March 28th, 2017

U of L location a volatile debate 50 years ago

By Lethbridge Herald on January 5, 2017.

Michael Perry speaks on how the the University of Lethbridge ended up being built in the coulees during Thursday's SACPA session. Herald photo by Tijana Martin @TMartinHerald

J.W. Schnarr
Lethbridge Herald
The University of Lethbridge may be an iconic piece of the city’s western skyline now, but there was a time when the location of the U of L was far from certain.
The story of how the university came to the west side of Lethbridge, and some of the controversy surrounding that decision, was the subject of Thursday’s Southern Alberta Council for Public Affairs lunch and discussion,
“What was going on?” Michael Perry, U of L archivist and special collections librarian, asked those in attendance, “There was controversy in town. There was confusion in town of who had the right to make the decision of where the university was going to go. And, eventually, there was cohesion.”
“I think it has had a lot of impact on the community in a lot of ways,” he said. “Economically, that’s pretty obvious. Intellectually, as well. It was an excellent thing for a community of that size back in the day.”
University enrolment in 1968 was just over 1,000 people. Lethbridge Junior College had about 600 students enrolled. The city, meanwhile, had nearly 39,000 residents.
At the time, the university was located at the site of the Lethbridge Junior College (now Lethbridge College).
University administration, faculty, students and the city council viewed the westside as an ideal new site for the university.
The provincial government and several other groups were against the move, going so far as to push for a local plebiscite on the issue.
Student activists took to the streets in protest, first in front of the home of then-Lethbridge MLA Jack Landeryou.
It was during this protest that student president Richard Wutzke and Meliorist editor Arthur Joevenazzo were arrested but ultimately released without charge.
Landeryou was not home at the time, but responded to news of the protest by stating “I thought students went to school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but it appears they go to learn reading, writing and rioting.”
Two days later, another protest took place in Galt Gardens following the convocation ceremony.
Ultimately, the province relented in their push for a plebiscite and the university moved to its current location.
“Way back into the 1960s, there was talk of Lethbridge expanding into the westside anyway,” Perry said. “The time period was very interesting.”
The city has benefitted from westside growth in the long run and the university continues to grow.
“It’s been excellent for the city,” Perry said. “It caused the downtown to be in the centre of town rather than the edge of town, where it was at that time.”
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