Pioneering Malaspina College, 1962-1969
Once government approval was given for community colleges, it was not long before a group of people on Vancouver Island became interested. The prospect of having a college on the Island brought together some very dedicated people. This was a group who believed that all the people of Vancouver Island should have accessibility to an education. This group of visionaries was diverse, ranging from civilians, to school board trustees, to government officials, to educators. In fact, in the final stages of the college formation, all the people of the five participating regions played a role in making the college a reality when they voted for it through a plebiscite on September 30, 1967.
On Vancouver Island, the story starts in Nanaimo on October 24,1962 when a request to the School Board by the local council on education results in the formation of a community college coordinating committee. A month later, on November 28th, School District #68 in Nanaimo, under Trustee Joe Shook, holds a panel discussion on community colleges. They propose that a college study be done. They think a college can be formed either through the already existing Vocational Training School, or by way of a survey carried out in liaison with UBC. The Community Colleges’ Committee holds some informal meetings in the following months.
On May 31, 1963, only six months after the initial panel discussion, a meeting with the Minister of Education takes place. The Minister, Les Peterson, has a number of suggestions for the Committee’s plans. He says that community colleges are for post-high school education only and will not include adult basic education. He says that they may be able to use the facilities of the Vocational Training School (VTS) and the secondary schools until permanent facilities were built. He also mentions that there is an unused 10-20 acre area next to the VTS which eventually may be a suitable location for a permanent college campus. Lastly, he says that the Committee must wait to see how regional colleges perform in other areas before they can go ahead on Vancouver Island. According to the MacDonald Report, this performance evaluation and recommendation for additional institutions might not be anticipated until 1971.
In the following month the Community College Committee had a meeting to plan their next moves. Their first move was to change the term “community college” to “regional college.” This was an important step because it would let people know that the college was intended to serve a number of communities in the larger region of Central Vancouver Island and not just Nanaimo. The province later came to think that the idea of a regional college was indeed a good one. The committee had taken the first step.
The next step was a defining principle that would play an important role in constituting the unique aspect of the regional college. The principle of equal access led the Committee to affirm that the college was to have an open door policy to best serve all students of participating communities. As their next step, the Committee had to arouse interest in surrounding school districts. For a college to be created, it was necessary to have the support of at least one other school district.
As it turned out, there are seven other school districts interested. These are: Cowichan (65), Lake Cowichan (66), Ladysmith (67), Parksville-Qualicum (69), Port Alberni (70), Courtney (71), and Campbell River (72). On July 27, 1964, the Central Vancouver Island Higher Education Coordinating Committee is formed with all nine of the districts represented except for Vancouver Island North. Dr. Roy MacMillan, a Nanaimo dentist and a trustee with district #68 is elected Chairman of the Committee.
Previous to these events, in October of 1962, the districts of Courtenay and Campbell River were talking about a community college in the North Island area. They thought that it would be the next step in education in that area. They had planned to form a joint committee for the Upper Island area but this step was never taken. Instead, they joined forces with the Nanaimo committee, to try to form a college in the region north of the Malahat. As it turns out, these efforts were in vain. In the end, both of these districts declined to participate in the regional district being formed on central Vancouver Island.
Early in the following year, the Committee invites the School Districts 85 (Vancouver Island North), 84 (Vancouver Island West), and 79 (Ucluelet-Tofino) to participate in their work on the same basis as the other school districts. The only one to respond is the Island North District which sends A. Hennigar from Woss Lake as their representative. Roy MacMillan recalls the amount of work this woman put into trying to get her district to participate:
She traveled more than anybody to come to these meetings. She never missed one. She was up at Woss Lake and she had to fly out sometimes. If the weather was bad she would come down in a truck, but she was always there. She was 100% for the college and so was Woss Lake, but they were just too far away and it didn’t work out.
With the addition of A. Hennigar as the Vancouver Island North representative, the Committee now has fourteen members from nine different districts:
Dr. Roy MacMillan Chair, non-voting member, Nanaimo 68
Will Dobson Cowichan, 65
Don Hammond Lake Cowichan 66
Ray Chamberlayne Ladysmith 67
J.E. Whitlam Nanaimo 68
Gordon Chamberlayne Qualicum 69
Pauline Touzeau Qualicum 69
Carl Anshelm Alberni 70
Brian Walker Courtney 71
A. Wilkinson Campbell River 72 (office manager)
Dr. Leonard Marsh UBC sociologist
Bruce Saunders Campbell River 72
A. Hennigar Island North SD 85
J.W.McPherrin Nanaimo 68 (Secretary)
Prior to the Committee’s formation, it is agreed that it is necessary to undertake a comprehensive survey to determine the needs and specifications for a regional college that will serve Vancouver Island. The Faculty of Education at University of British Columbia say they will sponsor the survey and provide some personnel to help carry out the study. As a result, a UBC sociologist, Dr. Leonard Marsh, is appointed to make a report of this survey. By 1965, Part I of the Marsh Report has been completed and is sent to the Minister of Education, the three universities, and to the B.C. School Trustees’ Association. In 1966, Part II is finished and is sent off with Part I to the Academic Board.
In his report, Dr. Marsh suggests that, “the focal centre which comes nearest to equalizing accessibility for the Qualicum-Alberni-Nanaimo-Duncan constellation is approximately 5-10 miles north of Nanaimo.” To accommodate the North Island Region, he suggests that a branch campus be built somewhere between Courtenay and Campbell River. In having a branch campus, the college will be attempting to follow their ‘open-door’ policy, which would ensure that students from all districts in the region have equal access to the college. It is suggested that the college could also conform to this policy by offering travel and living subsidies to students who have to commute to the college or live away from home while attending classes. In an attempt to emphasize their ‘open door’ policy, the Committee invites Powell River District to participate at the meetings. Powell River responds with interest.