It was only around for five years, but former students and staff of David Thompson University Centre in Nelson have fond memories of an institution that was gone before its time.
A group of them are hoping to relive some of those memories with a reunion sometime in 2023.
“DTUC was a kind of experimental institution,” says Tom Wayman, a former instructor who is among the organizers. “It was a lot of fun both to teach there and to be a student there.
Wayman says while the institution has “faded back into history,” this summer some alumni hatched the idea of holding a reunion, placing it far enough in the future that the pandemic is hopefully also a memory by then.
“I guess people are getting older, revisiting their lives, and something like this comes to mind. Let’s get together with people who want to talk about what we got from this really quite vibrant institution.”
Wayman says they are now trying to contact people who might be interested in attending to find out what time of year would work best and what sort of itinerary they might enjoy.
“We’re just asking people to check in and we’ll get back with them with questions that the committee that is pulling this together needs to know the answer to,” Wayman says.
You can contact the organizers at [email protected].
David Thompson was established in 1979 following the closure of Notre Dame University two years earlier.
“The people of Nelson were determined to have their own post-secondary institution,” Wayman says. “After the experience of Notre Dame they fought hard to get something else. The government came up with an experimental structure of a joint university college.”
DTUC occupied the same space as the earlier institution, in what is now Selkirk College’s Tenth Street campus, and operated under the joint auspices of Selkirk and the University of Victoria.
The Kootenay School of Art, previously a freestanding arts school, became the DTUC fine arts department. DTUC also offered a rural teacher training program, similar to what the University of BC now provides in Nelson.
Wayman was hired in 1980 to teach in the creative writing program and recalls DTUC as “a do-it-yourself school to a certain extent, which meant the curriculum could be quite vibrant. It didn’t have to go through a lot of bureaucratic steps.”
Wayman left in 1982 but returned in January 1984 after the provincial government announced that the institution would close. The decision came as shock given that only a few months earlier DTUC’s mandate had been renewed for another five years. It also came as a grievous blow to a city that had previously lost its university.
The community mobilized a campaign to save its school, including a sit-in at the campus library which lasted more than two and a half months.
Wayman was hired by the faculty and student associations to establish a media centre in the student pub to fight back. “It didn’t work in the end, but it was very exciting to set up the centre and train students to operate it,” he says.
On May 1, 1984, DTUC closed, but Wayman says the idea of a “nice post-secondary institution” lived on with the establishment of the Kootenay School of the Arts, which opened in 1991, and is now operated by Selkirk College as Kootenay Studio Arts.
Wayman guesses DTUC had about 2,000 students over its brief existence “and a lot of pretty interesting faculty.”