This month marks an important milestone in our community’s history. It was 50 years ago, in November 1967, that the Red Deer College campus was officially opened by Governor General Roland Michener.
The history of the College actually can be traced back to the late 1950s. Margaret Parsons had become the chair of the Public School Board. She was an active advocate for creating a public college in Red Deer. She pointed out that Lethbridge had secured such an institution in 1957. She saw no reason why Red Deer could not follow suit.
Hence, in March 1959, a joint agreement was made between the Red Deer Public School District and the Red Deer (rural) School Division (later County of Red Deer) to push ahead with securing a college for Red Deer.
In October 1963, the Red Deer Separate School District and Counties of Lacombe, Ponoka and Mountain View, formally joined the two original partners and made 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 Superintendent, was named the chief administrative officer.
While there initially had been a lot of resistance by Alberta’s universities to the creation of public colleges in the province, the University of Alberta eventually gave the Red Deer proposal their official approval. Moreover, the U. of A. agreed that Red Deer College would be an affiliate of the university.
On Nov. 18th, 1963, the official order-in-council was issued by the Provincial Government incorporating Red Deer Junior College. The first formal college board was created with representatives from each of the six partners.
Staff were hired and Peter Raffa was appointed the first dean. Interim space for the College was provided in a new wing constructed onto the Lindsay Thurber Composite High School. 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.
The official opening took place on Nov. 27th, 1964. F. Philip Galbraith, chancellor of the University of Alberta and also the publisher of the Red Deer Advocate, presided.
Meanwhile, work began on securing a site for a permanent College campus. One spot north of the City was to be investigated, but a large security dog kept the officials from inspecting the site. Another location was considered in Oriole Park, but it was soon determined that this would not provide the College with what would be needed.
The Red Deer Planning Commission suggested a site east of Red Deer, but it was decided that a ring road would have to be constructed to make that location properly accessible.
Finally negotiations commenced with Laurence Banting who owned a 260 acre farm on the south side of West Park. Mr. Banting was planning to retire and was willing to consider offers on his property.
In 1963, Mr. Banting agreed to sell the farm to the Public School Board and, in turn, to the City of Red Deer for $1000 per acre. Part of the land was used for the south extension of the West Park subdivision. However, under the agreement, 130 acres were donated by the City for the College campus site. Laurence Banting retained the use of his home and the adjoining 12 acres until he moved elsewhere or passed away.
In 1966, work began on the new college on the south side of the Banting farm. 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. Greatly expanded over the years, this is the facility which continues to serve as the major post-secondary institution for Central Alberta. Literally thousands of students have secured their education and started their futures at Red Deer College.