A lost piece of NAIT history resurfaces

Unseen for decades, a defining document turns up at the president’s office

Dr. glenn feltham, nait president and CEOLast summer, a retiring staff member dropped by NAIT’s executive offices. It was a casual visit, without appointment, and he didn’t leave his name. Instead, he left a box of things he’d collected over a career that spanned decades.

Inside was a surprise: an original program from NAIT’s official opening on May 27, 1963.

“When I started to go through the materials, I thought, ‘Wow, this is of real significance,’” says Dr. Glenn Feltham, president and CEO.

At first glance, the pamphlet (9MB pdf) may not seem like much. It’s smaller than a record sleeve and its yellowing pages are so thin that the printing shows through. But it was the document that went into the hands of guests including Edmonton mayor Elmer Roper, federal Labour minister Allan MacEachen and Premier Ernest Manning.

For many, it was the introduction to NAIT’s story.

For many, it was the introduction to NAIT’s story – a story that has progressed while remaining fundamentally unchanged for more than half a century.

“As I started to read it, it gave me an incredibly warm feeling,” says Feltham.

The cover’s soft, watercolour rendering of campus may have contributed to that but his reaction stemmed from something deeper. “There was that degree of comfort that we had continued to take the institute in the direction that was initially intended.”

At the heart of the booklet is a tour of the then-brand-new, purpose-built campus. The text makes no effort to hide the polytechnic’s pride.

nait, mid 1960s

Among “Apprenticeship Division” facilities, it lists a machine shop, then elevates it: “This ‘Shop’ is actually an Industrial Production Lab with highly complex, ultra-modern machines capable of undertakings from the largest of sizes down to the manufacture of small screws.”

The Food Services Section’s “Servery” features a “micro-wave oven. Full course meals may be obtained in three or less minutes by the use of rays instead of the conventional method of cooking.”

Ladies Dressmaking and Tailoring is included as its own 150-hour program. “Beauty Culture” gets a paragraph, which locates its laboratory across the hall from the barber shop classroom.

The booklet features several other quaintly antiquated examples of the latest and greatest of a newborn NAIT (that said, more than three-quarters of its 43 disciplines are still offered in some form today). But, for Feltham, each serves to highlight how NAIT was a leader in serving the province from its start.

“When I look at this, one of the most interesting things is how it mapped into Alberta’s economy and labour market demand of the day. [This] was a snapshot of what was needed from a polytechnic in 1963. From day one, the vision was not that we’d be a niche part of the post-secondary landscape but that we’d play a far large role in this province’s future.”

"From day one, the vision was ... that we’d play a far larger role in this province’s future.”

While that role continues to evolve, Feltham sees the booklet as an anchor, rooting the polytechnic in the purpose it was created to fulfill.

It arrived buried in a box, but it now has pride of place among NAIT’s defining documents – and among the president’s own collection of workplace treasures. “I’m not letting this leave my office,” he says.

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