The campus built by a community

In this mid 1960s photo, G. Forbes Elliot, left, principal of UNB Saint John; UNB President Colin Mackay, centre, and Saint John Mayor Stephen Weyman discuss plans for the Tucker Park Campus.Education — the need for it, the importance of it — is woven inextricably into the fabric of New Brunswick. 

Almost as soon as they landed on its shores 225 years ago, the Loyalist founders, led by Ward Chipman and William Paine, petitioned the government for a charter to establish a provincial academy of arts and sciences, a predecessor to UNB.  And it was recognition of a need and a desire for a university on the part of the people of Saint John, New Brunswick’s largest city, that led to the creation of a campus there in 1964.

A citizens’ initiative

The citizens’ movement began in earnest in 1959, initiated by the Board of Trade and led by city councilor and school principal, Ernest A. Whitebone.  Although UNB had held extension courses in Saint John since the 1890s, there was strong sentiment that the community needed post-secondary education that was more permanent and far-reaching.  Other influential leaders — alumni Kenneth Baird, Eric Teed and Stephen Weyman, along with Travis Cushing, Benjamin Guss — threw their weight behind the cause and the Saint John College Development Corp. was born. 

Supported by the findings of a Royal Commission in 1962 and a strong government commitment, UNB began the process of establishing a “branch” campus that would initially offer the first year of arts and science.  At first somewhat reluctant, President Colin B. Mackay ultimately embraced the project and in 1964 appointed the indefatigable G. Forbes Elliot, a well-known and popular educational administrator, to head it up.

An enthusiastic champion

Of Dr. Elliot, former UNB Saint John registrar Barry Beckett recalls “his undiluted enthusiasm for the cause with which he was associated.  He was going to make UNBSJ work come hell or high water.”  Just two months after Dr. Elliot’s appointment, “the sidewalk campus” opened in several buildings around uptown Saint John with a hastily assembled complement of faculty drawn from UNB Fredericton and area high schools, and an enrolment of 97 students.

The Saint John campus has never looked back.  The Tucker Park campus, with its spectacular view of the Kennebecasis River, opened in 1969 on 229 acres donated by the city.  As degree programs expanded so did enrolment and the first on-campus graduation was held in 1975.  Facilities grew to include an athletic centre, student centre, student residences, and state-of–the-art academic buildings.  For a number of years, Saint John was the fastest growing campus in Atlantic Canada.

Condon takes up the torch

Thomas J. Condon.One of UNB Saint John’s longest serving vice-presidents was Tom Condon, who relocated from the Fredericton campus to succeed Dr. Elliot in 1977.  He presided over a decade of steady progress highlighted by increasing autonomy for the institution, the development of graduate programs, and a growing reputation.

“From small beginnings had truly developed a university,” he wrote just after the 25th anniversary in 1989, “well-established and well-recognized within the province and the region.  It had overcome the tensions and difficulties endemic in all multi-campus institutions, achieving a status within UNB which gave it parity with the Fredericton campus…UNB Saint John has demonstrated its capacity to survive and flourish.  With its present size, complexity and diversification of programs, it is well-positioned to be able to take advantage of opportunities for future development.”

Indeed, the past 20 years has seen substantial success in attracting large numbers of international students; the development of a robust research agenda, including the establishment of the world-class Canadian Rivers Institute; the introduction of medical education in collaboration with Dalhousie University; the construction of a magnificent learning commons; the co-location of community college facilities on campus; and, always, the abiding interest and support of the local community.