50 Archival Documents to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of United College's Transition to the University of Winnipeg
The history of Winnipeg’s downtown campus began well before it received a charter and became the University of Winnipeg in 1967. Its parent institutions were Manitoba College, formed in 1871, and Wesley College, which came into being in 1888. Established by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, these colleges were pioneers in higher education in Manitoba and were part of the initiative that formed the University of Manitoba in 1877.
Located on a 5 acre plot of land in downtown Winnipeg, United College was a small liberal arts College strong in tradition and value and with a close relationship to the United Church. Its high academic standards were within the framework of religion and, according to William Creighton Graham, principal of the college from 1946-1955, the task of the college was to “permeate the social atmosphere with an appreciation of the Christian view of values by liberal methods” and to be “a valuable instrument of the Christian faith.” (1)
The identity of United College was a product of its small campus and classes, closeness and cooperation between students and faculty, and the family feel of the College. Concern about maintaining the identity and independence of the small college was prevalent amid the growth that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century.
After the Second World War ended, enrollment at United College increased exponentially, and continued growth was anticipated for the years to follow. There was immediate need for an expansion to provide new classrooms, student spaces, and a library to accommodate growth. The "old site question" about whether to remain and expand on the downtown site or to move the College to the Fort Garry campus or another location required attention before new buildings could be planned for and constructed. (2)
The question of where the United College campus would be best located remained a topic of discussion throughout the following decade.
In 1945, students voted on whether United and its affiliated colleges should remain downtown, or if a unified university should make its home on the Fort Garry campus. Results were a two-to-one decision to remain on the downtown site. Further proposals were made and considered for a permanent downtown site on Broadway or Wellington Crescent. In 1948 another motion was made to relocate to the Fort Garry site, again “in the interests of the college’s future and of a unified university."
In 1949, the City made an offer to purchase the Portage campus for a new city hall. In response to this offer, a plot of land South and West of Omand’s Creek was selected and the college made near certain plans to make that its new campus. At the last minute, Winnipeg voters defeated the move, and the College remained on its historic downtown site. (3)
The creation of new and usable spaces was necessary on the United College campus. The existing old building had been planned to accommodate 300 students, and by the late 1940s enrollment numbers had neared 1000. Off-campus locations were being rented in which to hold classes and students were “only tolerating the inadequate space.”
Unfortunately United College was under severe financial constraints and could not afford to build new facilities. A Building Campaign Fund was launched in 1947 with the objective of raising money for a much needed Theological and General Library Building. This was the first step in a ‘master plan’ for the future of United College. (4)
The building fund campaign and future expansions progressed as the number of students continued to grow and still more space was required. A student centre and gymnasium were planned, to be dedicated as a memorial to more than 200 students and alumni of Manitoba, Wesley, and United Colleges who gave their lives in defense of freedom in the two World Wars. (5)
Efforts were made to support the student body of United College and to make resources available to students. A student union was recommended for the enrichment of student life, and relationships with faculty and the student community were considered essential to the College’s family life and the values that continued to characterize the institution.
In 1956, proposals for United College’s relocation to the Fort Garry campus came up for serious consideration once again. The affiliated colleges, St. John’s and St. Paul’s, moved to the Fort Garry campus, leaving United College isolated as the only institute of higher education in downtown Winnipeg.
Rising university enrollments were predicted for the 1960s across Canada, and United College administration was made to consider where the College might best serve its purpose for the future. A Committee on Policy and Building was formed to study the question, and concluded by recommending the College remain on the Portage Avenue campus. Reasons included the cost of new buildings on the Fort Garry site, the convenient and central location of the college and importance of keeping an institution of higher education in downtown Winnipeg, and fear of losing independence and identity as a small college and being absorbed into the larger university.
At one point it appeared that the College would move to Fort Garry together with St. Paul’s and St. John’s, when in 1958 a final decision in favour of remaining in United’s historic downtown position was made.
Once it had been officially decided that the campus would remain downtown, plans for how to make the available space on campus usable for future expansions moved forward. A new arts and science building, extension to the library, renovation of the main building, a students’ union and gym, and additional residences were scheduled for construction in the upcoming years. (6)
This video created in the mid-1960s surveys the seven buildings that existed on campus at this time and shows the new spaces that had been created to meet the growth of United College in recent years. In his narration of the film, Dr. Wilfred Cornell Lockhart, Principal of United College (1955-1967), and of the University of Winnipeg thereafter, points out that the buildings on campus comfortably facilitated the 2500 students enrolled at this time, and that new common spaces allowed for students and staff to mingle, develop valuable relationships, and enjoy campus life. The 1960s video also highlights the traditions that were important to United College, and the many opportunities and resources available to students as a result of the College’s facilities.
Some of the unity of students and small family feel so previously familiar to United College was lost as a result of the new buildings, larger numbers of students, transforming curriculum, and other changes that occurred on campus. Anticipating even more growth, in the early 1960s Principal Lockhart posed the question “How large should United College Grow?”
There was an awareness that if United College continued to grow and accept increasingly large numbers of students, a loss of traditions and identity that had long been important to the small downtown campus would be inevitable. Nevertheless, the priority of the College was to determine its best contributions to higher education in Manitoba in the upcoming years. While it maintained that “intellectual competence may indeed accompany religious commitment,” the purpose of the College was not to be a “post graduate Sunday school,” but to match its intellectual discipline with other Canadian institutions of higher learning. (7)
The alternatives for United College were to either limit enrolment for the future to avoid otherwise necessary further expansions to the campus, or to create a plan for increasing enrolment and expansion for the following decade.
Growth for Canadian universities and colleges was predicted to be “extraordinary” throughout the 1960s, and by 1963, Lockhart reported that university administrators across the country were already “frantically trying to procure funds necessary for buildings to house the oncoming horde.” (8)
Lockhart called for the creation of a Study Commission on higher education in Manitoba to consider the future and growth of United College. The Council on Higher Learning was established in 1965 to assess higher education in Manitoba and to make recommendations for its future.
Meanwhile, the students of United College had for years debated whether to continue their relationship with the University of Manitoba Student Union or to establish a student government independent of the U of M. Because of the distance from their own campus, students of United College felt they were not benefiting from the connection to UMSU. In light of United College’s substantial growth in past years, the United College Students Association chose to officially withdraw their membership from UMSU in 1964.
While United College had always been an affiliated college of the U of M and attempted to have a useful relationship with the larger institution, United’s growing student body and faculty and isolation as the sole campus downtown caused the Board of Regents to agree with the students’ decision to become independent of UMSU. The action taken by the student body was indicative of the future direction of the entire institution. (9)
The second half of the twentieth century saw enormous cultural growth and resulting changes in Canada. Alongside the ending of the Second World War, a sense of unity and nationalism became prevalent, and Canadian culture began to receive a great deal of attention by the general public and the government.
These changes included increased funding for Canadian universities through federal grants and a change in the way members of the public viewed higher education. More people wished to attend college than before, the result of a shift from “an ‘aristocratic’ conception of education, where only the financial, social, or intellectual elite found it possible to obtain a university degree, toward the more ‘democratic’ concept of education wherein education to the highest level of his ability is regarded as a basic right of every citizen.” Additionally, the first wave of the post-war Baby Boom came of age for university in the mid-1960s. (10)
Universities expanded across the country to accommodate growing numbers of students, and new institutions were created to take some of the weight off of existing institutions.
In the years 1965-1967, much attention was directed towards United College’s possible emergence as a new university. Although they did not press for University status, the Board of Regents, Senate, administration and the faculty of the College made known that they would welcome the opportunity to become a new university. They concluded that the size and resources of the College would justify it and that such a step would enable the College to “fulfill its destiny better in the heart of downtown Winnipeg.” (11)
Throughout a 90 year history, the direction of post-secondary education in Manitoba had been towards achieving “one university” under the U of M. All colleges in Manitoba had been affiliated colleges of the U of M, but this system had become difficult to maintain. As a result of the significant growth in enrollment and partly in celebration of Canada’s Centennial year, Manitoba’s government passed the Universities Establishment Act in 1967 to transform United College and Brandon College into the University of Winnipeg and Brandon University respectively. (12)
On April 24, 1967, following the recommendation of the Council on Higher Learning, the Minister of Education announced that United College would become a university. United College was established as the University of Winnipeg on July 1, 1967.
The new university changed in name and status only. Its relationship with the United Church remained the same. The University also maintained its Faculty of Theology and Collegiate division, while the Arts and Science faculty were designated as the major portion of the new institution.
New prospects for the University of Winnipeg included the potential to take advantage of its unique opportunity to expand in the metropolitan heart of Winnipeg and to play a specific role in urban life. (13)
This film titled ‘Change and Challenge’ was recorded shortly after the University of Winnipeg received its charter, and offers a glimpse of the early days at the University of Winnipeg.
Although the change was welcomed, the decision to become a university was made only months before the new school year began and left the University with little time to plan for the future. While the Council on Higher Learning had been contemplating the role of the College, plans for the future had been placed on hold and it had been impossible for expansions to be made. Thus, upon becoming a university, plans for future growth and the immediate construction of new buildings were a priority (14).
Following the transition from college to university, a decrease in enrolment had been expected. Contrary to those expectations, a larger number of students than anticipated enrolled for the 1967-1968 school year. This brought unexpected pressures upon the University’s space and faculty before it had even begun to adjust to its new status. The first year for the University was unfortunately characterized by temporary solutions and arrangements to find space that simply did not exist (15).
A two -part report examining the potential role, size, and development of the University of Winnipeg by Reid, Crowther & Partners, Ltd. was published in 1967. The Reid Crowther plan was intended to take the University into the twenty-first century, and made suggestions for how the University might make the best of its unique downtown location (17).
Working within the original site was the cheaper and faster solution for immediate expansion to the University. A “groundscraper” rising over existing buildings and creating usable space between them was proposed by University of Manitoba School of Architecture graduate Lewis Morse. The plan was affordable, did not require the purchase of additional land, allowed for the University to function normally during the period of construction, and, because it rose above existing buildings, also preserved the older buildings and thus the history of United College. (18)
The design for Centennial Hall was considered revolutionary. The futuristic-looking megastructure was to be composed of flexible and open indoor and outdoor spaces, exposed structural and mechanical elements, transparent glass walls, and a colourful interior. The building gained international recognition and admiration (19).
The open, flexible, and transparent design of Centennial Hall was thought to be clearly reflective of the mandate of the University in the 1970s, which was "to be an accessible university, to remain downtown, [and for] the community to feel welcome…” (20). The interior of Centennial Hall was to be evocative of an urban environment with pedestrian corridors and colourful directional signs leading students to central meeting places and indoor and outdoor courtyards filled with natural light. Centennial Hall was designed as a thriving and youthful mini-city within the larger city of Winnipeg. (21)
As an urban-based university, the University of Winnipeg wished to integrate into its surrounding community and play a role in the revitalization of downtown Winnipeg. In light of this goal, a feasibility study for the establishment of an Institute of Urban Studies was initiated in 1967. The Institute was founded in 1969 under the direction of Lloyd Axworthy, Assistant Professor in Political Science. The University-based urban institute was “designed to act as an outreach of the University into the urban community,” and set out to explore new and better solutions to urban problems, widen community understanding of urban issues, and provide training and education in those areas. (22)
During the years of transition from United College to University of Winnipeg, students in Canada and across the world expressed their discontent with the system of higher education and called for more democratic universities in which the total university community could be involved in decisions affecting students and the futures of those institutions.
The students of the University of Winnipeg, while not as violent or riotous as those elsewhere, made known their displeasure with “oppressive and repressive” faculty in the student newspaper; called for a new constitution for the University of Winnipeg Student Association (UWSA) and objected when the Board of Regents withheld its approval, and expressed their wishes for student participation and responsibility in the University government and in decision making processes. (23)
In 1968, Principal Lockhart recommended student representation at the committee levels of the University of Winnipeg government, where “ideas are shared and the most constructive interchange takes place” in the hopes that students might become familiar with the processes and make an impact in their 3 years of enrollment. Although students maintained that they wished for representation on the University Senate, they allowed that their representation as students would be most influential through continuous dialogue and discussion at the committee level. (24)
Throughout the period of ‘the turbulent campus,’ Lockhart remarked that the traditions of the University of Winnipeg, such as openness, mutual respect, and free exchange of opinion between faculty, administration and students, were “still functioning fairly effectively.” Students agreed by admitting: “We likely have the best communication with our administration of any university in Canada.” (25)
Nevertheless, Lockhart acknowledged that “much of the intimacy and friendliness between faculty and students, which had been in existence, were sacrificed” to the growth of the university and “to the inevitable march of what we call ‘progress.’” He cited this de-personalization of university life as one undoubted source of the student unrest of the time. (26)
A 100th Birthday Party was planned in October of 1971 in honour of the University of Winnipeg’s centennial year as an institution of higher education in Winnipeg, and to mark the installation of Dr. Henry Edmison Duckworth as the second principal of the University. Celebrations commemorated the beginnings of Manitoba College in 1871 and the teaching institution’s history over 100 years in Winnipeg, and also looked forward to the bright and continuing future of the University of Winnipeg as it moved into its second century.
A Cavalcade tracing the University of Winnipeg’s history through Winnipeg ushered in the spirit of the centennial celebrations on October 8, which was named ‘Proclamation Day.’ This video shows the Cavalcade, which included a Birthday Float and antique cars carrying the University of Winnipeg principal, alumni, and dignitaries. The parade began with a visit to the mayor at city hall to receive a proclamation declaring October 10-17, 1971 to be University of Winnipeg Week. It proceeded to Nisbett Hall in Old Kildonan, the original site of Manitoba College when it was founded in 1871, and also called at St. Boniface College, St. John’s College, St. Paul’s College, and the University of Manitoba.
The official 100th birthday party of the University of Winnipeg was October 16, 1971, and consisted of shows and entertainment on the campus, rides and other activities for children, a luncheon in honour of Mr. and Mrs. Duckworth at the Hotel Fort Garry, the installation ceremony of Duckworth as principal, and evening entertainment at Kildonan Park in the forms of a concert, BBQ, and riverboat cruises.
Dr. Henry Edmison Duckworth’s address on the occasion of his installation as the second Principal of the University of Winnipeg acknowledged the simple countryside beginnings of Manitoba College and the growth of the institution into an urban University, and pointed to his intentions and the future of the University of Winnipeg with his adoption of the motto “The City is our Campus.”
Duckworth emphasized the advantages and potential of the downtown location of the University by outlining the University at Noon program, which would offer university courses in central locations off campus; the relationships formed with the city through students uses of city resources such as museums and archives; and plans for community athletic programs, which would invite the community onto the campus.
Principal Duckworth stated in his inaugural address: “It is not that we have survived a century, we have completed a century and we’re bursting into the next one!”
Although many of the traditions and some of the identity of the small liberal arts college in downtown Winnipeg were lost as it received its charter and grew into an urban university, new identity and purpose were discovered as the University of Winnipeg claimed its unique position in downtown Winnipeg and committed itself to the surrounding community.
1. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-1, Annual Reports, File 2. Report of the Principal, June 1947, p. 6.
2. Bedford, A.G, The University of Winnipeg, Volume I: A History of the Founding Colleges, 2nd ed. (Winnipeg: The University of Winnipeg Press, 2009), 269.
3. Bedford, 270-273.
4. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-1, Annual Reports, File 2. Report of the Principal, June 1950, p. 4-5; University of Winnipeg Archives UC-16-4, Building Fund, File 1. Building Fund Campaign News, 29 January, 1949.
5. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-1, Annual Reports, File 2. Report of the Principal, June 1951, p. 4.
6. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-1, Annual Reports, File 3. The Report of the Principal of United College, Winnipeg, June 1957, p. 9; Bedford, p. 337)
7. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports. The Principal’s Report, 1959-1960, p.8-9; University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports.The Principal’s Report, 1962-1963, p. 1-3 , 14-15,
8. The Principal’s Report 1962-1963, p. 1
9. Bedford, 368.
10. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports. The Principal’s Report, 1964-1965, p. 1.
11. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports. The Principal’s Report, 1965-1966, p. 5.
12. Smith, Dan. “Manitoba’s Post-Secondary System since 1967: Stability, Change and Consistency.” Canadian Journal of Higher Education 41, no. 1 (2011): 51.
13. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports. Report of the Principal, 1966-1967, p. 1-6.
14. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports. Addendum to the Report of the Principal of United College, Winnipeg, 1966-1967, p. 5-6.
15. Addendum to the Report of the Principal of United College, Winnipeg, 1966-1967, p. 4-5.
16. University of Winnipeg Archives AC-26-2, Annual Reports. Annual Report, 1970-1971, p. 7.
17. University of Winnipeg Archives UW-2-1, Development Plans for the University of Winnipeg 1967-1983. “Interim Report of the Examination of Potential Role, Size and Campus Development of United College at Winnipeg, Manitoba,” 26 June 1967; Addendum to the Report of the Principal of United College, Winnipeg, 1966-1967, p. 6.
18. Keshavjee, Serena, “The Campus as City: Centennial Hall at the University of Winnipeg.” Winnipeg Modern: Architecture 1945-1975, ed. Serena Keshavjee (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2006), 107-108.
19. Keshavjee, 110-111.
20. Davie, Emma, “Building up from Rothesay,” Telegraph-Journal , (September 20, 2016): S4-5.
22. Annual Report, 1968-1969, p. 5-6, University of Winnipeg Archives, AC-26-2; Annual Report, 1969-1970, p. 6-7, University of Winnipeg Archives, AC-26-2.
23. Sayeau, Tim, “The Complete (so far) History of the University of Winnipeg Students Association, 1967-1995,” p. 91-106. University of Winnipeg Rare Book Room, LE 3 W65.S28 1996 c.2.
24. Sayeau, p. 106; University of Winnipeg Archives AC-37-1, Public Relations Press Releases, File 1. Press Release: U of M President Defines Student Role in Government.
25. Sayeau, p. 106
26. Annual Report, 1969-1970, p. 2-3, Annual Report, 1970-1971, p. 1.
27. University of Winnipeg Archives UW-3-2, Centennial Celebration 100th Birthday Party, File 3. Winnipeg Free Press, October 18, 1971, p. 3.
28. Matthes, Daniel, “A Living Test Tube: Examining Fifty Years as an Urban University,” The University of Winnipeg News Centre, July 14, 2017, http://news-centre.uwinnipeg.ca/all-posts/a-living-test-tube-examining-fifty-years-as-an-urban-university/, accessed August 23, 2017.
Researched, written, and curated by Chantel Fehr, August 2017.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial contribution of the Government of Canada and the Manitoba Department of Sport, Culture and Heritage in the creation of this exhibit.