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In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau secretly wed Margaret Sinclair in North Vancouver, a riot over marijuana laws broke out in Gastown, and a fledgling Greenpeace sailed from Vancouver to Alaska to stop nuclear testing. That summer, SFU was barely six years old when it formed the new Division of Continuing Education. We offered our first classes on July 5, 1971, and while much changed over the next 50 years, we’ve remained true to our original mission: to expand university access to learners beyond the traditional student. Today, you may know us for our flexible career programs or our numerous public events, but we’ve combed through our archives to dig up some unusual facts you might not have known.

In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau secretly wed Margaret Sinclair in North Vancouver, a riot over marijuana laws broke out in Gastown, and a fledgling Greenpeace sailed from Vancouver to Alaska to stop nuclear testing. That summer, SFU was barely six years old when it formed the new Division of Continuing Studies. We offered our first classes on July 5, 1971, and while much changed over the next 50 years, we’ve remained true to our original mission: to expand university access to learners beyond the traditional student. Today, you may know us for our flexible career programs or our numerous public events, but we’ve combed through our archives to dig up some unusual facts you might not have known.

1971

1971

We got our start teaching teachers

Kicking off our long history of identifying and meeting community needs, we offered our first courses in the summer of 1971 to elementary and secondary school teachers who hadn’t yet completed their degrees. Among the 24 credit courses was a two-month course on marine biology delivered in partnership with the Vancouver Public Aquarium. The $95 tuition even covered an entire four-day field trip to the Bamfield marine research station on Vancouver Island.

1972

1972

You could have blown glass with us

By fall 1972, we were looking beyond typical university students and creating an eclectic mix of non-credit evening courses open to anyone interested in learning something new. We attracted a diverse body of learners to topics ranging from veterinary medicine and human behaviour to literature and the creative arts—including a hands-on glassblowing workshop where you could blow your own glass bauble to take home after class.

1974

No age limit

Our Program for Senior Citizens launched without much fanfare in 1974 drawing fewer than 30 students. But today the Liberal Arts and 55+ Program, as it’s now known, attracts more than 5,000 registrations a year to a stimulating mix of non-credit classes in the arts, science, history, religion and more. With the addition of online courses, the program now reaches more learners in more locations than ever before. This year, the oldest student to sign up for an online course was 92. Now that’s lifelong learning. 

1975

Remember when you could learn by mail?

Long before the days of WiFi, SFU was already exploring alternative ways to deliver learning far beyond our physical campuses. The new Centre for Distance Education was born in 1975 with 55 students taking four correspondence courses—yes, correspondence, as in sending and receiving schoolwork through the mail. The centre, later renamed the Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE), would go on to develop hundreds of online courses for thousands of learners across the university.

1975

Canada’s first dean of continuing studies

We made history when Jack P. Blaney was appointed dean of the newly renamed Division of Continuing Studies in 1975, becoming the first dean of continuing studies in all of Canada. Blaney was to play a major role in the development of the Harbour Centre campus throughout the 1980s. He later went on to serve as SFU’s seventh president in 1997.

1975

Back when TV was educational

In 1975, our Program for Senior Citizens (as it was then known) launched a half-hour show on Cable 10 Television designed to extend the reach of the university across the community. Called The Age of Options, the first five episodes featured SFU scientists discussing their work. Well into the 1980s, we continued our foray into TV by partnering with KCTS/9 and the Knowledge Network to air programs tailored to our distance education courses in areas including criminology, women’s studies and mass communication.

1980

Moving from the mountain to downtown

In 1980, we moved to our first downtown Vancouver space at 822 Howe Street, across from the construction site for the future Robson Square. From this storefront location, we brought university classes to downtown workers and residents, offering a mix of credit and non-credit courses in areas ranging from business and urban studies to health and fitness. Today the Howe Street office has made way for a condo tower, while we’ve long since moved to our home in Harbour Centre.

1984

Our prison connection

In 1984, we launched the Prison Education Program under contract with the federal government. For 10 years, the program ran at four B.C. penitentiaries—Kent, Matsqui, Mountain and William Head/Metchosin—bringing inmates potentially lifechanging learning opportunities. Writing workshops were held at the maximum-security Kent Institution, where perhaps the most notorious inmate to join was bank robber Stephen Reid. During his incarceration, Reid wrote his semi-autobiographical novel Jack Rabbit Parole, which was published in 1986 (while he was still in prison) and went on to become a bestseller.

1984

Breaking the glass ceiling

While our own Jack Blaney was Canada’s first dean of continuing studies, another leader also made history. After serving as assistant dean for three years, Jo Lynne Hoegg took on the role of dean in 1984, becoming the first woman to be named dean of a continuing studies unit in Canada. In the 10 years under her influential leadership, we developed a number of innovative programs of benefit to both the community and the university, among them the innovative Prison Education Program, programs in labour studies and public policy, as well as several professional certificate programs.

1985

Bridging cultures since 1985

When the Canadian government needed interpreters for Canadian International Development Agency projects in China, who knew it would lead to a whole new program area for us? Launched by the federal government in 1985, our Interpretation and Translation program got its start training Chinese officials to act as interpreters. More than 30 years later, our alumni can be found around the world building cross-cultural understanding in their communities.

1988

Inside Coyote U

In 1988, we partnered with the Secwépemc Cultural Education Society on a pilot project to bring accessible university learning to Indigenous students in Kamloops. Starting with 19 students taking sociology and anthropology courses, the project evolved into an integrated university program (informally known as Coyote U, thanks to the campus logo) focused on Indigenous studies, research and social sciences. It became the first B.C. institution to offer university-level courses in Indigenous languages, as well as a hands-on archaeology program for Indigenous learners that was unique in Canada.

1989

Setting up shop in an old shop

After 10 years of planning and development, SFU opened its campus at Harbour Centre in 1989, transforming the landscape of urban education in downtown Vancouver. The move allowed us to deliver classes in a more accessible location for our growing community of learners. The campus opened in the historic 1920s Spencer Building, which had housed Spencer’s department store until 1948 when Eaton’s took over, followed by Sears in the 1970s. Who knows, our second-floor office space might once have housed the shoe department, or maybe dry goods?

1993

1993

Tomorrow’s cities and yesterday’s front porches

Founded in 1993, our City Program is known for providing professionals and keen citizens with courses, programs and public lectures on timely urban issues ranging from transportation planning to real estate. But did you know we once won an award for fixing porches? In 1996, we were honoured with a City of Vancouver Heritage Award for a community project with the Strathcona Residents Association to restore dilapidated front porches—and help to create a safer, united community—in one of Vancouver’s oldest and lowest-income neighbourhoods.

1998

1998

When we spoke for the salmon

Once upon a time, we were a champion for the survival of wild salmon. Launched in 1998, our long-running Speaking for the Salmon series of workshops, think tanks and dialogues was presented through our Continuing Studies in Science program. The program was led by director Patricia Gallaugher, a fish physiologist who saw disturbing parallels between the collapse of the East Coast fishery and the diminishing populations of Pacific salmon. Gallaugher would go on to win multiple conservation awards for fostering collaboration among scientists, government, the fishing industry and Indigenous communities in efforts to save B.C.’s salmon.

1998

1998

Cappuccino with a side of philosophy

When Yosef Wosk created SFU’s Philosophers’ Café, he envisioned a series of welcoming community spaces for “street-level philosophy”—neighbourhood spots where anyone could join in stimulating dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, no scholarly background required. The former director of our interdisciplinary programs and an award-winning academic, author and philanthropist, Wosk held the first Café in 1998, at the Raintree Restaurant in Gastown. Our award-winning program would eventually reach communities across the Lower Mainland and grow into one of the largest series of café discussion gatherings in the world.

2000

2000

Opening the conversation

In 2000, when SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue opened across the street from Harbour Centre, it felt like a second home to us. After all, it was our own vision and programming that shaped the centre from the outset, thanks to the expert dialogue practitioners on our staff. Early programming would evolve into a number of current community building programs that we continue to offer in the state-of-the-art centre. Over two decades, the award-winning conference space has hosted visitors from around the world, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

2001

2001

Author! Author!

Even James Joyce needed a day job. Recognizing that writers rarely have the luxury of devoting every minute to literary pursuits, author Betsy Warland founded the Writer’s Studio in 2001. Our part-time program was designed to allow emerging writers to learn and practise their craft, without sacrificing their home and work lives. Over its 20-year history, some 800 writers have passed through the Studio, many on their way to becoming published authors. We even boast a winner of Canada’s most prestigious literary prize: alumnus Arleen Paré received the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 2014.

2005

2005

Sex work then and now

Did you know Vancouver’s first brothel was established by a woman, Birdie Stewart, years before Vancouver was even a city? The rich and complex history of sex workers in our city was the focus of an eye-opening program begun in 2005. In our continued efforts to engage and empower the community on social issues, we launched a two-year community art and historical research project, “The History of Sex Work: Vancouver.” It brought together current and former sex workers to examine the past and present of local sex work through diverse lenses such as labour and human rights. Their work culminated in a multimedia art exhibit held in 2007 and the publication of a book featuring the participants’ research and stories.

2008

2008

The part-time university

We made it easy to go back to school without giving up your job. Continuing our long tradition of expanding access to the university, we launched the SFU NOW: Nights or Weekends program in 2008. Originally known as Weekend University, the program allowed working students to complete a bachelor of arts degree by taking evening and weekend courses. The program started with 14 courses in downtown Vancouver and attracted students of an average age of 41, some new to SFU and others who had begun their degree years ago. Over the years, we helped more than 550 students to complete their degrees and proudly cross the SFU convocation stage. 

2020

2020

An unprecedented year

From DIY haircuts to Zoom happy hours, the year 2020 was a year like no other. While the pandemic disrupted the way we all lived and worked, it also had a profound impact on the way we learn. Before health orders temporarily closed our physical doors, we offered 64 per cent of our courses at either our Vancouver or Surrey campus. By year end, all our courses were delivered online—and we discovered just how many learners preferred the convenience of online learning. We’re now planning to keep more of our programming online, so we can continue to provide our students with the flexibility they need now and into the future.

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