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Celebrating 50 years of transformation, innovation and impact

University of Calgary honours the wealth of experience and learning that has come with our first half-century

Like many Calgary success stories, this one has a spirited beginning, an unprecedented growth spurt and a promising future. And after 50 years, the story is only just beginning. 

Campus roots took shape after autonomy was granted 

Even before Alberta became a province in September 1905, the citizens of a very young Calgary were determined to host a post-secondary institution as part of building a great city.

In 1906, the Alberta Normal School (which would later become our own Werklund School of Education) began operations and provided a steady stream of educators for a new province eager to grow and advance quickly. 

When the University of Alberta was founded in Strathcona (now part of Edmonton) in 1908, Calgarians were disappointed with the "branch plant" concept that ensued and lobbied for decades for their own independent institution. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and volunteers joined together to support the cause, with great passion and commitment.

Their dedication was finally rewarded on April 29, 1966 when the University of Calgary was granted autonomy. From there, growth was fast and furious, as a new campus took shape and innovative educators came to Calgary from around the world.  

“Since the beginning, we’ve remained true to this ambitious spirit, growing and evolving with our community as leaders, partners and innovators,” says President Elizabeth Cannon.

“This year we’re celebrating and honouring the contributions and achievements of the many students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and community members who have led us to where we are today.”

Marking milestone with a year-long celebration 

The university’s 50th Anniversary milestone isn’t about a single point in time. It’s a full year of shining a spotlight on how this institution has evolved in tandem with our city, how the shape and spirit of the university reflects the uniqueness of southern Alberta and the distinct needs of its people. Also, it's about how thousands of students find their passion and unleash their potential here, and how the innovation and discovery that happens here directly impact society — close to home and further afield.

Programming and activities will extend from April 2016 to April 2017, with a focus on community engagement and opportunities for conversation about the future. Many of the initiatives planned are intended to amplify the activity already happening on campus rather than supplement it, especially given the current challenging economic times for Alberta. 

“This milestone presents a unique opportunity to engage our community to celebrate what we’ve achieved together,” says Cannon.

“It is important to recognize and celebrate the contributions and achievements of the many students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors who have created this remarkable institution. We have an exciting year of activity ahead and I encourage you to get involved as we set the stage for our next 50 years.”

Look for programs, activities, transformed campus spaces and new website

Programming around the 50th Anniversary begins with a kick-off weekend on April 29 to May 1, 2016. It includes a celebration with our campus family, the employee recognition awards, the official launch of Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High fundraising program, the 2016 Lecture of a Lifetime, and our first-ever Alumni Weekend. Many of the university’s early leaders and their families will be returning to campus that weekend to celebrate with us.

Moving forward through the year, other anniversary programming will integrate with great initiatives already underway on campus and in our city. From Convocation to Orientation and from Stampede to DoorsOpenYYC, you will see evidence of our milestone celebration across a broad range of activities this year.

In preparation for this year, the archives team in Libraries and Cultural Resources collected, digitized and tagged thousands of images, articles and publications from our first 50 years. You can already see some of these showcased on the digital displays on the second floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library.

Others are showcased on a new website — — where you can experience the story of our origins, check out a listing of activity happening throughout the year, add your memories and inspirations to the collection, and consider sharing what you find with a friend. If you have 20 minutes to spare, get some popcorn and watch a video of our first faculty and staff members reflecting on what this place was really like in its early days. 

In the coming weeks and months, you will notice some physical changes to some of our campus spaces. Colourful banners will soon line pedestrian and cycle paths on main campus. We will also be installing a multi-location "Then and Now" campus transformation display coordinated by the Faculty of Environmental Design. Our Grounds team is also preparing to do some special plantings after the spring thaw. We will share details of those activities through social media, and in UToday.

Get involved by volunteering, participating and sharing university pride

You are already involved in this celebration through the work you do, the studies you pursue, the relationships you build, and the pride you demonstrate in this university. Thank you for making this university shine every day.

Originally published in UToday February 22, 2016 

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