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From Small Beginnings

In the attic of the Duggan Street School (now Queen Alexandra) with a president, a faculty of four, and a student body of seven women and thirty-eight men, the University of Alberta began its work on September the 23rd, 1908. ‘A curious little family’, Dr. Broadus once said, 'with a faculty of four attic philosophers professing Classics, Moderns, Mathematics and Applied Science, and English Literature’. The faculty's background was Cambridge, McGill, Toronto, Columbia, California and Harvard; the students' was 'of the west, western, with no traditions’. In such an environment the University of Alberta had its beginning.

Dr. Tory, the president, as Dr. John Macdonald has recently reminded us in his interesting history of the university, was a dreamer, a practical dreamer, a man with a great vision, a man with a wonderful faith in the youth of our province. This vision we can, in reality, see today on our campus. A few changes from the original dream, from that vision, but only a few.

The alumni of any university are a very important part of the institution but, of course, we had no alumni in 1908, nor could we have any for at least three years. Fortunately, however, scattered throughout the province were men and women of some of the older Canadian and Old Country universities. If these were not alumni in the true sense of the word, at least they could become 'adopted sons and daughters’, thus 'Convocation’ was created; anyone with a college degree could, for a small fee, belong. A convocation of three hundred and sixty-four members of whom seventeen are actually present at our Golden Jubilee this week. This group of 364 members of Convocation has grown in fifty years to 18,205.

There are two other points in connection with early policy that should be mentioned. Dr. Tory had been, as you know, a scientist at McGill before coming to us but he made it his first concern to establish the Arts curriculum. His idea was, that if you did first the hardest thing in an agricultural community, the obvious things would come of themselves.

And the second point, the University of Alberta was modelled on American universities: three lectures a week in each course; student attendance expected; note-taking, for future reference; final examinations set on the material to be read and studied; pass courses offered and even encouraged; and the teaching, thorough.

A good beginning, if a small one, for the building of a university that was to grow in fifty short years even beyond the bounds of its founders' dearest dreams.

We could not help but grow for our founders knew that the purpose of a university was to fit people better for their places in society—a worthy purpose—so, the courses were planned with this end in view. Our first president, Dr. Tory, impressed upon the students the fact that the outside public does not judge a great institution by the number or size of its buildings, important as these are; rather does it expect a great institution to be reflected in its graduates. Their success or their failure will be attributed to the university, their attitude towards life will be said to be the university's attitude. So, the reputation of the university stands or falls by the attitude of the men and women who, as its graduates, go out to take their place in the world. A sobering thought, especially on our fiftieth birthday.

In 1908 our scattered population was about 300,000 people. As soon as possible these people were to be made aware of the fact that there was a university. At first it seemed as if only Premier Rutherford, (later our university Chancellor), Dr. Tory, his faculty of four, and the student body of forty-five knew of its existence, but before long extension lectures started and by 1912 a Department of Extension with a secretary (Mr. A. E. Ottewell) to take charge of the activities, was established.

The daily load of each of the four professors was heavy enough but extension lectures must be given, so, on many a Saturday our attic professors found themselves on the road. Can you imagine the condition of some of the roads, the impossible railway connections and the hotel accommodation. Dr. Broadus once remarked that the hotels were beyond the powers of a chaste vocabulary to describe! These men literally travelled from one end of the province to the other. In Calgary they felt they were received with mixed feelings for Calgarians wanted, of course, a university of their own.

On Saturday nights competition was at times more than a bit keen for each town had its dance. Some of the stories told by Dr. Broadus, Mr. Ottewell and others, were indeed amusing. On one occasion in a town not far from Edmonton, Dr. Broadus saw, as he entered the main street, a large sign which read: 'Hear Broadus on Shakespeare and enjoy yourself afterwards at the dance’. And in a country schoolhouse where Mr. Ottewell was speaking, the chairman announced, after he had introduced Mr. Ottewell, 'When our speaker has finished his talk those of you who wish gopher poison, come forward.’

From these small beginnings the Extension work grew rapidly. A few figures might be of interest. From the 1912 report of the Extension Department we learn that twelve centres received lectures during the year; the number of lectures given was 61 and the total number of people in attendance 6,100. In the report for 1957-58 there were 48 centres, stretching from Fort St. John in the north to Brooks in the south; and from Jasper and Banff in the west to Estevan and Swift Current, Saskatchewan, in the east. Of the number of lectures given 895 were by members of the Extension Department itself, and 1,000 by University of Alberta Staff; 1,895, with a total attendance of 86,224.

Soon the Extension Library sent out travelling libraries to remote corners of the province and open-shelf parcels, too.

The contribution of this library to the reading population of the province has grown greatly through the years The 1957-58 figures are most interesting There were 43,185 books sent out in travelling libraries. In Open-Shelf parcels there were 56,815 adult; 20,404 juvenile and 1,954 periodicals and pamphlets.

Another source of good public relations, the Banff School of Fine Arts, has gained through the years, since its establishment in 1933, international fame.

Our own Mr. Reg Lister has been a truly good public relations 'officer’ for the University of Alberta. His delightful book, 'My Forty-five Years on the Campus’, published recently, has been a source of enjoyment to many, especially to those who have, at any time, lived in residence.

We have reached our fiftieth birthday and feel, for many reasons, we have just cause to rejoice and be glad.

With what thoughtfulness was our enviable motto chosen by Dr. W. H. Alexander "Quaecumque vera" — Whatsoever things are true. We came to the University of Alberta to seek whatsoever things are true — we were certainly not disappointed.

A watchful eye on the part of our professors and deans has prevented the student in each professional faculty from ever becoming just an apprentice — rather has he been a scholar following the university motto. By this careful watching, professional study has led to liberal education as well as to technical training. Today even more than in the past great emphasis is being placed on the importance of the arts in the professional fields.

Dr. Robert Newton when giving advice to Freshmen during their first bewildering days on the campus explained, how, from the beginning, our students were taught by men who were not only trained academically to be the very best teachers but by men with a vision, men who made 'no allowance for idleness or laziness or procrastination; taught to know the true value of time: to know that when the best things are not possible we should make the best of those that are possible; taught that there is only one real failure in life; not to be true to the best one knows. The greatest test of a man's character is how he takes charge of his own life’.

Little wonder, is it, that we find many of our graduates in important and responsible positions throughout the world.

Our student self-government, assisted so much in its beginnings by Dr. J. M. MacEachran, first provost of the University, has given young people a wonderful opportunity to develop powers of leadership. The Committee on Student Affairs, set up in 1912, a commitee of the Senate comprised of students and University officials has been one of our most precious treasures — a committee rare in the history of Canadian Universities. Extracurricular activities run by the students themselves under their own student government has been a success. Today there are over sixty clubs or societies, each thriving, each doing something worthwhile for its members. At the University of Alberta there has always been a chance for the development of one's talents or one's interests. The scope of these clubs today is wide, from Amateur Radio to McGoun Cup Debating, from Square Dancing to Bluestocking Club, from Judo to Mixed Chorus. A chance to develop hobbies, hobbies that have even provided summer employment for a goodly number of young people, hobbies that carry themselves often into adult life, making for much happier and fuller living. And if we look about us today we find that many of our graduates in important positions, held, when at the university, positions on the Students' Council or in the various clubs and societies. From small beginnings? Who can tell.

One of the great opportunities offered along with the training for our respective professions has been that of making friends and lasting friendships among the members of the Faculty and in the Student Body. No matter where we have gone since undergraduate days we have found those with whom we shared common interests, common problems, common joys, ever loyal and true.

These friends have so enriched our lives that it is quite impossible to estimate their value. They were, and are, very special people, deserving of special consideration. People whom we never take for granted, for nothing precious should ever be taken for granted. Always there has been a deep and sincere understanding, a spirit of give-and-take; a belief that 'The gift without the giver is bare’. And the very close friends were close, I suppose, because, as Anne of Green Gables said, 'we were kindred spirits’. In the last few days happiness has prevailed in many corners of the campus as friends of long ago have been renewing friendships; a happiness that comes from the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to be needed.

Fifty years old. And now. what of the years ahead? One other occasion when Dr. Newton was addressing the Freshman Class he made this statement: 'Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. This, in part at least, is why we have grown — our founders had in abundance both courage and perseverance.

Courage and perseverance will be needed as we go forward. We know that the road ahead cannot all be smooth. Was it not Dr. Tory who once said, 'I wish for you a few shadows for shadows make the sun more dear; and a little hillwork, for hills lend zest to living’. Yes, there may be wrinkles but only on the brow we are sure, never on the heart, nor will the spirit grow old. It has been said that as a university we have avoided being wrapped up in ourselves — our public relations programme was evident in that first year of our existence. Perhaps we have realized that being wrapped up in ourselves would make a package too small for the great province after which our university is called.

We shall grow in numbers both of faculty and of students — this we know — for in the past fifty years we have grown from a faculty of a president, and four professors in 1908 to a faculty of a president, and 400 professors; from a student body of 46 in 1908 to one of over 5,000 in 1958; from seven women in 1908 to almost 700 in the first year, alone, in 1958. Perhaps the number of buildings will increase with sufficient rapidity (even residences!) to meet the demands — this we hope.

We shall require to be watchful lest our present friendly student-faculty relationship fall apart — a relationship that has been very close during the past seven years under Dr. Stewart as President and Mrs. Stewart. Careful planning and thoughtful watching will be well worth the effort.

We shall find new courses appearing as we take a forward look, courses leading us to do thinking that is world-wide. We should like to think that there will be a little more time for, and encouragement of, reflection; time for good judgment, for unhurried decision, that we may never lose sight of whatsoever things are true. We shall look ahead with confidence for we are still 'the captains of our own destiny'.

'The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.'

Published Fall/Winter 1958.

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