The University of Lethbridge is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But the U of L wasn’t the city’s first post-secondary institution. That distinction belongs to the school on the other side of the Oldman River — Lethbridge College.
The college also holds another distinction: it was the first public community college in Canada when it began operating in 1957.
Originally known as Lethbridge Junior College, the school came to be thanks in large part to a woman whose name adorns one of the campus’s busiest buildings — Kate Andrews.
Andrews, a former rural school teacher and the first woman in Alberta to serve on a school board, was instrumental in the move to bring a post-secondary institution to Lethbridge. She was a strong believer in education and enlisted the help of other community leaders to expand the city’s educational offerings. At the time, in the 1950s, the closest post-secondary campus was a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, in Calgary.
The proposal for Lethbridge Junior College received provincial go-ahead in 1957 and Andrews was named chairman of the college’s first board. The Lethbridge College website notes that when the school began classes that fall in space leased at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, 38 students took part.
Today, as the college celebrates 60 years, it boasts a student enrolment of more than 4,000, and the college campus — originally a single building which opened in 1962 — now features a series of state-of-the-art buildings that would have seemed like a product of science fiction in the 1950s.
The college was unique in the 1960s in that it also offered university courses. Even after provincial approval was given for a full-fledged university in Lethbridge, the college campus remained the U of L’s home until the university moved into its own facility across the river in 1971.
In 1969, the college became known as Lethbridge Community College. Along with the name change, the college switched from emphasizing university transfer programs to focusing on one- and two-year vocational and technical programs designed to fill the needs of southern Alberta employers in various industries.
Today, the college offers literally hundreds of in-class and online credit courses, along with more than 50 career-training programs, applied degrees and apprenticeships. In addition to the expanded campus on the city’s southside, there are regional campuses in Claresholm, Vulcan and Pincher Creek.
Lethbridge College is on the cutting edge in a number of educational areas with programs including the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence, a unique venture that involves technologist raising grass carp which are released into waterways to control weed growth, and the recycled water is used to grow vegetables in the ACE greenhouse.
SPHERE, the Simulated Patient Health Environment for Research and Education, provides a learning facility where nursing and EMT students can hone their skills in a computerized, real-to-life setting that simulate a full range of emergency medical situations.
The college has also distinguished itself in other areas, including athletics. Over the years, the college’s sports teams have amassed an array of provincial and national championships in basketball, soccer and cross country.
All told, Kodiak athletes have won 43 Alberta College Athletic Conference championships and 31 Canadian College Athletic Association medals, including 13 gold.
Lethbridge College has come a long way from its beginnings when it didn’t have its own campus. The school was a trend-setter from the start and continues to break new ground in the field of education.