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50th anniversary commemorative book full of historical nuggets about university

Aritha van Herk's The Age of Audacity: 50 Years of Ambition and Adventure at Calgary’s Own University

Aritha van Herk’s biggest challenge writing the University of Calgary's 50th Anniversary commemorative book was choosing among the “endless little nuggets” she found in her research.

The longtime faculty member in the Department of English spent two years researching and writing The Age of Audacity: 50 Years of Ambition and Adventure at Calgary’s Own University published by the University of Calgary Press. 

She was determined to tell the stories that struck her as interesting. And she found dozens.

Take the computer programmers in 1967 who worked with the cutting-edge IBM System 360, Model 30 computer. It could store 65,536 facts and run 1,000 punch cards a minute. While the cards ran, the programmers would ride their bikes around the room and hallways. van Herk says, “the janitors wondered who left all those black marks [from the bike tires] everywhere."

A frog's tale in a stairwell to ghost stories and a royal visit

Then, there’s the saga of Leon the Frog. The tale “etched in the ugly concrete stairwell” of the Social Sciences tower chronicles a frog’s search for identity. It was written by arts students back in 1974. “They were sitting in the Den and said, ‘Let’s go write an existential story about a frog.’ So they went and wrote it in indelible black marker in the stairwell!” she says, with a laugh.

You’ll find delightful bits and insightful bobs on every page. There were plenty of protests, a few ghosts (including one who would rearrange the beer bottles at the Faculty Club) and a visits from the Black Panthers, Abbie Hoffman, Prince Charles and Pierre Trudeau amongst others.

Photographs help tell the story — from black-and-white aerial shots of the fields where the university now stands and the official sod-turning “on a freezing-cold day,” to students sporting old-fashioned hairdos and classic clothing across the decades. The publication was designed by Vishu Mahajan, director of creative services in University Relations (Marketing), incorporating a rich collection of archival photography provided by the Libraries and Cultural Resources team.

'The university insisted on growing and becoming more sophisticated'

More than just a collection of nostalgia, the book tells the story of Calgary’s dogged determination to create its own university.

“It goes back as far as the late 1800s,” van Herk says. “We would never have had this university if the city had not been determined to build a place of higher learning.”

That resolve has never wavered. “In the '60s and '70s, there were pretty much just those two Kleenex boxes of Science A and Admin,” she says. “The university insisted on growing and becoming more sophisticated, always with an eye to exceptionally high-quality teaching and groundbreaking research. And, always with an eye to welcoming change.”

The Age of Audacity: 50 Years of Ambition and Adventure at Calgary’s Own University is available at the UCalgary Bookstore in-store or online for $30.

By Jennifer Allford, orginally published in UToday May 4, 2016


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