Don’t call me “Junior”

“It should be pointed out that there is nothing “junior” or inferior about the services provided by a junior college as compared with a large university.” xxxii  From the start, we have seen our smaller size in comparison to larger universities in the province as a draw and benefit to students and in the 1964 Academic Calendar, the Dean laid out the “Advantages of a Junior College”:

Classes are usually considerably smaller than is normally the case in the universities, and this makes it possible for the instructors to take a greater personal interest in the student by offering individual guidance and assistance. This is further facilitated by the fact that the basic function of college instructors is teaching, rather than research and extension work, as well as a great deal of committee work which is so much a part of a large institution.xxxiii

Beyond the appeal of the campus size which promotes community and ensures students and instructors know each other by name, Red Deer College has always been an attractive place to learn because of the financial advantage: students at RDC pay less for education than students at universities.

Nevertheless, by 1970 the “junior” was dropped from the official name, the same year that broad changes were made in the provincial Colleges’ Act. Students wore flare pants and bell bottoms. Corduroy and denim flourished.

By the early 70s, the College was finding its feet as an institution.  After a key period of founding and development we started the transition into truly establishing our identity. With our own facility, we were a far cry from the little wing of the high school with no cafeteria or residence, no bookstore or offices for our instructors.

In 1968, The College was situated on 214 acres of its own land that rolled along central Alberta’s sweeping foothills.  We were now positioned for expansion throughout the 1970s and well into the future.  The original College campus that officially opened in 1968 included two academic wings with biology, physics and chemistry labs, several multi-use classrooms, a language lab, a Gym, a Team Teaching Theatre and offices.
Whereas before the library was a “small classroom with a handful of books,” the College now had a Library filled with books. In the first few years, students requisitioned a classroom as a common room to hang out in, now there was a Forum to gather in, host events and socialize.
Red Deer College suddenly had the look of a major post-secondary institution.  Throughout the 70s as more and more students joined the College, the two original wings were expanded to include an enlarged Learning Resources Centre.  
By 1972 students had access to a Bookstore, a cafeteria, and the newly christened Kevin Sirois Gym, named after the Olympic athlete in cycling and speed skating who died tragically in a cycling accident near Ponoka. The new facility boosted the quality of student life and program opportunities with its dance studio, racquetball courts and weight room.

New painting and sculpture studios, connected student residences and married and single parent townhouse residences provided an ever-increasing range of services for students and staff alike. “There was a sense of excitement and adventure” xxxiv wrote one alumna of the early days.

RDC now offered five broad categories of programming.  Sixty per cent of all students were enrolled in the University Transfer program. The other four program areas included Diploma, Academic Upgrading, Continuing Education and Priority Employment Training.

By the 1971-72 academic year, the College boasted 800 full time students, 75 faculty and 50 administrative employees.  It was fast becoming not only a vibrant hub for learners, but a key employer in the region.

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A difficult year

While the future looked bright, the start of the 1970s featured some difficulty for the fledgling institution and would be critical years in our development.

In 1972 students, concerned about the quality of their education and priorities of the administration, rallied and held a vote of non-confidence in the administration.  The vote caught the attention of the provincial government, highlighting the importance and the power of the Student voice at RDC.  As a result, in April of 1972 Dr. T.C. Byrne, president of Athabasca University and a former deputy Minister of Education in the province headed up a provincial inquiry into College operations.  

Following the recommendations of Byrne’s report, the president and vice president resigned, the Board of Governors were dissolved and a government administrator was appointed.  The hard work of addressing the polarization on campus began, as did the work of implementing a governance model that would enable College students, faculty and staff to focus on its mandate to pursue our bright future.

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The Fast track

Every institution is a “complex social system with a major network of interpersonal relationships” xxxv  wrote Dr. R.G. Fast in his report to the Government of Alberta after his year as Administrator.  Living up to his name, Fast acted quickly, meeting with all key stakeholders in the institution and community. He worked to develop effective policies, programs and a governance model that would prepare RDC for continued success into the future.

“Conflict in human organizations is inevitable,” he wrote.  “This does not mean, however, that it is necessarily destructive.  In fact, a certain level of conflict may be necessary to the vitality of the organization and contribute to its productivity and adaptability.” xxxvi

The outcome of this difficult year proved just that. The conflict forced the College to adapt and RDC emerged from the time with an important shift in focus.  A true community college philosophy began to crystalize, and the community, RDC learners and faculty and staff rallied behind it.

In fact, there was major change in the post-secondary sector throughout North America at the time.  Between 1971 and 1973 there was a dramatic decline in enrolments not only in Alberta but across the North American continent. xxxvii  It became very clear for the College and community that in order to remain vital, expansion of RDC’s total curriculum to include not only the first two years of University Studies was important, but a wide range of Career, Continuing Education, Upgrading and General Interest Programs were required as well.  

In his report after a year of bold leadership, Dr. Fast concluded that in his short time as Administrator he had witnessed a transformation before his eyes. College-Community interaction rapidly permeated the entire community. Businesses came forward with new scholarships for students, the College Library was made available to the public along with the gymnasium and physical education facilities.

A nation-wide search for a new president concluded the year with the selection of Dr. Bill Forbes who took the position on July 1, 1973.  RDC had emerged from this difficult period with an important shift in focus.  As Red Deer College moved beyond these challenges, we truly began to come into our own.

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A Royal legacy begins

Red Deer Junior College sought to be an institution that would give students the full collegiate experience, to be a place where well rounded individuals were developed, for the betterment of society.  In 1965 the College established Athletics teams that would soon make an impact nationally, flourishing throughout the 70s and beyond.

From the first day of competition, RDC was a sports leader. Our Junior College Queens represented the City of Red Deer and the College as the first ever competitors in the Western Inter-College Conference. The debut was an “auspicious” one, as reported in the news. Our Queens won a “resounding victory” in the opening event of the 1965-66 season at a race in Lethbridge. xxxviii

The two and a quarter mile race was organized into relays of 750 yards each and our Queens won the race a full minute and seven seconds ahead of second place finishing Mount Royal College of Calgary. The race began as a nail-biter but finished with the Queens far in the lead:

Lynne Jones, a late replacement for the college who missed the training periods, ran the first leg of the relay and passed the baton to Sheryl Pape in fourth place.  Running extremely well, Pape narrowed the gap and completed the next exchange in third place. Third-runner [Bernadette] Aubert momentarily took over the lead but passed the baton to [Frances] Mowat three yards behind the leader.  Mowat quickly assumed the lead and made the final exchange to [Gay] Christian with a commanding 75-yard lead.  Mowat widened the gap steadily and crossed the finish line 200 yards in front of her nearest rival.”

The success of that early women’s relay team might serve as a trope of sorts. Their success surged and grew through each leg of the race, symbolizing the legacy of excellence that has been relayed through the decades to establish a strong Athletics tradition at RDC.

Being a member of an athletic team at RDC is a proven way to offer personal development for students, fosters community spirit, and also helps to build leaders in central Alberta. In fact, the positive impact that RDC athletes made in the community since the Queens and Kings teams were established in 1965 led President Don Snow to describe our student athletes as “excellent ambassadors for the college, the community, and the province.”  xxxix

Our teams experienced success early on.  From 1970 to 1978, RDC was given the Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference (ACAC) Supremacy Award, our teams making their mark on the post-secondary athletic landscape.

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At Home on the Ice

Hockey had always been a significant part of Red Deer’s sports history.  Both men and women have been part of the hockey tradition in the CIty since organized leagues took to the ice in the 1930s. Red Deer College added to that tradition when the Kings joined the ACAC.

The contribution RDC Hockey has made to sports in Canada is indelible. The program has produced not only excellent players but fantastic coaches.  The Kings team alone has seen an impressive list of coaches including Dan Peacocke, Mike Babcock, Ron Kraft, Ray Bennett, Dan MacDoanld, Karl Taylor and Trevor Keeper.

Notable among them is coach Al Ferchuk who helmed the Kings Hockey team for 16 seasons, guiding the team from 1973 to 1988.  Ferchuk helped to lead three of the Hockey Kings teams to win national hockey titles in the 1976-77, 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons.  

In fact it was the Kings Hockey that put RDC on the national Athletics map.  In the late 70s they became known the “kings” of the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) where they made four straight appearances from the 1976-1979 seasons in the national championship, winning the three titles mentioned above. The Kings were the first team in the ACAC to finish first in the regular season for five consecutive campaigns. These achievements would later secure RDC Kings Hockey a place in the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame. The program noted that the 70s Kings’ stellar results warranted because they:

brought home three 4-West titles and three ACAC titles. They became the first team to win back to back national titles. In each of their national championship seasons, the RDC Kings led the league with the most goals for and the fewest goals against. In regular season and post season action over the three years, the Kings won 78, lost 15 and tied two for a winning percentage of 0.83. xl 

Since those first days of competition, RDC has become known across Canada for our strong program.  Student athletes are notable not only for their athletic prowess but for their academic excellence as well.  In our first 50 years alone, RDC our Kings and Queens have won 19 National titles, more than 150 Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference team titles, and nearly 40 ACAC individual titles. Countless RDC student-athletes and coaches have been given individual honours both for academic and sporting achievement.

The strength of our Athletics program is demonstrated far beyond the bounds of collegiate competition. Many of our student athletes have taken the tradition of excellence instilled in them through our Athletics programs into professional careers as business owners, CEOs, MLAs, MPs and national athletes.

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If Not Eternal, Our Art Certainly Became Permanent

The summer of 1972 saw the launch of a new two-year diploma program in Art and Design which included instruction in multiple artistic disciplines.  Painting, sculpture, ceramics and photography were included in the curriculum.

Among the other positive outcomes of the early 70s at RDC was the establishment of the Permanent Art Collection in 1975.

For visual art students, the collection offered an opportunity to research and study specific works by critically acclaimed artists. Whether their discipline were in drawing, printmaking, painting, sculpture or ceramics, the collection gave students a better understanding of the technical, emotional and formative aspects of recognized art work, and encouraged students to institute what they observed from the collection in their own practice.

RDC’s Visual Art Department began quietly assembling a laudable collection that now contains over 800 art objects and is now widely recognized as one of the strongest college art collections in western Canada.
Used primarily in the classroom as a teaching tool, these paintings, prints, sculptures and photographs are also displayed throughout RDC to this day.

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Changing the Cultural Landscape

There was a real need in the region for performance art space.  As early as 1971 the Red Deer Civic Centre Committee recommended that the City of Red Deer work with Red Deer College to construct a new performing arts theatre.  However the community members hoped for more, dreaming about a multi-purpose complex where a wide range of cultural events could be housed.

The Province provided funding to the College for an exploratory committee to study the feasibility of a regional, multi-use cultural centre in the Red Deer, to be developed by the City and RDC.

Arthur Erickson Associates, the illustrious architectural firm, was approached in 1976. The global architect and master, who designed the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. and the Vancouver Art Gallery among some 500 inspiring buildings, was hired to produce a design concept and estimate the costs.  

Originally the committee set its sights on building a 1500 seat concert hall, an art gallery and a smaller theatre housed in one cultural centre.  With the City committing to contribute significant capital dollars, hopes were high.
“With escalating construction costs of the late 1970’s,” notes Red Deer historian Michael Dawe, “these plans had to be scaled back considerably.” xli The City and the College jointly approved the project and proposed a cost-sharing formula to bring the project to life.  The dream would not be realized, however, until the 1980s.

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xxxii - “Advantages of a Junior College,” Red Deer College Calendar, 1964.
xxxiii - ibid
xxxiv - “The History of Red Deer College: A Student’s View”. The Bricklayer (or Legacy). Irene Greenwood. Undated photocopy in White History Reference Binder.
xxxv - Red Deer College: The Critical Years. Report of the Administrator of the Red Deer College. R.G. Fast. January 1974. College Library.  Red Der, AB.
xxxvi - Ibid, p. 26
xxxvii - Ibid, 20
xxxviii - “Junior College Tops WICC Girls’ Cross-Country Event,” Red Deer Advocate. November 1, 1965.
xxxix - Hockey Alberta 2011 Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees retrieved
xl - ibid
xli - “Red Deer and the Arts,” Michael Dawe. A Special Report for RDC. September 16, 2007.