USask holds virtual grand opening for Prince Albert campus

Campus hosting online and limited in-person classes with dental clinic to open this fall

University of Saskatchewan president Peter Stoicheff poses in front of the future Prince Albert campus on May 8, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) may not have been able to throw their doors open the way they had hoped at their new Prince Albert campus this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop them from celebrating.

Tuesday, the university celebrated the grand opening of the new facility virtually, with prerecorded statements from the university’s senior leadership, students, alumni, the city, province, an elder, PAGC and Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

USask purchased the forestry centre on Central Ave. from the province in 2018 with an eye on creating a campus in the city. While the university has offered classes in Prince Albert for years, it has relied on renting space from other institutions.

The new space will allow students to work together and have a true campus feel while also allowing the university to expand its offerings in the city.

Highlights of the new space, which has been undergoing renovations for about a year, include a new community dental clinic, biology and chemistry lab spaces, new classrooms and shared spaces for students.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, many of the university’s offerings have been moved online, with the exception of some in-person lab instruction.

The dental clinic is also set to open this fall.

Building a single, campus hub in the city has been a goal of president Peter Stoicheff for years.

“Although a remote setting is not the most ideal way to begin the school year in a new campus, we’re extremely proud to begin this new chapter in the history of the university’s programming in Prince Albert,” he said,

“I’m proud of the hard work and vision so many in the university have shown to make that a reality. This is a momentous occasion for the University of Saskatchewan and the City of Prince Albert as this facility brings together all of our programming together in one space.”

Stoicheff said the new campus will help make the university’s programming more accessible to communities outside of Saskatoon, especially to Indigenous students and particularly in the province’s north.

Attending school close to home was a major draw for Alex Hordal, who graduated from the university’s nursing program in Prince Albert in 2017.

She lived only an hour away from Prince Albert, and taking classes in the city let her live at home, stay close to her family “and avoid a lot of student loans and stress,” she said as she welcomed students to their new Prince Albert campus home.

“The opening of the … campus will provide opportunities for our PAGC students to be closer to their communities while they pursue their studies,” said Brian Hardlotte, Grand Chief of the Prince Albert Grand OCuncil (PAGC).

He called the location “perfect” and praised the signing of an MOU that promised Indigenous knowledge systems to be included as part of the university’s programs and courses.

“We have lots of resources in our communities that can assist the educators as they work to Indigenize post-secondary education in northern Saskatchewan.”

Access was also the theme for Mayor Greg Dionne, who called it an “exciting day” for Prince Albert. Between its location and smaller class sizes — hundreds of students as opposed to thousands — Dionne said he believes the campus is the right choice for students from smaller communities.

“It’s so much better of a learning opportunity, he said. “They’ve got a support group, their family and friends and a place they can call home. I’m looking forward to the opening of our university, Go, go go.”

Access and location weren’t the only themes celebrated Tuesday. University leadership and alumni praised the campus’ potential to enhance the university as much as the university’s potential to enhance the city.

Grit McCreath is the university’s chancellor. She’s also a long time resident of Prince Albert National Park.

She said she is “so excited about the university having a stronger presence in P.A., and that after a tour she was “overwhelmed” thinking about the campus’ possibilities.

“I see what this campus means for our students. This will be a game-changer for USask students and will present unimaginable possibilities for the north,” she said.

Peta Bonham-Smith, the university’s dean in the College of Arts and Science, agreed.

“The energy and vision I have seen from everyone involved is inspiring,” she said.

“This campus will provide students with wonderful new opportunities to connect and collaborate. I’m very excited for you to see the new teaching laboratories for biology and chemistry. We know the campus will be an important campus for future ars and science programming throughout Saskatchewan and particularly in the north, a vital part of the history of our university and province.”

Other deans highlighted their goals for the campus. Kinesiology will be able to offer a full first-year program in the city, while the AgBio is excited, once in-person learning is on the radar again, to develop opportunities in what the college’s dean called “your beautiful, boreal back yard.”

The College of Nursing said it’s exciting to bring its longstanding program into the same facility as other USask programs, while Edwards School of Business dean Keith Willoughby, who hails from Melfort and whose dad farmed near Shellbrook, said he’s looking forward to enhanced programming and other opportunities, and to establish a “place and presence” for students from Prince Albert and northern Saskatchewan.

But perhaps the most excited college was dentistry. Dr. Arminderbir Singh is the director of the inclusive community outreach with eh College of Dentistry. He’s also the man who will oversee Prince Albert’s dental clinic when it opens this fall.

The grand opening “marks an exciting day for the college of dentistry as we are one step close to opening the dental clinic,” he said.

“We are committed to providing inclusive, community are the clinic is … intended to assist those facing barriers accessing dental care.”

That care will be provided by senior dental students under the direct supervision of licensed dentists.

“The Prince Albert campus is an exciting place to be a part of,” Singh said.

“It is a campus focus on diversity and community and is certain to be a welcoming place for students, staff, faculty and community members. I can guarantee it will be a welcoming place for dental care.”

The university said it looks forward to the day when the campus can be opened for all and celebrated for the opportunities it provides for the city, the students an the institution.

“The anticipation for the opening of the USask Prince Albert campus has been significant, and so many people are looking forward to moving into this new building and developing more and deeper relationships with people north of Saskatoon,” said Jacqueline Ottomon, vice provost of Indigenous engagement.

“I hope you will help us make this campus an exciting place to explore, grow and learn.

The campus will be more intimate, providing opportunities for unique learning experiences and for long-lasting and meaningful relationships to be developed.”

While the campus is new, some might argue that really, it’s just come back.

Prior to Saskatchewan forming as a province, the Anglican Church built Emmanuel College near where Saskatchewan Penitentiary now sits. It was chartered by the federal government as the “Univesity of Saskatchewan in 1883.

But when the province was formed in 1905, residents of the time didn’t want to put their university where the federal government had set it up (Prince Albert) to spite politicians in Ottawa, while others wanted to keep it away from politicians in Regina.

Instead, a new facility was chartered as the University of Saskatchewan — in Saskatoon.

Emmanuel College, which kept its title as a university, but not its name, also moved.

Prince Albert later got Saskatchewan Penitentiary, believed by some local historians to be a move from the Wilfred Laurier government to make up for the lost university.

But now, after 100 years, the university some argue was born in Prince Albert has finally come home.