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Grant MacEwan College

July 1991 - Grant MacEwan and Don Getty at the groundbreaking ceremony for the downtown campus of Grant MacEwan College

Grant MacEwan Community College was established in 1971 based on a basic philosophy that suggested individuals differ in their needs, interests, abilities and aptitudes-and that every individual has a right to educational opportunity. Thus, Grant MacEwan Community College set out to create an educational environment that would differ from that of the University of Alberta and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Its programs were to be flexible, diverse, complementary and not in direct competition with the curriculum of other post-secondary institutions in Edmonton.

The Public Junior Colleges Act of 1958 spurred the development of Alberta's colleges. The Act stated that colleges could teach first-year university courses, general studies, evening courses, and courses that met the needs of special interest groups. In addition, a college could provide facilities for adult education programs and provide terminal programs for students not wishing to attend university.

The post-war baby boom directly led to an explosion in the number of new students and thus a desire for autonomous community colleges to offer a wide range of educational programs that would reflect the diverse needs of a growing community. In 1969, the Colleges Act established the short-lived Alberta Colleges Commission that shaped the context in which Grant MacEwan Community College would develop.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s the University of Alberta and NAIT were only serving approximately 50% of students leaving from Edmonton high schools. Studies indicated that northern Alberta-Edmonton in particular-needed a college offering diversified programs immediately. In 1970, the concept of an Edmonton college was approved and a Board of Governors was soon formed. There was a plethora of work ahead-what was the college's mandate? What was its purpose? The Board agreed that the school should emphasize Canadian studies and community services creating a curriculum that would be complementary to courses offered at the University of Alberta and NAIT. Their next objective was to secure a president, campus space, and choosing an appropriate name for the college. On July 15, 1970, Grant MacEwan Community College was selected in honour of Dr. J. W. Grant MacEwan and his work as a popular historian, author, and politician.

John L. Haar became the school's first president in April of 1971. Haar reiterated that the school was to focus on community learning and services and demonstrate no interest in becoming a university. Grant MacEwan Community College was a student oriented teaching institution rather than a teaching-research institution. The school ran on a trimester system, meaning it was operational for 12 months of the year. There were five instructional divisions: technology, applied arts, business, academic and continuing education. In its first year, 16 two-year programs were offered.

Grant MacEwan standing in front of the Douglass  Clock at Grant MacEwan College, City Centre Campus 1993

Strathcona High School became the first official college campus. Gradually, the Board of Governors agreed to purchase more space in and around downtown. Their central administrative offices were located at 10150 - 100 Street. The school occupied space in portions of the Workers Compensation Board building and the Cromdale building (formerly a supermarket). GMCC pursued whatever building deemed suitable and affordable thus reinforcing the goal of maintaining a presence in every area of the city. Finding adequate space was not the school's greatest concern, rather it was staffing. New programs were always being introduced and finding qualified instructors was a challenge.

By 1972 GMCC had 625 registered students enrolling in a number of varied programs. President Haar wanted the curriculum to reflect maximum learning opportunities through workplace experience, retraining, and continued education. Space at Assumption College on 107 Avenue was purchased to allow for growth in the continuing education division. Around this time the highly-respected nursing program was introduced. Overlapping NAIT's curriculum was a primary concern for President Haar who continually emphasized that GMCC's primary concerns were sciences, humanities, business, and service-related programs.

The Master Plan Report of 1973 introduced a number of key recommendations highlighted most notably by encouraging the development of a core campus, preferably in the downtown. That same year the Jasper Place Campus opened in Edmonton's west end, leasing space from elementary schools. In 1976, the spacious Mill Woods Campus opened in the city's southeast corner, truly establishing GMCC's presence throughout the city. The Mill Woods Campus was the first facility designed and built specifically for the college. At a cost of $5 million the campus covered nearly ten acres of land and hosted 700 full-time students. By 1978, GMCC had over 2,400 full-time students. The ultra-modern Jasper Place Campus opened on Stony Plain Road and 156 Street in 1981.

GMCC's progress in the 1970s was not without its shortcomings and difficulties. The campus continued to grow in student enrollment and programs offered; however, the school was not well-respected by varied professionals within the community. Some critics suggested that GMCC was offering a university curriculum at a lower level of competence. The college responded to this accusation by reminding the public that its mandate was 'to provide a second chance to students and create a welcoming environment where students can come back to learning.'

Dr. Gerald Kelly became the school's second president effective September 1, 1981. His first priority was to improve the organizational and administrative systems of the college. Next, he wanted to ensure that all Edmonton high schools were fully aware of all of the programs offered at GMCC. The college now offered over 28 two-year and 15 one-year programs. One way of improving the school's image and establish a firm identity was to build a central campus that could serve host to the majority of the school's programs and services. Exceeding expectations, enrolment in 1983 was listed at 3,600 full-time students. The 1980s were pivotal years for GMCC's mandate and academic reputation. University transfer courses were introduced enhancing the college's curriculum and academic standards. Transfer courses were offered in sciences, arts, and commerce. In all, 40 new courses were developed and 11 new instructional staff was hired.

With increased enrollment GMCC continually struggled with overcrowding. President Kelly envisioned a spacious central campus that could alleviate the problem of overcrowding; moreover, he wanted to scrap the idea of small campuses throughout the city because they were costly and inefficient. A central campus was to include educational, cultural, recreational and residential facilities. The City Centre Campus was announced April 28, 1988 and was to be located on former CN rail yards immediately north of 104 Avenue. Covering 775,000 square feet of space, City Centre Campus could accommodate upwards of 10,000 students. Construction began in June of 1991.

Grant MacEwan Community College continued to grow and reached new heights of success. As of 1991, over 90% of graduates were finding employment in their field of study within six months of graduation. Meanwhile, the college sought additional space at the 7th Street Plaza Campus. The construction of the City Centre Campus would alleviate much of the school's overcrowding. The massive project was completed $6 million under budget and six months ahead of schedule. Emphasizing practicality, flexibility, and accessibility the campus opened its doors to students in 1993.

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