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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.