Three College Principals Mount Royal History Series

Mount Royal University has a long history that stretches back over 100 years to the founding of Mount Royal College in downtown Calgary in 1910. As part of our mandate, the Mount Royal University Archives and Special Collections preserves and makes publicly accessible records of enduring value that document this history. While early historical records have been part of the Archives for decades, the vast majority of the college records are undescribed and have only been accessed by MRU community members 'in the know'. This display brings some of these undescribed records to light, and focuses on the early decades of Mount Royal, by examining the impact of the then-college’s first three principals, the position equivalent to today’s President.

Reverend Dr. George William Kerby
Photographs of Dr. George Kerby (left) and Emily Kerby (right) in front of the original Mount Royal College building in downtown Calgary. P433 and GP415 Mount Royal Archives and Special Collections, General Photograph Collection.

George Kerby was a captivating Methodist minister and the founder and first Principal of Mount Royal College. Dr. Kerby was originally from Ontario and moved to Calgary in 1903 to accept a ministry position at the growing Central Methodist Church (later the Central United Church). Both Dr. Kerby and his wife, Emily Spencer Kerby, were involved in local community organizations and helped to build a new church to support the growing congregation. While he was deeply committed to ministry work, Dr. Kerby started to focus on social and educational issues. He conceived of the idea of a private college that would serve the religious and educational needs of Calgary's youth. Together with a group of Calgary's leading Methodists, Dr. Kerby submitted a charter to the Province of Alberta in 1910 to establish such a school in Calgary. The charter was granted on December 16, 1910 and Mount Royal College opened on September 5, 1911. The original Mount Royal campus was located at 1128 7th Avenue SW in downtown Calgary, where it remained until 1972 when it relocated to its current location at Lincoln Park.

Pages from The Broken Trail: A Pastor's Experience in Western Canada by George Kerby, 1909. The Broken Trail recounts Kerby's experiences as a minister in Western Canada and highlights his social concerns. It was shortly after the publication of The Broken Trail that Kerby decided to leave the ministry and found a college in Calgary. T054 - The Broken Trail: A Pastor's Experience in Western Canada

In the Beginning

George and Emily Kerby were instrumental in developing the vision, mandate, and curriculum for Mount Royal College, and established the college’s early reputation. The early years were filled with ups and downs as the college endeavoured to serve both high school and college students. The college also struggled financially in the early years, and particularly during the First World War; at one point, Dr. Kerby had to garnish his own salary to maintain college operations. His wife, Emily Spencer Kerby, who taught high school, religious education classes, and supervised several student organizations, also refused to take any remuneration for the work she did for the college. The images below depict the original college building and provide insight into the early student experience.

A postcard depicting students enrolled in the Commercial Department, one of the original courses of study for college-stream students. The department was divided into commercial and stenographic divisions and trained clerks, stenographers, typists, bookkeepers, and accountants.T028-G1030.02 Mount Royal Archives and Special Collections, General Photograph Collection
Photograph of the original fine arts room. The fine art program began in 1912 and offered instruction in painting, drawing, leather tooling, wood carving, metal work, and china painting T484-Handbook Photos
Image of the original library from a brochure advertising Mount Royal College to prospective students. T484-Handbook Photos
Photograph of women preparing a meal in the basement kitchen of the original Mount Royal College building. T028-P441 Mount Royal Archives and Special Collections, General Photograph Collection

Background Image: T028-G517 Mount Royal Archives and Special Collections, General Photograph Collection. Male students on the steps of the original college building, popularly known as the Barn.

Dr. Kerby retired in 1942 after serving as MRC’s Principal for 31 years. Of the original downtown campus, only the Kerby Memorial Building, built in 1947 at 1133 7th Avenue SW, remains. The building is now a community center for seniors but, along with the adjacent C-Train station, has retained the Kerby name in honour of the impact the couple had on Calgary. T027-G524 - Mount Royal Archives and Special Collections, General Photograph Collection
Reverend Dr. John Henderson Garden

Mount Royal College's early commitment to religious education can be seen in Dr. Kerby's replacement, the Reverend John Henderson Garden, a United Church minister, former army Captain, and one of Mount Royal's first students. Dr. Garden served as Principal from July 1942 until December 1958 and led the college during another period of change and growth. During his time as Principal, Mount Royal expanded course and program offerings, built additional buildings to accommodate its expanding enrollment, and laid the groundwork for the transition from a private college to a public institution.

Photograph of Dr. John Garden taken from the 1942 Varshicom Yearbook

While Mount Royal College struggled to stay afloat during the First World War, World War II actually simulated enrollment and provided a financial boost. As a veteran of World War I, Garden was a strong supporter of the war effort. Mount Royal students were encouraged to help through designated courses of study and volunteer organizations. For example, it was mandatory for female students in university classes (and voluntary for high school students) to join the Women's War Services, in which they learned "...drill, Red Cross service, canteen duty, First Aid and A.R.P. [Air Raid Precautions] work" (MRC Academic Calendar 1943-1944). Male students over 17 could join the Mount Royal 18th University Air Training Corps R.C.A.F. squadron, which Garden led as Squadron Leader. University Air Training Corps students received regular air force clothing and equipment and were trained in drill, navigation, signals, airmanship, first aid, math, and flying.

The Rolls of Honour list the names of Mount Royal College students, faculty, and staff who served in the World Wars. Dr. Garden's name can be found on the World War I roll on the far left. OS-0061, OS-0062, and OS-0063.

After the war, returning veterans contributed to swelling student enrollment numbers, causing them to almost triple from 1942 to 1958. This growth was also due to aggressive marketing and recruitment strategies implemented by Garden. Mount Royal advertised widely and sent field representatives to visit high schools all over Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan to recruit students.

Advertisements highlighting Mount Royal's affiliation with the University of Alberta. From the 1945 Varshicom Yearbook (left) and 1955 Varshicom Yearbook (right).

Other big draws for students, and a major focus of Garden's term as Principal, were new university transfer classes and a university affiliation. Mount Royal began offering select two-year diploma courses through affiliation with a degree-granting university. At the end of their two years at MRC, students could graduate with a two-year diploma or transfer their credits to a university to finish a four-year degree. Garden billed transfer classes as a way to assist students who didn't meet university admission requirements out of high school. Initially, he approached the University of Alberta in 1942 to propose an affiliation for offering first year engineering transfer courses, but the university was hesitant and only signed a temporary agreement due to wartime urgency.

The affiliation agreement with the University of Alberta lasted until 1959 but it was a contentious relationship from the start. The University of Alberta frequently tried to prevent Mount Royal from entering into affiliation agreements with other institutions, and tried to impose control over faculty credentials and curriculum. Affiliation with the University of Alberta granted MRC prestige and increased the college profile, but difficulties in maintaining Mount Royal's autonomy made the relationship ultimately untenable. As a result of its experience with the University of Alberta, Mount Royal restructured its university courses and pursued affiliation with several American universities, which allowed MRC a greater level of freedom.

An invitation and program for the 1951 convocation ceremony. Even though the majority of graduates are high school students or graduating from MRC programs, the President of the University of Alberta is prominent in the ceremonies, opening the program and addressing the audience before Garden. T115 - 1951 Convocation program and invitation
The Dr. John H. Garden Memorial Garden, located in the courtyard west of Kerby Hall, is a place for quiet contemplation on campus, and is dedicated to Dr. Garden and his contribution to Mount Royal College. T028 -P646 - Mount Royal Archives and Special Collections, General Photograph Collection
Dr. William John (Jack) Collett

Jack Collett became Principal in January 1959 and served until 1967. Like his predecessors, Dr. Collett was a former minister, and had worked throughout southern Alberta before becoming an instructor in Mount Royal College’s Evening College in 1947. Collett's vision for Mount Royal College was in many ways a continuation of Dr. Kerby's, in his focus on community and social issues, education as a form of ministry, and promoting the community college model.

Image of Jack Collett from his first year as Principal of Mount Royal College from the 1960 Varshicom Yearbook.

The 1960s saw a sharp increase in the variety and scope of the programs and courses offered by Mount Royal College. Courses were added in petroleum land-management, radio and TV broadcasting, journalism, interior design, speech arts, and physical education. Collett also led a large expansion of the Business Administration Program, which contributed over 40% of the college's tuition revenue by 1965. Some of these new programs, such as the two year nursing diploma, were unique in Canada at the time and helped pave the way for future educational reforms.

Photos of the 1969-1970 Diploma Nursing class, a nursing pin, and an advertisement for the first year intake of nursing students. The diploma nursing program began in 1967 and continued until 1993 when it transitioned into the Calgary Conjoint Nursing Program. Eventually Nursing became Mount Royal's first baccalaureate degree program in 2007. Top to bottom: T028-P1052 - Nursing pin; 0229-01- Newspaper Clippings; 0121-04- Class Portraits 1968-1970

Collett's term marked the final years of Mount Royal College's time as a private college. Despite fundraising, new programs, and increased student enrollment, Mount Royal faced increasing financial pressure as well as heavy competition from subsidized public institutions. These factors finally forced the college to abandon its private mandate and on 18 April 1966, the Alberta Legislature passed the Mount Royal Junior College Act that officially made MRC a public institution. While Collett and the Board of Governors struggled with the loss of the college’s connection to the United Church, students appeared to welcome the change as it led to an end to mandatory morning chapel service and religious education classes.

While Mount Royal was a private college, students participated in morning prayers, special events in the chapel, and had to attend religious education classes. However, by the mid 1960s, Mount Royal College was moving away from direct religious influence, and instead focused on promoting an atmosphere of 'social gospel' and general Christian values. The Reflector - September 27, 1966

While Jack Collett was popular among Mount Royal students and provided leadership during the transition to a public institution, the end of his term was marred by confusion and upheaval. In the spring of 1967 the Board of Governors unexpectedly dismissed Collett as Principal, throwing the campus into uproar. Students in particular were enraged by Collett's dismissal and the Board’s lack of transparency. They quickly mobilized, organizing a petition and protests on campus and downtown to demand an explanation. Faculty members were also confused by the Board's decision and the communication announcing Collett's dismissal. Under pressure, the Board finally issued a statement claiming that Collett was being dismissed due to "...his handling of certain financial matters" (MRC Board minutes July, 1967). However, it seems that at least part of the Board's motivation was to free up the position for someone they thought better equipped to pilot the college in its new role as a public institution, including leading the increasingly fraught-negotiations with the City of Calgary and the provincial government for a new campus location.

The Reflector, the campus student newspaper, began in February 1960 and was a crucial platform for the student voice on campus. The editors of The Reflector took the lead in reporting on Collett's dismissal and voicing student concerns. Left to right: The Reflector- March 31, 1967; The Reflector - February, 1960
Contact Us

Many of the records highlighted in this exhibit come from Mount Royal College yearbooks and academic calendar, which can be searched and accessed in digital format online in the Mount Royal University Publication Collection. If you would like to learn more about the history of Mount Royal and its earliest Principals, please visit the Archives and Special Collections on the 4th floor of the Riddell Library and Learning Centre or contact us at archives@mtroyal.ca.