THE FIRST AUTUMN OF MY 50 YEAR ASSOCIATION WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY

I will never forget the day and date of my arrival in Calgary from the Toronto Airport with my then-wife Regina Moreno Zachariah (Gina) and Miriam our two-year old daughter. That was also the day we received our “Landed Immigrant” status at Toronto International Airport: Sunday, September 4, 1966. The Calgary Airport was a long two-storey box-like building in contrast to the multi-storey Toronto Airport. In Calgary, we went to a motel located at the junction of Kensington Avenue and what is now Crowchild Trail NW. The location of the motel is now a City of Calgary electricity relay station.

I am probably one of a very few professors alive from 1966 who are lucky enough to participate in UCalgary’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Two others I know are: Ian Adam, professor of English (who arrived in 1960) and Bob Dewar, professor of Psychology (who came in 1965).

I arrived at the university the next day, Monday, and reported to the office of the Department of Educational Foundations (EDFN) in the Faculty of Education to which I had been appointed as Assistant Professor. That office and my first designated office at that time were in Calgary Hall, later renamed Craigie Hall in honour of the late Reverend Professor Peter Craigie. 

I was fortunate to be an academic member of the EDFN; we were historians, philosophers, sociologists and comparative education scholars who brought their disciplinary perspectives to the study of education as an institution and as a teaching and learning process. We saw ourselves as bridges between the humanities/social sciences and education studies. 
Soon after arriving on campus, I took a personal tour of the few buildings and university lands. I had been at the University of Colorado at Boulder which has one of the most beautiful campuses anywhere and at State University of New York, New Paltz which had trees, shrubs and flower beds galore. The best building was the gold-and-black four-storey Library in the middle of the campus. In the autumn of 1966, a fully mature tree was brought from a nearby forest and replanted on the south side of the University Auditorium. That is how bare the campus looked then. Now, we can all be proud of the strikingly verdant campus in spring and summer. 

Unlike later, almost all the students were white and many of them were from surrounding rural areas. Today, one can see all colours of the rainbow in the campus community. Many of the youngsters were the first from their families to come to a university. I remember them as eager and the term papers they wrote were usually of very good quality. I taught courses with names like “Introduction to Education” and “Introduction to Sociology of Education” at the undergraduate level and “Education and International Development” at the graduate level.

In 1967, the year of Canada’s Centennial, the Students’ building was opened. The university community was asked for suggestions for naming the building; one of the strong suggestions was “Harambee House”, the first a Kenyan word meaning pulling together in unity.  It was an indication that, even in its infancy, the UCalgary had a broad international outlook. The building was very appropriately named MacEwan Hall, after a great Alberta statesman and prolific author Grant MacEwan.

At a special convocation ceremony in 1967, Lester B. Pearson, Canada’s Prime Minister and Nobel Prize for Peace winner, received an honoris causa doctorate degree on campus. I was only five feet away from him on the dais at the University Theatre. An honour indeed!
Towards the end of that first week, I received in my office a telephone call. Without identifying himself, the caller asked: “Are you the Mathew Zachariah I knew in Madras Christian College?” I replied: “Are you Titus Mathews, the college basketball team captain?” (I had already seen his name in a “New Appointments” list). He, his wife Sarah and son Titus Jr. met my family that very same night. He, a physicist, had come from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and I had come from New York State. The UCalgary had a very international faculty then, originating from many countries and continents. 

On a lighter note: Our family went to a restaurant whose name appeared to be “Ladies and Escorts.” Then, we noticed that many eating houses had the same name. It then it dawned on us that the sign above a particular door was a separate entrance for… you know who?
The Department Head asked me to produce a brochure about our department to be sent to all Canadian Universities and a select few American universities to attract good graduate students. To give the appearance of a big urban centre, I asked the university photographer to take a picture of Elveden House on Seventh Avenue SW from the bottom up to put on the front cover of the brochure. The intention was to make it seem like a skyscraper. That twenty-floor building was the tallest building in the city at that time!  

As I noted in my book Making Anew My Home: A Memoir (Friesen Press, 2014), I had a wonderful association with UCalgary until I entirely stopped teaching in 2008. I am glad that, in my very small way, I too have contributed to the great strides the University has made since 1966. 

Mathew Zachariah, Professor Emeritus of Education

Photo: Mathew Zachariah receiving President's Internationalization Achievement Award for Lifetime Achievement from Chancellor Dr. William J. Warren in 2002.

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