University of Alberta History

Alberta became a province in 1905. One of the first tasks of the legislature was to pass a bill sponsored by Alexander Cameron Rutherford, Alberta’s first Premier and the first Minister of Education, to establish a provincial university. Henry Marshall Tory left McGill University to become the University of Alberta’s first President. He held office for twenty years.

Convocation, composed of all resident graduates of British and Canadian universities, elected five members to a fifteen-person Senate with the government appointing the remaining ten. This Senate established the Faculty of Arts and Science as the center of teaching and research at the University.

Classes started in the fall of 1908. Forty-five students were enrolled. A faculty of five taught classics, English, modern languages, and mathematics. Classes moved from what is now Queen Alexandra School to the Strathcona Collegiate Institute and then to Athabasca Hall in 1911. Athabasca Hall served as a residence for staff and students, classrooms, laboratories, library, gymnasium, and as the administration office. The first graduates of the full four- year program received their degrees in 1912.

A Students’ Union was established in 1908. It published the first issue of Gateway, the students’ newspaper, in 1911.

By 1914, enrollment had grown to over four hundred. As classes grew, so did the need for new facilities. Assiniboia and Pembina Halls and the Arts Building were all completed and opened by 1915. The Faculty of Law, established in 1912, was joined by the Faculty of Extension, and in 1913, by the Faculty of Applied Science and the Faculty of Medicine.

The coming of the First World War brought a halt to construction, but not the growth of faculties and courses. The Faculty of Agriculture was established in 1915. The School of Accounting (later to become the Faculty of Commerce, and now the Faculty of Business) was established in 1916. The School of Pharmacy and the sub-faculty of Dentistry were established in 1917. In 1918 the Department of Household Economics was established.

The end of the war saw a rapid increase in enrollment and new construction. The curriculum was revised to provide flexibility of elective courses. The University Summer Session was first offered in 1919. By 1929, 1560 students were enrolled at the University.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the University grow to meet a wide variety of needs. Affiliated colleges such as St. Joseph’s and St. Stephen’s Colleges were established to serve the needs of their respective Roman Catholic and United Church communicants. Mount Royal College in Calgary affiliated in 1931. In that year, the Western Board of Music was established. The Banff School of Fine Arts was opened in 1933 under the Faculty of Extension. In 1930 fraternities were allowed to be established.

In 1928, R.C. Wallace succeeded H.M Tory as President and presided over the first half of the Great Depression, which saw enrollment and staff stabilize. W.A.R. Kerr became President in 1936 and served until 1941.

The Second World War saw the University accelerate its research activities. It offered residences and courses to members of the armed forces in training. On another level, the University, under President Robert Newton (1941-51) undertook to modernize its governing structure. The 1910 revisions to the University Act had established the Board of Governors, with administrative and financial powers. The Act of 1942 transferred responsibility for academic matters from the Senate to the General Faculties Council. The power of the Board of Governors was expanded to become the final authority in all matters.

In the twenty-five years that followed the end of the Second World War, registrations grew at an extraordinary rate. From slightly over 2000 in 1943-44, registrations grew to 5000 in 1947-48 and 17,500 in 1969-70. In 1945 the University accepted sole responsibility for the training of Alberta teachers and the Faculty of Education became the largest on campus.

In 1951 Andrew Stewart became President and began the process of construction which was to alter the physical face of the campus. The pace quickened under the presidencies of Walter H. Johns (1959-69), Max Wyman (1969-74), Harry Gunning (1974-79), and Myer Horowitz (1979-89). New and expanded facilities were needed for classrooms, laboratories, residences, and library services. The growing demand for university educational opportunities throughout the province led to the Universities Act of 1966. The Calgary Campus of the University of Alberta, initiated in 1951, became an independent university, and the University of Lethbridge opened its doors. Junior colleges in Medicine Hat, Camrose, Red Deer and Grand Prairie became affiliated with the University. College St-Jean, which offers a bilingual program in arts, science and education, became part of the University in 1970 and became a full Faculty in 1978. King’s College became affiliated in 1983

In 1983 the University celebrated its 75th anniversary. The celebrations culminated with the hosting of the World University Games. The University had come a long way from the days, in 1908, of forty-five students and five teaching staff. By the end of the decade, the student body rose to be more than 25,000 full-time and 4000 part-time registrants. By 1991 it was the second largest university in Canada.


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