History of U of L

Owen Holmes's Come Hell or High Water outlines the founding of the University of Lethbridge. 

  • Online (via University Archives)
  • In print at the UofL Library

See U of L Campus Master Plan, menu item Planning History


On September 11, 1967 more than 650 students attended the first day of classes at the new University of Lethbridge. The highly debated and much - anticipated University was the culmination of five years of effort by local citizens. After a government announcement in 1966 proclaiming Lethbridge as the site of Alberta's third University, the final steps were taken to turn a dream into reality.

The new liberal arts university found its first home on the campus of the Lethbridge Junior College, offering Faculty of Education and Faculty of Arts and Science programs. In September of 1967, students received the first copy of The Meliorist, the University of Lethbridge student newspaper. Later that year the University accepted its first art donation. Moses, a sculpture by Sorel Etrog, was selected by Van Christou at Expo 67 and donated to the University by the House of Seagram Ltd.

Throughout the fall of 1967 and the spring of 1968, University officials, Lethbridge citizens, and Alberta Government representatives continued to debate over a permanent site for the University. On May 18, 1968, following the University's first convocation ceremonies at Southminster Church, more than 500 students, faculty and community members held a protest march in support of the proposed west side site. After a lengthy and often emotional debate, a decision was made to relocate the campus from the college site to a new west side location.

By the fall of 1969 the University of Lethbridge was ready to break new ground. On September 5th, at a ceremony on the west bank of the Oldman river, Premier Harry Strom turned the sod for the new University of Lethbridge campus. It would be the first of many sod-turning ceremonies over the next 40 years as the University continued to expand and evolve.


The 1970s marked a decade of growth and change for The University of Lethbridge. Student enrolment climbed from 650 students in 1967 to more than 1,200 by 1971, creating a need for new and larger facilities and expanded program offerings.

In 1972, after three years of construction, Arthur Erickson's uniquely designed University Hall took shape on the west side campus. The nine-level facility provided space for classrooms, laboratories, offices, student services and residence housing. A covered walkway - nicknamed the worm - connected University Hall with the Physical Education and Art Building on the west side of campus.

The new University campus was officially opened at a three-day event in September of 1972. The event included a special convocation and the unveiling of the Aperture - a 20 foot-high concrete art structure.

By the mid-1970s The University of Lethbridge recognized the need to expand its Arts and Science programming to accommodate an increasingly diverse population. In 1972 the Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Fine Arts programs made their debut. By 1975 two more majors had been added in the Faculty of Arts and Science - Management Arts and Native American Studies.

While the University continued to grow academically and structurally, newly formed athletics programs also began to hit their stride. After entering intercollegiate competition in 1967, The University of Lethbridge met with a surge of success in the early 1970s. In March of 1971 the women's Chinooks Basketball team, under the direction of Wilma Winter, won the first-ever national championship for The University of Lethbridge.

In 1977 the University held a Homecoming celebration in honour of its 10th Anniversary. President Sam Smith, flanked by 'bodyguards' Owen Holmes and Neil Holmes re-enacted a 1968 City Hall scene when Smith, Holmes and Russ Leskiw stormed a city council meeting to present their arguments regarding the U of L's site selection.

By the end of the 1970s, The University of Lethbridge was poised for a new decade of building construction, program expansion and continued athletic success.


The 1980s saw the advent of new facilities, schools of study, and national champions at The University of Lethbridge.

In 1980, more than 50 students enrolled in a two-year Bachelor of Nursing program as part of the new School of Nursing. A year later the University would add a second school of study to its calendar. Launched as a major in 1975, the Management department became the School of Management in 1981, eventually achieving Faculty status in 1989.

Established in 1967, the Faculty of Education was one of the original faculties at the U of L and the first to offer a graduate studies program. In the fall of 1984, the first graduate students comenced studies in the Master of Education program. The same year, the U of L received international attention as Cheryl Misak, a Philosophy graduate, received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

After breaking ground in the late 1970s, construction continued on Phase II of the campus plan - the creation of a Performing Arts Centre. The $21 million facility, complete with classrooms, a Recital Hall and a 450-seat theatre, was officially opened on September 11, 1981. Three days of festivities were marked with international guests, the unveiling of the Western Channel sculpture, and a special convocation ceremony. Three years later, the School of Fine Arts was officially established.

The University of Lethbridge Alumni Association left its own legacy for the future in 1985 with the creation of a time capsule. The capsule, buried in the Aperture sculpture, contained, among other items, an endowment certificate estimated to be worth more than $2 million by 2067, the centennial year of The University of Lethbridge.

In 1986, University Athletics made a splash with the opening of the $5.3 million Max Bell Aquatic Centre. Hundreds of spectators attended the opening, complete with colourful water shows and performances by 1984 gold medallists Alex Baumann and Sylvie Bernier.

By the end of the 1980s, Pronghorn Athletics had celebrated two national shot-put champions - Doreen Garner (1983) and Suzanne Pecht (1986). They also established a men's hockey program (1984). A decade later the team would have the chance to shine in the national arena.


Building on the decades that preceded it, the 1990s extended the geographic, academic and artistic scope of The University of Lethbridge.

In the early part of the decade, the University graduated its first Master of Arts and Master of Science students. By 1999, a variety of diverse new academic options had been created including a Bachelor of Health Sciences, a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Multimedia) and a collaborative Bachelor of Nursing program.

In 1996, The University of Lethbridge also opened its doors to two new satellite campuses, launching Post-Diploma Bachelor of Management programs in both Calgary and Edmonton.

The decade was marked with prestigious academic appointments of U of L faculty and students. Dr. John Woods (1990) and Dr. Ian Whishaw (1999) were both elected as Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, while Dr. Patricia Chuchryk was awarded the 3M Teaching Innovation Fellowship (1999). In 1996, The University of Lethbridge also paid tribute to its second Rhodes Scholarship recipient, Blair McMurren (B.A. English).

Pronghorn Athletics also flourished with Freestyle swimmer Dean Kondziolka winning back-to-back CIAU Gold Medals in 1994 and 1995. The Pronghorn Men's Hockey Team was also golden in 1994, earning the CIAU University Cup Championship and CIAU Gold Medal.

With a rapidly-growing student population, The University of Lethbridge continued to create new facilities throughout the 1990s to meet the demands of its programs and people. Turcotte Hall, the Students' Union Building and Aperture Residential Park were all officially opened in 1990. In 1999, the University added Hepler Hall and an art storage facility to house one of Canada's largest and broadest-based art teaching collection.

Before the end of the decade, a sod turning ceremony took place for the new Library Information Network Centre - one of the largest construction projects on campus since University Hall.


In the seven short years since the turn of the century, The University of Lethbridge has already established a national neuroscience research facility, a state-of-the-art library and a Ph.D. program. Enrolment has increased to more than 8000 students on three Alberta campuses, while the University Art Collection has grown to 13,000 pieces, valued at $34 million. Additionally, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in various areas of research.

In September of 2001, the long-awaited Library Information Network Centre (LINC) was officially opened, following a ten-year fundraising campaign. More than $10 million was raised by close to 3,600 individuals, corporations and organizations, including the University of Lethbridge Students' Union - the largest single donor at $1.5 million.

The Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN), the only research facility of its kind in Canada, was officially opened in November, 2001. At 40,000 square feet, the facility is home to internationally-recognized U of L faculty members who specialize in brain and behavioural research.

In 2004 the University of Lethbridge granted its first doctoral degrees in neuroscience to Robbin Gibb, Lisa Thomson and Claudia Gonzalez and received Alberta Learning’s approval to move forward with five new multidisciplinary PhD programs.

The School’s plan to continue attracting the brightest possible graduate and PhD students was also given a financial boost when the U of L received a $1.5 million research award from NSERC.

In 2005 A new satellite ground station at the University of Lethbridge got a $1.2 million boost from the Government of Alberta to help purchase scientific equipment for the centre. The Alberta Terrestrial Imaging Centre is unique in North America, as the primary receiving and distribution station for, images taken through a special satellite technology, called SPOT.

Additionally, 2005 was marked by $12 million in capital funding to help expand the Water and Environmental Science Building. This funding enabled the University to attract even more researchers, professors and students to the province’s advanced learning system.

The province also provided $5 million to the University of Lethbridge towards upgrading University Hall. This two-phase project will upgrade the air quality and ventilation systems to improve learning environment and energy efficiency.

2006 marked the foundation of the Institute for Global Population and Economy Research with a minimum donation of $8 million from John Prentice, a Calmar, Alberta based agri-business entrepreneur, award-winning agrologist and industry leader.

In 2007, the Regional Health and Wellness Centre celebrated its grand opening. The $30 million Centre was funded by the City of Lethbridge, the University of Lethbridge and private investment. While facilitating leading-edge prevention-focused research, it is our response to community needs for recreation and fitness.

2007 also marked a $68 million investment by the Government of Alberta. $50 million will complete the funding for the Markin Building which will house the university’s newly established Centres of Research Excellence, including the Centre for Health Management Research, the Centre for Socially Responsible Marketing and provide room for the growth of the International Program, the Management Development Centre and the Career Enhancement Centre. $18 million will be used to upgrade University Hall.

Over the past 40 years, The University of Lethbridge has fostered a commitment to teaching, research, diversity and growth. True to its roots of liberal arts education, the U of L continues to expand its degree options, while extending its reach into professional and cooperative programs.

With the continued investment of students, employees, the City of Lethbridge, and the Province of Alberta, the University of Lethbridge is poised to make increasingly significant contributions to society through research, innovation, and teaching over the next 40 years.