Half a century of granting degrees

By Dale Johnson Posted: May 17, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson spoke at the first Regina Campus convocation, on May 17, 1965.
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson spoke at the first Regina Campus convocation, on May 17, 1965. (Photo courtesy of the Leader-Post)

It was 50 years ago today – on May 17, 1965 – that the first students to attend the new Regina Campus graduated with their degrees.

There were 72 students (28 women and 44 men) who were awarded Bachelor of Arts degrees at the ceremony at Darke Hall. Another 79 students were awarded certificates in such areas as art, business administration, music and public administration.

To mark this historical occasion, a new type of diploma was introduced. Previously, graduates received a diploma rolled and tied with a ribbon. Starting with that first convocation in 1965, they were smaller and
mounted in a flat, green leatherette case with the Regina Campus crest on the cover.


Convocation Program - 1965
(U of R Archives)

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson received an honorary doctor of laws degree, and in his convocation address, he said universities can make a strong contribution to national unity.

“There is no question, no problem, no challenge so important to every Canadian today as the unity of our nation. I believe this unity can be decisively affected by the attitude of our universities to our contemporary national problems,” he said.  

“They must preach the essential importance of tolerance and moderation and the appreciation of long-range values and interests against short-range prejudices and profits,” the Prime Minister added.

Also receiving an honorary degree was Rex Schneider, who had retired the previous year after serving as principal of Luther College since 1926.

In his report at Convocation, Dr. W. A. Riddell, principal of Regina Campus, talked about the developments in graduate work, the establishment of a new college of public and business administration, and a department of extension services.

After the convocation ceremony, a dance was held at the Trianon Ballroom in downtown Regina. It had been a popular place for big-band dances going back to the 1920s. Now on the site is the Trianon Tower, a senior citizen’s residential high-rise.

The first convocation received several pages of coverage in the Leader-Post – including pictures of most of the graduates.

Grads swing to jazz tunes

There were several ways this first convocation was celebrated, including a jazz concert at Darke Hall.
“Under most normal circumstances, a jazz concert just isn’t fitted into a university’s convocation exercises. However, the circumstances surrounding the convocation exercises of the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus, are hardly normal.  They are the first degree-granting ceremonies for the campus, an event that is historic and which dictates that something different must be done,” the Leader-Post reported.

A Convocation Festival also provided connections to the wider community. For example, there was a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third at Darke Hall. There was also a Baroque Concert at Darke Hall.

Prized painting added to U of R collection

Another way to mark the first convocation was the purchase in 1965 of a rare painting by one of Canada’s famous Group of Seven – Winter Sunrise by Lawren Harris. This painting had been done in 1918 and remains part of the MacKenzie Art Gallery/ University of Regina collection.

The Leader-Post said “History will record the coming of the university ranks in importance with the arrival of the railway in the early eighties and the designation of Regina as the provincial capital in 1905 in shaping the destiny of the Queen City of the Plains.”
History has shown that Darke Hall, located at the College Avenue Campus, remains a valued venue in the city. Nearly 50 years after the first convocation, Darke Hall was packed for a sold out show May 15, 2015 featuring Joel Plaskett and Moe Kenney as part of the Regina Folkfest concert series.

The University of Regina is raising funds for the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project. For details on how you can help please visit here.