– Betsy Kline, Castlegar News
Excitement over Selkirk College’s golden anniversary has been building for months as the school that has influenced the lives of countless Kootenay residents and multiple communities turns 50 years old. Celebrations will peak this weekend at the school’s Homecoming Weekend.
Selkirk College began in a unique way. In the early 1960s, regional colleges in BC were just beginning to materialize. The model at the time was for each college to be constructed with the support and supervision of the school districts that the college would service. School districts were already involved in post-secondary education by offering what was known as Grade 13. The proposed college would serve six districts — Trail, Nelson, Castlegar, Slocan, Grand Forks and Arrow Lakes. Each community would need to give approval for the creation of the college by means of a referendum.
Six different locations were initially proposed for the location of the college, but Castlegar was chosen due to its centralized location and rapid rate of growth at the time due to the construction of the Celgar pulp mill and pending construction of the High Arrow Dam.
The referendum stated that the provincial government would pay half the cost of building and equipping the college and the remaining half would be paid by residents of the six school districts. The vote passed by the large margin of 72 per cent. A mandate for a community college in the Kootenays was clearly given, and the school has been growing and serving those communities ever since, branching out from the original Castlegar location to include facilities throughout the entire region.
“It’s been an incredible journey to this point,” said Selkirk College president Angus Graeme. “When you think about all the lives and families that have been impacted over the last 50 years because community leaders and forward thinkers in the early 1960s had the vision to make Selkirk College a reality. We are humbled every day to be able to continue this important work for the people of our region and looking forward to celebrating this anniversary with all of the communities we serve.”
The 1966-67 school year began with 458 students who had to meet in old bunkhouses at the Celgar Pulp Mill until construction of the Castlegar campus was complete. The move into the new campus would take place in January 1967. Today Selkirk is home to 60 nationally recognized programs, over 2,000 full-time students and more than 9,000 community learners. It operates five main campuses (Castlegar, Trail, and the Silver King, Tenth Street and Kootenay Studio Arts campuses in Nelson) as well as learning centres in Kaslo, Nakusp, Grand Forks and Crawford Bay. Thanks to the school’s international program, Selkirk boasts alumni in over 25 countries around the globe.
The school not only has an educational impact throughout the region, but an economical one as well. According to Selkirk’s website the total economic effect including operations, student spending and student productivity is $198.2 million. The college employs the equivalent of 352 full-time employees providing a significant source for solid, permanent jobs throughout the West Kootenay.
A 50th anniversary Legacy Fund has been created with a goal of raising $50,000 for student scholarships and bursaries. “This fundraising effort will provide vital financial aid for future generations of students as we move into our next 50 years,” said Selkirk College donor relations co-ordinator Joleen Kinakin. “We hope the community will get behind this effort to leave an important gift behind for the students to enrich their lives through education at Selkirk College.”
One of the most time consuming, but widely anticipated projects is the publication of a commemorative coffee table book. Selkirk History instructor Takaia Larsen and the school’s community liaison Bob Hall, who was previously the editor of the Nelson Star, are working on the book that will chronicle the past, present and future of the school. The book will be released in the spring and proceeds will go towards the Legacy Fund.
Homecoming Weekend festivities include a free family-friendly pancake breakfast from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday morning featuring games, activities and prize draws. While visitors are there they can check out historic artifacts and tour the campus. After the breakfast, a commemorative ceremony will take place.
Saturday evening will feature a gala event called Through the Decades at the Castlegar Campus. Entertainment and food from each of the five decades of Selkirk College’s existence will be in the spot light. Tickets are required for this event and can be purchased through Selkirk’s webpage or at the campus book store.