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A People's University

By Donald Cameron

The other day the editor of the New Trail came into our office and complained that this was the fifteenth time he had come over to see us and the first time he had found us in. He said it in a tone which implied that the Extension Director's job around the University must be the plushiest of plush sinecures, else why weren't we on hand to meet him when he came over to our lair — "warren" would be a better description; now that the office is so crowded we are looking for double-decker desks so that two stenographers can occupy the floor space of one. Our conviction that he thought the Extension people had the best of the deal around the University was confirmed when after looking around a bit he turned to us and said: "By the way, what do you people do in extension anyway?" With an airy wave of the hand we said, as nonchalantly as we could: "Oh, we only bring light and learning to about a million people a year, and we've been doing it for years:" "No kidding!" says he sceptically. "That's right; if you don't believe me just ask Miss Nelson, she's been here since the days when A. E. Ottewell was pioneering adult education in Alberta."

What does a University Extension Department do? In order to answer that question, we must understand the function of such a department in a state university.

A provincial university being supported by public funds has a responsibility to all of the people in its constituency. To those who remain on the farms; and in the villages and towns, as well as to those who come to its cloistered halls in search of knowledge, matrimony, and what have you, it should be, in the best sense of the term, a people's university. Whether it becomes so or not will depend in a large measure on its Extension Department, because it is through that department that the University goes to the people. In other words, the function of a university extension department is to organize the extension activities of the university so that the institution is brought as intimately as possible into the lives of all the people. Its task is primarily one of adult education.

The Department of Extension of the University of Alberta is one of the oldest university extension departments in Canada. It is also the largest. A staff of thirty-five people are responsible for organizing a service which is unique in Canada and which has had a lot to do with making the people of Alberta conscious of the important part that their own university can play in the lives of their communities. The Extension Department is not something separate and apart from the university as a whole; it is an integral part of all faculties and departments. In addition to initiating activities on its own, it co-operates with and promotes the activities of every department in the University.

For purposes of organization and division of responsibility, the Department of Extension is organized into six divisions of specific fields of interest. First and foremost is what we call the "general" extension division. When someone in Peace River wants to settle an argument or to get the latest pamphlets or discussion material on current affairs, it is to this division he writes. Mr. Frank Peers, who is in charge of the study group programme and also of the Citizens' Forum listening group work, sends out hundreds of pamphlets, bulletins, and other prepared material in response to individual and group requests. If John Smith wants any of the bulletins prepared by the Faculty of Agriculture, he gets them through this office. Sometimes he may want information on a lot of things which involve considerable research and time. In this case the agricultural secretary, Mr. Sylvan Hillerud will do his best to get the information. We have one letter from a farmer in which he stated the advice he had been given by the writer had saved him several thousand dollars. We haven't received our cut yet, but we live in hope.

Short Courses

As the years go by, the University is called upon to provide an increasing number of short courses of one kind or another. For example, in January the Department of Civil Engineering in co-operation with the Extension Department, put on a short course in Concrete Construction and Soil Mechanics for construction engineers. This was followed by a course for sanitary engineers and health officers of municipalities, put on in co-operation with the provincial Department of Health. Next came a course in industrial accident prevention put on in co-operation with the provincial safety council. It was attended by plant and factory foremen from industrial plants all over Alberta.

In February the annual Land Inspectors' Short Course was put on in co-operation with the Faculty of Agriculture and the Land Inspectors Association together with the Canadian Institute of Appraisers. Another popular course is the annual Co-operative Short Course and Conference which each year brings some 250 executives, managers, and store employees of Alberta co-operatives to the University for a week.

The oldest short course on the Department's list is the annual Farm Young People's Week usually held in the first ten days of June. Each year, from 125 to 200 rural young people between 16 and 25 years of age, come from all over the province to attend a course of lectures and demonstrations in agriculture, home economics, current history, community organization, and recreation. Substantial prizes and scholarships are awarded for various competitions in connection with the course. So far twenty-six of these annual courses have been held, and they are undoubtedly one of the most effective pieces of extension work the University does. Hundreds of rural young people who made their first acquaintance with the University through these conferences have returned as regular students in later years. Hundreds of others who had no appreciation of what the University could mean to them, have become friends of the University in their own communities.

When the farm young people leave the University, their places are taken by from 75 to 100 secretary-treasurers and councillors from rural municipalities who come in for a brief refresher course in Municipal Administration.

As the province develops from the pioneer stage, there is an increasing interest in things cultural and artistic. Alberta has the unique distinction of being the only province in Canada to sponsor what are called Community Art Schools. For the past number of years the University has provided art instructors at a very nominal cost, to sketch clubs and art groups in various communities. These courses are quite intensive and are of two weeks' duration. So far the communities of Lethbridge, Vegreville, Vermilion, Grande Prairie, and Edmonton have taken advantage of this opportunity, and the result in each place has been a rapidly growing artistic appreciation.

The University has always believed that the principle of taking an educational opportunity to where the people live, is sound. A series of four community life conferences held in July each year is the result of giving effect to that idea.

Outstanding lecturers such as Dr. H. L. Stewart of Dalhousie; Dr. Norman MacKenzie, now president of the University of British Columbia; Prof. George Dykhuizen of Vermont, and others, together with members of our own University staff and provincial and local leaders, come together for four and five-day conferences on community problems in such centres as Lake Saskatoon in the Peace River country; Sangudo, north-west of Edmonton; Gooseberry Lake, north of Consort; and Park Lake near Lethbridge. These conferences are really an adaptation of the Chautauqua system to university extension work, and they provide another and effective means of bringing the University into close touch with hundreds of people.

The biggest single extension activity of the University is the Banff School of Fine Arts which will offer its 13th summer session at Banff from July 25th to August 25th, 1945. Starting in 1933 as a school in the Arts related to the Theatre, the Banff School now offers courses in Theatre, Art, Music, Short Story, Weaving and Design, Leathercraft, and Oral French. Last year 366 students from all over Canada and the United States attended the school. The teaching staff for this school is assembled from all over America, the one pre-requisite being that they must be top-notchers in their chosen field. A roll call of names speaks for itself. The late Dr. F. H. Koch, dean of American playmakers, taught playwriting; Prof. Joseph F. Smith, head of the American Association of Teachers of Speech, is the recognized expert in this subject as well as a first-rate play producer; Max Pirani is an inspired teacher of piano; and names like A. Y. Jackson, W. J. Phillips, George Pepper, H. G. Glyde, and Charles Comfort sound like the roll call of the Royal Canadian Academy.

At the present time the University does not have its own facilities for feeding and housing the students, so this very important phase of the school life calls for a considerable amount of organization and improvisation. Some 30 houses are rented each year to provide dormitory facilities for students and staff. The Masonic Hall is taken over and becomes a dining-hall which feeds over 200 students per meal. Every available nook and cranny in Banff is filled with students and members of their families. Some students live in the School's common dormitories at $40.00 per month for room and meals; others live in private cabins, and a few live in the C.P.R. dormitory called the Banff Springs Hotel. But no matter whether they are rich or poor, from Canada or the United States, they are all one big family in the school, brought together by a common desire for creative self-expression in the most ideal setting in the world. The Banff School is an exciting and stimulating experience.

In addition to the short courses and schools just described, a general lecture service is provided whereby members of the University staff give from 75 to 150 lectures per year to various community groups and organizations all over the province. Many incidents, humorous and otherwise, could be told of these trips if space permitted, but they will keep for another time.

The Extension Library

The Extension Library under the direction of Miss Jessie F. Montgomery, is one of the institutions of this province. For thirty years the library has been sending boxes of books out on loan to communities in the most remote corners of the province. For many communities it has been the only source of books. In addition to some 200 boxes of 35 to 40 books which are sent out as travelling libraries, any person in the province can take advantage of the open shelf privileges which enable them to get books on any subject in the library. Special libraries are made up and sent out to schools and study groups; directed reading courses are outlined, and a collection of 2,000 volumes of plays are available for dramatic groups. The requests that pour into the library each year are a good barometer of the state of the nation and of public opinion.

The University pioneered the field of visual education in Canada, and the first library of films was established when A. E. Ottewell was director of the Department in 1917. That was a wise move. Visual education is just beginning to come into its own and it promises to be one of the most important aids to education we possess. Last year the University provided an average of better than 10 educational motion picture programmes a day for 365 days of the year. Thousands of reels of pictures are sent out each year to schools, churches, community groups and organizations. Films and slides are used to supplement lectures and demonstrations given by members of the University staff. They are used by study groups and farmers' meetings all the way from Norman Wells to Aklavik, and from there south to Milk River.

The Visual Instruction Division under the supervision of Mr. H. P. Brown and a staff of seven, is one of the busiest places in the University. In co-operation with the National Film Board, the University has 12 full-time projectionists operating in Alberta. Each projectionist serves from 20 to 25 points a month and puts on two showings in each centre — one in the schools in the afternoon and one open to the public at night. In setting up circuits for these "travelling theatres," as they are called, special consideration has been given to serving outlying and isolated points which would not be served in any other way. As a result hundreds of children have seen their first movie through these travelling theatres.

The films are all educational, and every effort is made to co-operate with teachers, district agriculturists, district home economists and nurses in arranging for special films and showings in connection with their particular work. Each projectionist is equipped with a modern sound projector, a 110 volt generating plant, and proper screens. The result is that in Alberta today an average of 275 rural and village communities per month are seeing such current National Film Board features as "Canada Carries On," "The World in Action," news reviews, and other educational films. In terms of people, it means that approximately 30,000 people per month are seeing educational films in addition to the 10 programmes a day being sent out from the Department. Such an effort marks only the beginning of a programme of mass education through films, and the beauty of it is that there is not one trace of Hollywood in any of it.


The University pioneered the educational radio field in Canada by starting educational broadcasting in 1923 and by getting its own radio station CKUA in 1927. While the University station has always been severely handicapped by lack of funds to develop a radio programme in keeping with the need, it has done an amazing job on a shoestring.

CKUA pioneered such features as the Farm and Home Forum, the CKUA Players, the Round Table, the Women's Programme, Your Home and You, and the Symphony Hour, long before the CBC came along to introduce duplicate or competing features. These features and many others are an important part of University extension policy. However, the effectiveness of radio as an instrument of education is in direct proportion to the people it reaches. If because of curtailed operating and inadequate programming and production as a result of lack of funds the audience is too seriously curtailed, University radio may go the way of most university stations in the United States. Then we can have an almost undiluted diet of soap operas, pills, and boogie woogie!

Fine Arts

While the Fine Arts Division in the form of the Banff School and the Community Art schools has already been mentioned, there are other phases of the work which need emphasis as well.

The drama division under the supervision of Mr. Sydney Risk, puts on a number of weekend dramatic schools in various centres each year. These are attended largely by teachers and students who come together for an intensive three or four day theatre work shop. In addition to this, the drama supervisor visits Little Theatre and high school play groups all over the province for the purpose of coaching them and assisting in the production of plays. Special equipment such as stage sets, curtains, spotlights, and floodlights are available for loan to such groups, and the equipment is very much in demand. The department also publishes a monthly bulletin of theatre news and advice under the title of "Stage Door."

Through the work in play-writing initiated in the Banff School of Fine Arts, a large number of new Canadian plays have been written. These are edited and distributed through the department. Last year 825 copies of these plays were distributed.

A related part of this work is the Alberta Folklore and Local History Project, under the direction of Mr. Robert E. Gard. During the present term, in addition to Mr. Gard's work, Mrs. Gwen Pharis Ringwood has been engaged on a fellowship for the purpose of writing three new plays based on Alberta themes.

This winter a University Art class of 30 students is holding regular classes at the University under the direction of Mr. H. G. Glyde who comes from Calgary for the purpose. Similarly a class in Weaving and Design is taught two afternoons per week by Mrs. R. B. Sandin.

Last summer arrangements were made for the University to become a member of the Western Canada Gallery circuit, and as a result travelling exhibitions of paintings, on tour of Canada, will be shown regularly at the University. This marks another milestone in the University's work in Art appreciation.

The Canadian Legion Educational Services

The sixth and last division of extension effort is what in peace-time we called the Youth Training Division. Between 1937 when it was started and 1942 when it terminated for the duration because of lack of young people and staff, 132 schools were held in rural areas. Altogether over 12,000 rural young people received valuable training in vocational agriculture, domestic science, handicrafts, dramatics, and recreation through this programme. It marked the beginning of a very successful experiment in continued rural education.

With the outbreak of war, extension directors across Canada were drafted by the Departments of National Defence and War Services to be responsible for the organization of the Canadian Legion Educational Services in their respective military districts. Briefly these services consist of providing two kinds of courses for service personnel: first, correspondence courses in all subjects from elementary to junior matriculation level plus a large number of non-academic subjects to a total of 84 in all, and secondly, tutorial classes on stations in a similar range of subjects. In the winter of 1943-44, some 62 classes were organized on 37 stations for 1,876 service men and women. In addition to this, 2,908 were registered in correspondence courses. Last winter about 175 tutorial classes were in operation in navy, army, and air force establishments in Alberta. These courses varied all the way from motor mechanics, refrigeration, and diesel engineering, to classes in German and English Literature. Some 600 people were organized into classes in typewriting, shorthand, bookkeeping and accounting. The purpose of the courses has been, first, to help the serviceman become a more efficient fighting man, and secondly, to help him to help himself in the post-war period.

As to the value of these courses, the story of one man will suffice. One day in November, 1940, a tall, dark, good-looking boy came into our office and wanted to know if the Canadian Legion Educational Services could help him. He was 19, and he had only completed grade VIII in school. He wanted to be a pilot. We told him that we could help him but that he would have to obtain the equivalent of junior matriculation in mathematics, science, and English. He registered there and then and took the first texts home with him. Each month thereafter he would come into the office to write the examinations. Thirteen months later that boy again stood in our office, the day he had been accepted for aircrew training, having successfully completed three years' work in five subjects in that time. To the question how he did it he replied: "I live on a fur farm on the edge of the city. Each day we start feeding the animals about 7 a.m. We are finished about 10 a.m. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. my time is my own, so I work on my books. From 3 to 7 again we feed the animals; after that I am free again, and I guess I burned the midnight oil."

That boy went through the regular routine of aircrew training and was graduated as a pilot officer. He went overseas and was assigned to the Edmonton Intruder Squadron flying mosquitoes to Berlin. That boy's name is Johnny Caine — Flying Officer Johnny Caine, D.F.C. and bar, with thirteen planes to his credit. Naturally we are proud of Johnny Caine, but we can point to many other boys who have been similarly helped through the C.L.E.S. and University Extension departments across Canada.

We have tried in the space at our disposal to give a bird's eye view of what the University Extension Department does. We have only outlined the bare bones of what is a tremendously interesting and exciting experience in adult education. We have not touched on countless incidents rich in human experience which taken together make the life of an extension worker at once the most exacting and interesting of vocations.

What does it all add up to? If figures mean anything, we serve in one way or another an aggregate of from 800,000 to 1,000,000 people a year. Some of this huge total represents the same individual who has received two or three services. To some people the service may have been only a pamphlet sent on request; to others it may have meant the opportunity to read some good books from the open shelf library. To others again, it may have meant the opportunity of attending a short course on the campus or the thrill of sharing the stimulus of the Banff School of Fine Arts. To one and all we hope it meant an enriching human experience one more step in participation with their own university in the search for "whatsoever things are true."

Published April 1945.

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