The first Baptist settlers arrived in southwestern Manitoba in 1871, and soon after, decided they need a denominational college for Manitoba’s youth. After a failed attempt to open Prairie College in Rapid City, Professor S.J. McKee took over the endeavor but sought to open the college in Brandon after the Canadian Pacific Railway had been established through the Assiniboine Valley. In the meantime, a Toronto industrialist, Mr. William Davies and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Emily Davies, pledges $25,000 in support of opening a Baptist College in Brandon. The two enterprises were merged into one institution. Headed by the Baptist Convention of Manitoba and the North West Territories, and affiliated with McMaster University, Brandon College was born in 1899, and classes began in the same year.
Enrollment sharply decreased in 1916, as more than 200 students served in the first World War. Citing financial reasons, the Baptist Church withdrew their support in 1938, and the college became non-denominational. Brandon College established a Bachelor of Science degree in 1939, and went on to offer the first Bachelor of Music program in Manitoba, added in 1963.
Brandon College ended their affiliation with McMaster in 1939, and became instead associated with the University of Manitoba. On June 5th, 1967, Brandon College received its charter and became Brandon University. The occasion coincided with the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra and the Honorable Angus Ogilvia, while the charter was dated July 1st, 1967 to commemorate the centennial of Canada’s confederation.
BU’s Interim President Dr. Steve Robinson reflects on this transition; “When we were chartered as Brandon University, we took a significant and ambitious step in our continuing growth. It was a period of progress, with new buildings and new programs laying the foundations for today’s success,” he says the 50-year anniversary is “an opportune moment for us to reflect on the accomplishments of the past 50 years, on the traditions of Brandon College, and on our opportunities and ambition as we embark on a new period of growth.”
This year, homecoming weekend (October 13th – 15th) welcomed back over 200 alumni from many graduating classes, particularly Brandon College’s last graduating class, the class of 1967. In honor of the milestone, a permanent exhibit opened on the Saturday of homecoming weekend to celebrate significant people and artifacts related to the history of Brandon College; the exhibit will feature 11 portraits of people who shaped the development of the school, as well as the Senior and Lady sticks and the World War I Nominal Roll. Awards from the Brandon University Senate were given to five deserving alumni; Ben Dietschi received the Distinguished Young Alumni Award; Elder Gordon Williams received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Community Service; Dr. Lynn Whidden received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Career Achievement; Dr. Anthony Chow received the Wall of Fame Award; and Elder Doris Pratt received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Class of 1965 used Homecoming weekend to announce the initiation of a new scholarship, and the class of 1967 marks their 50th anniversary with the creation of the Class of ’67 Bursary. Director of Advancement and Alumni Affairs at BU, Carla Eisler points out the significance of such a milestone; “This year was very special as it provided us with the opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our final Brandon College Graduating class. We’re already looking forward to building on this year’s success as 2018 Homecoming will mark a 50-year reunion for Brandon University’s first class of graduates.”
In addition to homecoming weekend, the next 12 months will commemorate the anniversary at other events in the academic calendar. The celebrations will culminate at next year’s homecoming and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first class to convocate from the newly-charted Brandon University. BU has also unveiled a blue and gold logo that will be emblazoned across campus that celebrates connections between the 1967-68 academic year and the present. In a series of publications, BU will spotlight 50 years of faculty, student, athletic, and alumni accomplishments. The Brandon University Foundation launched a fundraising drive for the Brandon College Heritage Fund that seeks to celebrate and preserve the history of Brandon College.
Robinson reflects on the impact of the BU community; “This goes far beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact produced by BU every year. Research here advances and create new knowledge, creative and scholarly works both delight and inform us all, and our graduates enrich our culture and our communities as engaged citizens with meaningful careers.” He says, “Brandon University makes a tremendous impact every single day. Our students, faculty, staff and alumni make essential contributions here on campus and to the vibrancy of our communities”.
Development Officer in BU’s Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations, Shawna English adds that BU’s 50th anniversary is also a time for considering the future; “Just as we take the opportunity to look back this year, many of our alumni and donors also tell us that reflecting on the past inspires them for the future. We are humbled when alumni share with us that their time at Brandon College or Brandon University prepared them for future success, and honored to help them contribute to the success that awaits our current students.” Robinson adds that, “becoming a chartered university brought with it the benefits of autonomy, allowing us to govern and award our own degrees and to nimbly respond to community needs through research and new programming. It was a time of tremendous change and growth for post-secondary education in Canada, and Brandon University is embracing similar change right now.” With the acquisition of new property downtown, and a new Campus Master Plan, Brandon University will continue to grow and thrive.