to 2,679. By the end of the war, the number of full-time instructors had reached 140.

The instructional fees in Arts and Science remained at $110. In 1941–42 the cost of board and residence had reached $32.50 per month. In the following year, and almost until the end of the war, the residences were in the hands of the R.C.A.F. Financially, the University was now in a more sound position; the Government grant rose to $602,500 in 1944–45. After 1942–43, the budget ceased to be in deficit. Some assistance was given by the Dominion Government in connection with special courses. It was now possible to set aside the salary reductions under which the staff had labored for some ten years.

It was in this period that the degree of Bachelor of Education (B.Educ.) ceased to be based on graduate study and became an undergraduate degree. The new graduate degree was Master of Education, and it might be claimed by any person who before December, 1939, held the B.Educ. The breaking of the bonds that held Education to the Faculty of Arts and Science was signified by the announcement that henceforth no more candidates would be accepted for the degree of Master of Arts in Education. The title 'Faculty of Education‘ was in fact officially used in 1942–43.

Two years later, the University took over responsibility for all training of teachers in the province. The staffs of the Normal Schools in Edmonton and Calgary were added to the faculty. The effect of the change was that all teachers in the province would be regarded as being at some stage of the curriculum for the degree of Bachelor of Education, and that all the schools would have on their staffs persons who had some experience of what the University had to offer. A board of teacher training and certification was set up to maintain liaison between the bodies concerned; it contained representatives of the Education Department, the University and the Alberta Teachers' Association.

The Government assisted in the University's radio work by erecting a new transmitter for CKUA on the Calgary Trail some three miles south of the city. Unfortunately, a commercial license, which it was hoped would make the station self-supporting, was not granted. The station was taken over by the Department of Telephones in 1944, though the University retained the right to broadcasting time and is still officially the licensee.

In these years, also, there was no new construction, apart from a few small buildings, all but one non-permanent, erected in view of the special circumstances arising out of the war. Various makeshift arrangements were made, such as the use and subsequent abandonment of the old Garneau School for engineering. The tide began to turn in the session of 1944–45, when the residences were in process of redecoration after being returned by the R.C.A.F.

Military training became compulsory for all students. This resulted in the formation of the University Auxiliary Battalion. In 1942–43, the Air Training Corps and the Naval Training Division completed the permanent representation of the armed forces on the campus. In was required by Government regulation that any student whose progress was slower than the normal rate should be refused permission to return to the University.

A new feature of the year 1944–45 was an exchange of students between the University and the New Haven State Teachers' College; this was promoted by the Canadian-American Women's Committee on International Relations. Such an exchange took place in the session of 1952-53.

The Summer School session of 1944–45 enrolled 1,070 students, an increase of over 700 above the number of the previous year. This was the result of the absorption by the University of the Department of Education Summer School.

The New Trail was begun in 1942 with the aim of keeping former students informed regarding events at the University.

A University Survey Committee was appointed in 1941. It held open hearings and received representations from the public. As a result of its report, the amending and consolidating University Act of 1942 was passed. It is this Act which, with its amendments, regulates the affairs of the University at the present time.

The University aided in the effective prosecution of the war not only by accepting restrictions and by giving up the use of such buildings as the residences and the Education Building but by providing technical instruction for members of the armed forces and by speeding up the courses in Medicine and Dentistry so as to provide a greater flow of dentists and doctors for the armed forces. Professor Thomas, in his book, The University of Alberta in the War of 1939–45, has given a full account of these matters.

The Post-War Era to the Present Day

Statistics show that student enrolment in the winter session increased to 3,447 in 1945–46, 4,315 in 1946–47 and a peak of 4,865 in 1947-48. There was then first a rapid and then a gradual decline to 1952–53, when the figure was 3,337. In 1953–54 there has been a small increase. The full-time teaching staff at the end of the period numbered 230. Summer School enrolment rose from 1,533 to 1,668. The Library held at the end of the period some 144,500 volumes.

Increasing costs of operation are reflected in the increase in Arts and Science instructional fees to $145 and $160 according to the years of study; and in the increased costs of board and residence which, having risen to $40 a month in 1945–46, are now $55 or $60.

These increases by no means met the expenditures which were necessary. The Government of Alberta annual grant rose to $1,700,000; and the new Dominion grant in 1951–52 amounted to almost $461,000. With the exception of two years, the budget was not in deficit.

The great increase in registration and the fact that no permanent teaching buildings had been added since the opening of the Medical Building in 1921, produced great difficulties. Teaching went on continuously without any break from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Army huts, which still disfigure the campus but which will be removed within the next few years, were erected to accommodate extra classes. The Mathematics department moved into the old University High School. Additional members were recruited to the teaching staff on a temporary basis. The University operated the year round despite the inevitable loss of time which should have been devoted to study and self-improvement on the part of the staff, and there was a special term which opened in May; but it was possible in 1947–48 to adopt a more normal schedule. The Library especially suffered in its cramped quarters; there were only 285 reading-room seats for the whole student body.

Living accommodation for students, some hundreds of whom were married, was very scarce. With Provincial Government backing, the City of Edmonton converted Dawson Creek huts into suites. At the airport, suites for married men were provided by Dominion agency and accommodation for single men by the province. Citizens of Edmonton made some 1,400 rooms available in their homes for students.

The generous support of the Government of Alberta made possible the clearing of some of the backlog of construction. The west wing of the Medical Building opened in 1947; the east wing, which includes the new Dental Clinic, in the next year. The completion of the new provincial laboratory of public health in 1950 released space in the Medical Building, and further relief in the Arts and other buildings resulted from the completion of the Rutherford Library in 1951. The Engineering Building provides badly-needed space, mainly in the South Laboratory; and the completion of the Agricultural Building, which is expected this year, should make it possible to dispense with some of the old army huts, whose maintenance is becoming increasingly expensive. Special mention should be made of the Dr. John S. McEachern Cancer Research Laboratory, a gift of the Alberta Division, Canadian Cancer Society; it was opened in 1952. The Banff School began construction in 1946 of its permanent buildings on Tunnel Mountain; the new Administration Building is now in use.

The opening of the new Students’ Union Building in 1950 was one of the more obvious changes in the conditions of student life on the campus. In the residences, wardens were appointed for the first time; residence life was thereby given a new focal point. The first annual Homecoming Day was held in October, 1946. The opening by the National Employment Service of a branch office on the campus gave students a convenient means of obtaining either permanent employment on graduation or temporary work during the summer. The importance of the services rendered to the University by the President of the Students' Union and other student officials was recognized by the provision of honoraria out of scholarship funds. At the annual Varsity Guest Weekend, inaugurated by the students in 1952, the province is invited to visit the University, meet the staff and students, and see what is going on.

This period has been marked by a considerable expansion of the Calgary Branch of the University. The full two-year teacher-training course was offered in 1946–47. In 1948–49, new science laboratories were constructed to provide for certain courses in Arts and Science and for the first three years of the degree of Bachelor of Education in Industrial Arts. The academic year 1951–52 saw the institution of instruction in the first year of the Arts and Science courses, and consequently of the first pre-professional year of Law, Medicine and Dentistry.

Other academic changes included the shortening of the medical course to four years, so that internship could be taken after graduation and that no obstacle to graduation would arise from an anticipated lack of facilities for internship in Edmonton and district hospitals. The matriculation system for entry to the University was revised so as to reduce the number of compulsory subjects and allow more freedom of choice of high school courses. Evening classes, which later were arranged so as to provide credits towards a degree, were begun both in Edmonton and in Calgary. In 1951–52 the School of Graduate Studies, as old as the University, accepted its first student for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The Universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are collaborating in the operation of a six-weeks School of Business Administration which is held each year at the Banff School of Fine Arts.

In 1951 and again in 1952 and 1953 the University has seen fit to do honor to distinguished writers, artists, and musicians by conferring its National Awards in Letters, Music, and Painting and Related Arts, on one person in each of these fields who over a period of years has notably advanced the cause of his art in Canada. In so doing the University has not assisted obscure genius towards public recognition, nor has it given monetary aid. Any merit which might lie in these awards would arise from the position which the University had attained in the intellectual and the public life of this country. Many distinguished men in the province have contributed to the attainment of that position. The desire to present in limited compass a detailed portrait of the University in this period of its early growth, and the difficulty of assessing individual contributions, have led to the omission of their names.

The University is the product of the foresight which provided the land; of the collective wisdom of Chancellor, President, Board, Senate, Convocation and Faculty Councils which built steadily and surely, adapted the organization of the University to the needs of the moment, and yet looked steadfastly into the future; of the elected representatives of the people of the province whose financial support provided the means without which foresight and wisdom could have achieved little.

Published Winter 1953.

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