On Thursday, March 1st, Premier Rachel Notley made an exciting announcement at the Red Deer College Arts Centre. She announced that Red Deer College had been given the green light to transform itself into a university with autonomous degree granting authority. While the transition will take time, this will be a very important advance for our community.
Red Deer has had colleges for more than a century.
The Alberta Ladies College was built by the Presbyterian Church on the East Hill in 1913. Its goal was to provide educational opportunities for young women in rural Western Canada.
Unfortunately, the college was forced to close due to financial difficulties during the First World War.
In 1929, the Northern Bible College, later renamed the Canadian Nazarene College, was constructed on the south side of Red Deer. However, in 1960, a decision was made to sell the campus and move the college to Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, in November 1951, Dr. Lindsay Thurber, superintendent of the rural Red Deer School Division, proposed that a public junior college be established in Red Deer.
Unfortunately, initially not much happened with his idea.
In 1955, the Red Deer Public School District put the proposal to the provincial Minister of Education. He replied that such an institution would have to be a purely local effort as the Department had no intention \of establishing a college in Red Deer and turning it over to local control.
When Margaret Parsons became the chair of the Public School Board in 1959, she became an active advocate of the junior college idea. She pointed out that Lethbridge had secured such a college in 1957. She saw no reason why Red Deer could not follow suit.
In March 1959, a joint agreement was made between the Red Deer Public School District and the Red Deer (rural) School Division to push ahead with the efforts to secure a junior college for Red Deer.
In October 1963, the Red Deer Separate School District and Counties of Lacombe, Ponoka and Mountain View formally joined the Red Deer Public School District and County of Red Deer (formerly Red Deer School Division) to make application to the provincial government for the incorporation of Red Deer College.
It was agreed that the Red Deer Public School District would take the lead as the official sponsoring board.
Temporary space for the college was to be provided in a new wing being constructed at the Lindsay Thurber High School. G. H. Dawe, the Public School District’s superintendent, was named the chief administrative officer.
The University of Alberta Board of Governors gave their official approval and agreed that Red Deer College would be an official affiliate of the U of A.
Consequently, on Nov. 18th, 1963, the official order-in-council was issued by the Provincial Government incorporating Red Deer Junior College. The first college board was created with representatives from each of the six partners.
Staff were hired and Peter Raffa was appointed the first dean.
When classes started in September 1964, there were 107 full-time students and 13 part-time students, well above predictions of an inaugural enrolment of 65.
In 1966, work began on the permanent campus on the south side of Red Deer on land acquired by Lawrence Banting. Official opening ceremonies took place on Nov. 2nd, 1967 to coincide with the visit of the new Governor General of Canada, Roland Michener to Red Deer. The building was actually not finished yet and the dignitaries nearly froze to death as there was no heat.
In September 1968, classes commenced in the new permanent campus.
Many changes and improvements occurred over the following 50 years. For example, in 1970, the College began offering two year university transfer courses.
In 1973, ‘junior’ was dropped from the College’s name. In 1979, the first apprenticeship program was offered, followed by the construction of large Apprenticeship and Technology wings.
Red Deer College became the third largest Trades and Technology school in Alberta.
In the late 1980s, the College began to implement ‘brokered’ degrees as part of collaborative programs first with the University of Alberta and later with the University of Calgary as well. In 2001, the first applied degree, Motion Picture Arts, was offered.
Thus, over the years, Red Deer College has become a major post-secondary institution not just for Central Alberta, but for the entire province. Becoming a university will greatly increase and enhance that role in the future.