From the Second World War to the 88′ Winter Olympics, SAIT’s campus has played an important role in Calgary’s academic life, along with the growth of the community at large.
The institute’s rich history has been on the mind of SAIT archivist Karly Sawatzky this fall, as SAIT celebrates its 100th birthday.
The original campus, which was housed at the Colonel James Walker School in Inglewood, was opened to the public in 1916.
The Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA), as it was then known, opened with a focus mainly on the trades or auto-mechanic areas of study.
“When they first opened, they only had 11 students,” said Sawatzky in an interview.
Soon after the institute opened, it was hit with an overwhelming number of student applications, which made it clear that there was going to be a need for a dedicated campus.
“The government was still trying to wrangle together money, and it wasn’t until after World War I that they kind of said, ‘Yeah, we need more space,’” said Sawatzky.
In 1919, there was enough funding to start building what is currently SAIT’s campus on the hill above Riley Park, overlooking downtown Calgary.
“The big driving force was really federal and provincial money that finally gave them the space to build,” said Sawatzky.
The new campus was opened to the public in 1922, with construction on the main brick building, known today as Heritage Hall, being completed.
After the Second World War commenced, all trade students were moved to a temporary location on the Stampede Grounds and the art students were moved to a mansion in the community of Mount Royal, while the main campus was handed over to the Royal Canadian Air Force to serve as a new training school.
Sawatzky explained that when staff and students came back to the campus after the second war, the Royal Canadian Air Force had built what they called ‘H Buildings’ on campus, which included barracks and mess halls.
“We used those buildings until the mid ’60’s when the last one was torn down,” said Sawatzky.
There was a period of growth in the 1950’s, starting with the construction of what is currently the Thomas Riley Building in 1952, and finishing with the opening of the John Ware Building in 1958.
In 1960, PITA was officially renamed the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to differentiate it from the new institution that was being built in Edmonton.
“They named it the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art because they never imagined that there would ever be a need for a second one,” said Sawatzky.
The art department in the institute opened a separate building named Alberta College of Art, which remained a part of SAIT until 1985 when it became its own entity. It was renamed The Alberta College of Art and Design in 1995.
In 1972, SAIT opened the doors to a newly built student residence building, which was named Owasina Hall as a result of a student vote.
“It was an odd building right from the start,” said Sawatzky.
“The floors were offset, and it had elevators that were designed to only stop on every fourth floor, so it wasn’t a very functional building, to begin with.”
SAIT Culinary program alumnus, Barb Hermanson, who graduated in 1989 and lived in Owasina Hall, remembered how she had to take the stairs every time there was a fire alarm pulled in rez.
“We had regular fire alarm pulls where we went down 15 flights of stairs and back about every weekend,” said Hermanson.
The building was also used during the 1988 Olympics, which affected some students.
“We were all asked to leave the building for one to two months to make room for the demonstration athletes,” said Hermanson. “This I found unfair, and still do.”
The demolition of Owasina Hall was completed in 2016 after it was closed to the public due to the presence of asbestos and because of the opening of the two new residence buildings.
“It was taken down brick by brick because of structure and asbestos issues,” said Sawatzky. “The new residence tower opened in 2008.”
The turn of the century brought much new development on the campus.
Heritage Hall, the original building on campus and its signature structure to this day, was refurbished, and was joined to a huge new classroom complex, the Heart Building, which is now called the Stan Grad Centre.
The old one-storey trades buildings, which had remained after the Second War, were demolished to make way for the new classroom complex.
The new automotive school, the Clayton Carroll Building, was opened on the west side of the campus and a new residence, East Tower, went up beside the John Ware Building.
A new underground parkade was built south of Heritage Hall, and the Cohos Commons athletic field, with its artifical turf, was developed on top of the parking structure.
SAIT’s main campus currently boasts 14 buildings, along with approximately 50,000 students, which is quite a few more than the original 11.