Okanagan College -
Where determination results in achievement
It was the turn of the last century – 1906 – when a Baptist college affiliated with McMaster University opened its doors to a brand new campus in Summerland called Okanagan College, with 26 students.
The name stuck, but the college didn’t. It would take more than 50 years and much machination of vision and determination for a post-secondary institution to truly take hold.
The turning point came in 1960 when the federal government started offering up funds under the new Technical and Vocational Training Assistance Act which provided provincial governments with up to 75 per cent assistance towards the cost of new buildings and equipment.
Kelowna signed up, and by 1963 B.C. Premier W.A.C. Bennett, himself from Kelowna, opened the $1.7-million B.C. Vocational School – Kelowna, located far from the small city’s downtown core on K.L.O. Road. This marked the beginning of what the region knows today as Okanagan College, and formed the nucleus of what was to come.
Meanwhile, backroom efforts were also underway to expand academic education beyond the confines of the University of British Columbia. The impetus came to a large extent from a single document releases in 1962 – the Higher Education in British Columbia and a Plan for the Future, known as the MacDonald Report.
The report recommended that feeder colleges be built throughout the province. Energized, a group called the Okanagan Regional College Committee formed, and efforts got underway to find a site, and hire a president (who turned out to be Norman Walker of England).
Key to the plan was the passage of a valley-wide referendum to build an $8- million campus in Kelowna.
When the referendum failed by five percentage points, Walker ended up as a casualty, and the board hired a new president – Rowland Grant.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education advised that it would provide financial support - but only for operating costs. With this news, Grant hired retired army colonel John Doerksen as administrator. Grant chose to lease everything from “paper to pencil” as Ross Freake writes in the book OUC Memoirs.
In relatively short order, the College set up shop in Salmon Arm (72 students at the Salmon Arm Senior Secondary), in Vernon (143 students at the Vernon Army Camp barracks), and in Kelowna (165 students at Kelowna Secondary School) for a total of 380 students. Teachers were seconded from the local schools.
By 1971, the College and B.C. Vocational School melded into one entity and the name Okanagan College is officially re-born.
Today, more than 20,000 attend Okanagan College per year, taking courses and programs on site at one of the four campuses, at regional centres in Revelstoke, Summerland and Oliver, and through distance learning.
The next generations
Review the chronology for a summary of significant changes in the subsequent decades.
(Thanks to Ross Freake, author of OUC Memoirs, published in 2005 by Okanagan University College, for providing much of the research.)