At this point, the Committee feels that it would be valuable to have a field representative who would help in disseminating information on the regional college to the participating communities. Committee member J.E. Whitlam is the lucky candidate and is to occupy the position for three months until June 30, 1966. Dr. MacMillan recalls that, “Jack was what I called my ‘field officer’. George McKnight in Port Alberni would get up and say some statement against the college and I would shoot Jack up there to counteract it. The same thing would happen in Parksville.” There are similar troubles in Duncan. Soon, Jack becomes known as the Committee’s ‘trouble-shooter’ and travels extensively throughout the participating districts to rally support for the proposed regional college. In these early stages of development, Whitlam shows great enthusiasm for the college idea and is instrumental in getting the survey initiated and into the hands of Dr. Marsh. In June, he asks Frank Sloat, a Nanaimo vice-principal, to begin a survey in the participating communities to find out what kind of courses will be useful and desired in the region. Many proposals are sent in from citizens and Island businesses.
Finally, in February of the following year, the nine districts involved adopt a by-law asking for a plebiscite date. Two months later, the Council of Public Instruction of the Department of Education sets September 30, 1967 as the official plebiscite date. On that date, the following question was asked of all the voters of the nine regions:
Are you in favour of your school district participating in the establishment and operation of a regional college to serve residents of Vancouver Island, North of the Malahat: the main campus to be located adjacent to , but north of Nanaimo, and branch campuses to be located as soon as they become educationally and economically feasible?
The plebiscite is held and six of the nine districts vote yes! The College region will include Cowichan, Lake Cowichan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville-Qualicum, and Campbell River. The districts of Port Alberni, Courtenay, and Island North will not participate. Initially, because of a clause in the Public Schools Act, there is some difficulty with the fact that Campbell River is not an ‘adjoining’ district. Two months after the plebiscite, the Department of Education gives Campbell River special permission to participate in the college region.
The in-region districts had some advantages over the out-of-region districts. Students in the participating districts eventually receive travel subsidies of $10 a month if they live more than 25 miles away from the campus. A boarding subsidy of $40 a month is offered to in-region students who have to live away from home while going to the college. In addition, to this, the first year of classes will only cost $200 for in-region students whereas out-of-region students pay double that amount.
At this time, Grade 13 still exists in some school districts in B.C. and is thought of as a preparatory year for university. For all in-region districts, Grade 13 will be dropped from the high schools. With college courses to supplement their education, high school students will no longer need Grade 13.
Although the plebiscite has been successful, the Committee waits until some time in 1968 for the Department of Education to take further action to get the College under way. Dr. MacMillan recalls the situation:
We had that hiatus for about a year in about 1968 where nothing was happening. The plebiscite had been passed and we were just waiting for the government to make the college an entity…We phoned and we went down to Victoria for interviews and sessions and finally Jack Whitlam and I got together and we dreamt up a telegram. We sent this to Les Petersen and it said: ‘We can no longer justify the inaction of the government in the formation of a college in this area. The natives are getting restless. Cannot uphold the government’s point of view much longer.’ That did it. Right after that, he phoned me in my office and said, ‘Listen to this.’ He was in the legislative chamber and he held the phone up and I could hear them proclaiming the formation of Nanaimo’s Regional College. They passed it right there.
On July 26, 1968, the Vancouver Island College Coordinating Committee holds their thirtieth and last meeting. On this day, the first College Council is formed (later to be called the College Board) and Jack Whitlam is named as the first Chairman. Roy Macmillan becomes College Councilor. These appointments are fitting, as it is apparent by the words Dr. Marsh bestows on the original Coordinating Committee members in the introduction to his report:
I feel that it is entirely proper that their names should be included on the title pages; and I believe they will agree with me in tendering special thanks to Dr. W. Roy MacMillan for his services as chairman, to Mr. Jack Whitlam for his energy and enthusiasm in initiating the Survey, and to Mr. J. W. McPherrin for his efficient secretaryship.
J.W. McPherrin, the Secretary-Treasurer for the Nanaimo school board, acted in the same capacity for the coordinating committee. When the College Council is formed Oliver E. Neaves, who is from Burns Lake, is brought in to relieve McPherrin of his duties. Neaves is the first employee of the College, beginning his appointment on January 1, 1969. He moves into the College’s temporary office at 460 Wallace Street to start preparing for opening day in the following September.
According to the Public Schools Act, in addition to these three positions the Council must have representatives from: each of the participating districts; the government (2), and a district superintendent. Two other members from the original Coordinating Committee, Bruce Saunders and Don Hammond, are on the Council. So, the first College Council for Malaspina was comprised of the following members:
J.L. Whitlam Chair, Government Representative
Dick Christmas Cowichan 65
Bill Sutherland Lake Cowichan 66
Beatty Davis Ladysmith 67
Dr. MacMillan Nanaimo 68
Peter Mason Qualicum 69
Bruce Saunders Campbell River 72 (withdrew Jan,1969)
Don Hammond L Cowichan, 2nd Government Representative
Harley Abbott Nanaimo, Official District Superintendant
O.E. Neaves Secretary-Treasurer
At the first meeting of the College Council it is decided that the name of the college will be Malaspina College. This name had been decided upon informally by the previous Coordinating Committee at the recommendation of Bruce Saunders.
A Brief History of Commodore Malaspina
The name of the College comes from the explorer Commodore Alejandro Malaspina. He was an Italian explorer working as a naval officer for the King of Spain in the late eighteenth century. Malaspina’s exploits are many, but the most famous was the scientific expedition which he planned, organized, and carried out with two corvettes under his command — Descubierta (Discovery) and Atrevida (Daring). This project was called the “Plan of a Scientific and Political Voyage Around the World”. The expedition brought him to the Pacific Ocean and the west coast of Canada during the five year period, 1789-1794. His name, Malaspina, for the new college seemed appropriate since in a real sense the founding of the college required a scientific and political voyage which was equally creative and audacious, and which charted unknown territory.
During in this period, Malaspina was to search for the Northwest Passage. Using a Spanish outpost at Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island as a home base, he searched for the Northwest Passage along the coast of Alaska as high as Prince William Sound. Of course, he never found it.
He returned to Spain in 1794 with 14,000 plant specimens, 70 artifacts for the Royal Museum, and extensive documentation on political, economic, and social issues in the Pacific Rim. Surely he was justified in believing that his expedition had been a success, but the Spanish authorities did not share his belief and summarily threw him into jail. While on his journey, he urged Spain to abandon their conquest of natives in far-off nations. He also suggested that a Pacific Rim trading bloc be formed by the Spaniards and run from Alcapulco, Mexico all the way up to the upper parts of what is now British Columbia (thus becoming the first proponent of NAFTA!). It was for these unpopular political and economic observations, for his failure to find the Northwest Passage, and for his dealings with the English (he met with Captain Vancouver off Point Grey), that he was thrown in jail. He was imprisoned for eight years without trial and his name was erased from official record. He died on April 9, 1810. His discoveries went relatively unknown until 1885 when Pedro de Novo y Colson published his journal.
In addition to being attributed to Alejandro Malaspina, the Malaspina name had been recognized for hundreds of years as a family which generously supported art and education, as Education Minister, the Hon. D. L. Brothers later notes at the opening ceremonies of the College:
In 1302 after Dante had been exiled from Florence he found little hospitality in other parts of Italy because at that time there were feudal land lords in Italy. They were arrogant and they were ignorant and they cared little for poets, with the exception of the Malaspina family in Italy, whose hospitality was so well known in Italy even in those days that it was noted in troubadour poetry.
“Malaspina” was an appropriate name for this new institution: it suggested daring, hospitality, uniqueness, independence, courage, vision, and discovery.