Alberta College

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Alberta College

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Dr. T.C. Buchanan, pastor of McDougall Methodist Church in Edmonton, founded the province's first post-secondary institution in 1903 on Methodist Mission land set aside for missionary and education purposes by Reverend George McDougall. Although originally named McDougall College in honour of this early missionary to the Edmonton area, the founders soon abandoned this designation in favour of Alberta College. The college's first classes assembled on October 5, 1903 in the space above the Johnstone Walker Store on Jasper Avenue. Within two months, the original 67 students, along with four teaching staff, moved to the Masonic Hall to continue their studies in Arts, Commerce and Music under the direction of the school's first principal, Reverend Dr. John H. Riddell. Carrying the unique proviso that there would be no qualification for admission or mandatory religious testing for any student, the Northwest Territory Council granted a charter to Alberta College in October 1904, at which time the school moved into a new building on 101st Street, on the grounds of McDougall Methodist Church. Alberta College grew considerably in its first decade. They housed the growing population of students in new residences; expanded the curriculum with the addition of the departments of Theology, Elocution, and Physical Culture; offered high school matriculation, English as a Second Language, and university transfer programmes; constructed McDougall Hall; and established a south campus on the grounds of the newly founded University of Alberta. Riddell became principal of this new south campus, known as the Theological and Preparatory College, while Reverend Dr. Francis Stacey McCall took over as principal of Alberta College North. For the duration of the First World War, the campuses amalgamated on the north side of the river allowing for the militia to use the south campus as a hospital and convalescent depot. By the time classes resumed in the Theological and Preparatory College in 1920, the school boasted over 1,850 students, 250 of them living in residence. Alberta College needed to expand again. The opening and dedication McCall Hall as part of the north campus in 1926 corresponded with the amalgamation of Alberta College South and Robertson College. This combined Methodist and Presbyterian school became the independent St. Stephen's College of the United Church, and Alberta College North reverted back to Alberta College under the direction of McCall. Student registration held steady until the 1930s when a significant drop in enrollment forced the college to reduce its staff and close McDougall Hall. By the outbreak of the Second World War however, the student body rebounded. Along with its customary post-secondary courses, the school began offering academic night classes and, for a few years, public school classes for grades one through twelve. McCall retired in June, 1947. At the time, Alberta College's programmes included grades nine to thirteen; a School of Commerce; a Conservatory of Music; the Department of Speech Arts; Spanish; night school; and church leadership courses. The newly appointed principal, Reverend Dr. George Harrison Villett, planned for expansion. Construction of the W.T. Henry Hall began in 1949 and, within two years, the college erected a new gymnasium and dining hall. With 2,338 students in 1951, registration reached an all-time high. Growth marked the decade of the 1950s. The school appealed to the public in a three-year, Million Dollar fundraising initiative for the construction of new classrooms, residences, administration offices, and a chapel. In 1959 however, before the completion of this campaign, Villett died suddenly requiring the board to install Reverend Dr. Hart A. Cantelon as principal. He and his staff moved into the new administration building in 1964 and although plans were still in the works for continued expansion, financial problems became evident. Public schools increased competition, tuition fees rose, and government funding fell short of expectations. Cantelon resigned leaving the post open for Reverend Dr. Sidney R. Vincent. Vincent held this post for seven years until 1971, when Dr. Sherbourn McCurdy took over in the new position of president. According to McCurdy, as the school reached its 75th anniversary in 1978, Alberta College arrived to a major crossroads. Enrollment had leveled off when Grant MacEwan Community College opened to the public five years previously, but McCurdy felt that Edmonton still had use for a private college. Six years later, the college appealed to the provincial government for classification as an independent school to improve funding opportunities. Dr. Reginald Pridham replaced McCurdy in 1985 and the college planned for another physical expansion. Phase One of the new project wrapped up in 1993. Workers tore down the old college building in preparation for the second phase. Successful in their appeal for donations to complete the construction, Alberta College opened the doors to its latest renovation the following year. Alberta College's Conservatory of Music was the second largest in Canada by 1995, but budget constraints forced the college administration to make considerable changes to courses and lay off staff. Students and teachers contemplated legal action. Two years later, Brenda Cooke replaced Pridham. She wanted the college to concentrate on its three core departments: music, academic, and commerce. At that point, a change in focus for the college was futile. Forced to transfer operational control to the provincial government in 2000, the Alberta College Board of Governors stated that the school could no longer be financially viable while losing students to the public system. Cooke resigned from her position that year. On July 1, 2002 Grant MacEwan Community College officially integrated Alberta College as a satellite campus. Specializing in music, English as a Second Language, and business courses, the Alberta College Campus retained its separate identity and name while under the guidance of the Grant MacEwan Community College advisory board. Grant MacEwan and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (N.A.I.T.) absorbed the remaining programmes once offered by Alberta College.

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