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SAIT Centennial - Marking a massive milestone

Will the birthday cake be so tall that its final touches need to be applied via basket crane?

How can a researcher sleuth out a name or two to identify the very first group of students, when early enrolment records apparently don't exist? And exactly how much light is left in the sky, at exactly 1916 hours military time, on SAIT's Cohos Commons Field on a mid-October evening?

Answers to all these questions, and more, are being tracked down by SAIT's intrepid centennial team as Calgary's oldest post-secondary institute prepares for an incredible, once-in-a-century birthday bash.

One hundred years later, a Canadian cornerstone

It began life rather precariously in 1916 - with a handful of First World War veterans, learning on two drill presses, two lathes, a motorcycle and a donated car, in a borrowed building soon to be commandeered as a Spanish Influenza hospital.

One hundred years later, though, there's nothing temporary about SAIT. As centennial plans continue to unfurl this year (see sait.ca/100 for full details), SAIT stands as a Canadian cornerstone of skill-oriented, real-world, post-secondary education.

"SAIT is very much a part of Calgary's DNA," notes Cathy Downey, SAIT's Centennial Project Director, "so our centennial celebration is really about many things. "It's articulating SAIT's place in the Calgary community. It's underscoring our relationship with the economy, through real-world education," she says. "It's sharing our collaborative history with industry. And it's celebrating our future at the forefront of applied learning."

A remarkable sense of SAIT pride

While SAIT's official public birthday weekend will take place Oct. 15-16, 2016, the centennial year is already in full swing.

Downey's five-person centennial team is busy working with SAIT's eight schools — some of them with their own milestones to celebrate — and with the Alumni and Development department to plan and develop a wide range of projects and events involving alumni, staff, faculty, students, industry partners, supporters and the general public.

Whether it's a project to undertake 100 philanthropic initiatives, a SAIT centennial geocache, the 100th Birthday Party or the launch of a book exploring SAIT's history, activities will follow one of three themes: SAIT Cares, SAIT Celebrates and SAIT Inspires.

And underneath it all is a sense of admiration toward this venerable institute. After taking surveys of SAIT staff, alumni and students last summer, the centennial team found that all of these groups are remarkably proud of SAIT - and are all keenly anticipating the upcoming birthday bash.

"Ultimately," says Downey, "this is all about pride. We're proud of our people, we're proud of the work we do, and we're proud of our place in the community."

Behind the scenes: details, details, details

As preparations take shape all over campus, Downey's centennial team is tackling the myriad finer details that such planning demands.

For instance, a new 100-year time capsule, to be buried in October and disinterred  in 2116, will require material that will last a century - and a location that steers clear of buried electrical cables and natural gas lines, as well as potential campus expansion. (The 1966 time capsule had to be moved more than once to accommodate construction and a changing campus.)

Centennial staff have also monitored traffic flow on and off campus, in order to understand how to optimize signage and security for crowd management throughout the October public birthday weekend.

And that big weekend will include a fireworks display - at exactly 1916 hours on Oct. 16 - to commemorate SAIT's opening back on Oct. 16, 1916. As part of her advance planning, Event Project Manager Melissa McKay made a point of standing on the lawn in front of Heritage Hall at exactly 7:16 pm last October to check that the evening sky will be dark enough for the big finale to send SAIT into the next century with a bang.

Event Project Manager Melissa McKay (second from left) is working with schools and departments - and with the communties surrounding SAIT - to help coordinate the endless details involved in hosting this milestone birthday.

Icing on the centennial cake

What would a 100th birthday party be without a cake - an enormous cake?

That's the assignment that Chef Rose Warden (BPA '07) and her students in the Baking and Pastry Arts program will be tackling during - and well in advance of - SAIT's big weekend in October.

Imagination is limited only by logistics, such as the size of the kitchen door. But the ceremonial cake, as well as accompanying slab cakes to feed an estimated 2,000 guests, requires design, planning, baking and assembly that will run into the hundreds of hours for students, instructors and volunteers, says Warden.

"This cake will represent each of SAIT's eight schools, in some fashion," she says. "And the way I see it, this is not just SAIT's 100th birthday. This is 100 years' worth of people's efforts and ideas. That's what SAIT means to me."

Warden adds that this is "one of the taller projects I've tackled." SAIT's centennial team is currently working to determine just how tall - and whether Warden's decorating work at higher altitudes will require her to use only a ladder or an elevated work platform to reach the top of the cake.

Baking and Pastry Arts Instructor - and tall-cake planner extraordinaire - Chef Rose Warden and Carmen Neville, Events and Communications Coordinator, are charged with creating a birthday cake that will reflect SAITs eight schools plus additional cakes to feed 2,000 guests.

Mobilizing through the decades

Ever since its Motor Mechanics program launched on Oct. 16, 1916, SAIT's School of Transportation has known how to mobilize.

Accordingly, the school's own 100th anniversary will be an important part of SAIT's centennial activities.

During SAIT's birthday weekend in mid-October, the School of Transportation will be holding a car, truck and aviation show - filling teaching bays in the Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre. At least one contemporary helicopter will be on display, after a crosstown journey from SAIT's Art Smith Aero Centre facility via flatbed truck.

Digging up history, all over campus

SAIT's centennial will involve digging up history - and creating some, too.

In addition to a new 100-year time capsule, the contents of which will be determined in part through ideas from the public, SAIT is planning a ceremonial unearthing and opening of two others - one buried by the SAIT Alumni Association in 1991 and one buried in 1966 by Branch 11 of the Civil Service Association of Alberta.

Many of the students who watched the 1966 ceremony remember how SAIT's Principal at the time, Fred Jorgenson, invited them to return in 2016.

In his remarks, Jorgenson noted it was unlikely many in the crowd would be around in 50 years, but the centennial team is hearing from several alumni - including a group of graduates from the Electrical Engineering Technology program - who are planning to hold a reunion in conjunction with the disinterment of the capsule.

The countdown clock on the door to the centennial office is a daily reminder to the team - and to all who pass by - of SAIT's approaching birthday on Oct. 16, 2016.

Building a photo mosaic

You might say that SAIT's centennial will consist of snapshots in time. Almost 10,000 of them, in fact.

As part of centennial activities, a 20-foot-long, eight-foot-high photo mural - known as the #SAIT100 Photo Mosaic - will rely on the submission of an estimated 10,000 photos submitted online by alumni, staff, faculty, students and the greater community.

The mosaic will continue to unfurl itself online throughout 2016, as more and more photos are uploaded via sait.ca/100 or through social media.

"It's an interactive way for people to preserve their photos," says Carmen Neville, Events and Communications Coordinator, "and we'll be weaving historical SAIT photos into the mural as well."

The centennial photo mosaic is expected to be installed on campus in April 2017.

‘Remember when SAIT turned 100? I was there'

Over the past century, SAIT's enrolment has grown to nearly 16,000 full-time equivalent students annually.

That's 220,000 SAIT alumni and counting over the first 100 years. About 85 per cent of SAIT alumni live and work in the Calgary area - an ever-growing network that will continue to entrench SAIT's reputation in the community.

Jodi Currie (TVT ‘12), Volunteer Coordinator for SAIT's centennial, notes that SAIT's very own 101-year-old alumnus Clarence Hollingworth, the Institute's oldest known living graduate, himself watched Heritage Hall's cornerstone ceremony as a six-year-old boy in 1922.

"Won't it be exciting," Currie says, "to look back in 40 years and say: ‘Remember when SAIT turned 100? I was there.' "

Written by Todd Kimberley (JA '92)
Trudie Lee Photos