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History of SAIT

Early years

SAIT has a rich history beginning with our creation as the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA) in 1916. The first publicly-funded technical institute in Canada, PITA was initially housed at the Colonel James Walker School and the adjacent police and fire station in southeast Calgary.

From the earliest days, PITA focused on hands-on, skills-oriented training designed to meet the practical needs of employers, a philosophy that continues to this day.

PITA officially opened its doors Oct. 16, 1916 with programs in motor mechanics and metal working, 11 students and 7 staff. Within two weeks, 370 students were enrolled, all but 11 in evening, Saturday or correspondence classes. Soon, PITA was retraining so many returning soldiers from World War I that civilian instruction was suspended for two years. In 1918, PITA became a hospital facility for a short time to treat victims of the influenza pandemic.

PITA re-opened to regular students in 1920 and moved to the present-day SAIT campus in 1922, with the completion of the three-storey red brick and sandstone building — now known as Heritage Hall — that is still a landmark today. The facility was shared with the Calgary Normal School, a teacher-training facility. This arrangement continued until the normal school moved in 1960 to the campus that would become the University of Calgary.

The power plant was also part of the original campus in 1922. A portion still stands today and is known as the Eugene Coste Building.

Correspondence courses flourished in the 1920s, along with outreach night school programs to rural areas. The art department was established in 1926 with classes in oils, watercolours, decorative design and lettering. During the early 1930s — the worst years of the Great Depression — government funding to PITA was drastically cut, forcing the school to double tuition fees, drop programs and reduce staff salaries. Enrolment plummeted as education became unaffordable. In response to the desperate times, PITA replaced most regular programming with free classes for the unemployed.

World War II

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, PITA began delivering courses under the federal government's War Emergency Training Program. At the height of the war effort training, classes ran around the clock to accommodate regular students as well as vocational training for the armed forces.

In 1940, PITA's facilities were taken over by the Royal Canadian Air Force to serve as the No. 2 Wireless Training School of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Most regular classes moved to the Calgary Stampede grounds, while the art department and women's programs relocated to a Mount Royal mansion the city had repossessed for back taxes.


Classes resumed on campus in 1946. Subsequent years marked significant growth to meet Alberta's need for a skilled workforce. Apprenticeship training began at PITA in 1948, with 42 apprentices enrolled in auto body repair. Eight years later, PITA enrolled 1,710 apprentices in six programs, twice the number of regular day students.

The first wing of the Thomas Riley Building was constructed in 1952 and the facility saw several more additions over the next two-and-a-half decades. The John Ware Building opened in 1958.

In 1960, PITA was renamed the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and the art department, although still part of SAIT, became the Alberta College of Art (ACA).

The E.H. Crandell Building (originally the Student Activities Building) opened in 1963 and the Senator Burns Building in 1967.

Towards a new millennium

SAIT became a residential campus with the opening of Owasina Hall in 1972. During the 1988 Winter Olympics, Owasina Hall housed athletes and games officials from around the world.

ACA moved to its new facility, the Nellie McClung Building, on the SAIT campus in 1973.

The Campus Centre recreation building opened in 1980, the same year the Mayland Heights Campus was established (Bob Edwards Building).

On April 1, 1982 SAIT and several other provincial post-secondary schools became autonomous board-governed institutions. Previously, they had been under direct control of the Ministry of Advanced Education.

Heritage Hall was designated a provincial historic resource in 1985 and a national historic site in 1989.

ACA became an independent entity in 1985 and its name was amended to Alberta College of Art and Design in 1995.

The N.R. "Buck" Crump Building at Mayland Heights Campus opened in 1999.

21st century expansion

A major revitalization project completed in 2001 included the construction of the Stan Grad Centre (originally referred to as the Heart Building) and the restoration of Heritage Hall.

East Hall residence opened in 2001, and the Tower residence in 2008 (which was later named the Begin Tower in 2012). The aging Owasina Hall residence was taken out of service in 2006.

The Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre was completed in 2002.

The Art Smith Aero Centre for Training and Technology opened at the Calgary International Airport in 2004, featuring many specialized labs, a large hangar and an array of aircraft including a Boeing 737-200 and a Bombardier Challenger 601-3.

The Brawn Fieldhouse overlooking the Cohos Commons was completed in 2006. A new parking garage under the Commons opened in 2009 and the playing field above was resurfaced with artificial turf.

On Sept. 5, 2012, SAIT officially opened the doors to the 740,000 sq. ft. Trades and Technology Complex, which consists of three buildings — the Aldred Centre, Cenovus Energy Centre and Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre. The $400-million expansion project was the largest in SAIT's history, adding capacity for an additional 8,100 full- and part-time students. 

In September 2012, SAIT also opened the doors to the Culinary Campus, located in downtown Calgary. The campus offers an additional learning space for Baking and Pastry Arts and Professional Cooking students as well as continuing education classes and corporate team building events. 

SAIT today

In 2003, SAIT became a founding member of Polytechnics Canada and was rebranded as SAIT in 2004. Polytechnic education is characterized by:

  • close ties with business and industry to ensure programs reflect needs of the workplace
  • diverse programming in technical, business and creative fields, with a balance of skills-based and theoretical learning
  • a range of credentials from certificates and apprenticeships to bachelor degrees, and options to ladder into other credentials
  • opportunities for students to participate in applied research and other innovative projects connected with industry.

Programs are delivered through eight academic schools: Business, Construction, Energy, Health and Public Safety, Hospitality and Tourism, Information and Communications Technologies, Manufacturing and Automation, and Transportation. English language foundations and academic upgrading are also offered.

Partners from business and industry serve on SAIT's program advisory committees to ensure students receive hands-on, practical training that reflects the needs of the workplace.

SAIT is a leader in applied research and innovation, providing expertise and resources to industry and real-world learning experiences to students. SAIT delivers training internationally and hosts learners from all over the world.

SAIT was a founding sponsor of WorldSkills Calgary 2009 — an international competition devoted to raising awareness that the skilled trades and technologies are vital to the global economy. Some 150,000 visitors attended WorldSkills and the SAIT campus served as the Competitors' Village.


1916 Establishment of Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA)
1919 Alberta Government designates North Hill property to be PITA's permanent home
1920 Building shops and powerhouse constructed (renamed Eugene Coste Building)
1921 Construction begins on PITA's main building (today's Heritage Hall)
1922 Classes begin in Heritage Hall (formal opening ceremony on Jan. 23, 1923)
1940-45 Campus taken over for World War II training; classes move to other Calgary locations
1946 Classes resume on campus
1948 First apprenticeship classes
1952 Thomas Riley Building (with additions to 1977)
1958 John Ware Building
1960 PITA renamed Southern Alberta Institute of Technology; art department becomes Alberta College of Art
1963 E.H. Crandell Building
1967 Senator Burns Building
1972 Owasina Hall residence (closed in 2006)
1973 Alberta College of Art moves to Nellie McClung Building
1980 Campus Centre; Mayland Heights Campus established (Bob Edwards Building)
1982 SAIT becomes a board-governed institution
1985 Main Building is renamed Heritage Hall and is designated a provincial historic resource; Alberta College of Art is granted autonomy from SAIT
1989 Heritage Hall is designated a national historic site
1992 Rance Fisher Wellsite Production Education Centre
1999 N.R. "Buck" Crump Building at Mayland Heights Campus
2000 Construction of new automotive centre (renamed Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre)
2001 East Hall residence; Stan Grad Centre (originally called the Heart Building); Heritage Hall restoration
2004 Rebranding to SAIT; Art Smith Aero Centre for Training and Technology
2006 Brawn Fieldhouse
2008 Tower residence (renamed Begin Tower)
2009 Parking garage under Cohos Commons
2012 Trades and Technology Complex opens; Culinary Campus opens in downtown Calgary

Facility names

Aldred Centre

The Aldred Centre, the largest of the Trades and Technology Complex buildings, is named after John and Cheryl Aldred. In 2010, the family gave $15 million in support of the Promising FuturesTM campaign. At the time, it was the largest donation ever received by a Canadian community college or polytechnic institution. A SAIT alumnus, Aldred became a licensed heavy duty mechanic after graduating from SAIT in 1968. The 440,000 sq. ft. building houses the Enerplus Centre for Innovation — a futuristic research facility where SAIT's Applied Research and Innovation Services department, and the main office for the School of Construction.

Art Smith Aero Centre for Training and Technology

Arthur R. Smith (1919-2008) was a Calgarian who figured prominently in Canada's aviation history. He served overseas in World War II as a Royal Air Force bomber command squadron leader, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and concluded his military career as a test pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was president of two aircraft firms, a member of the Air Crew Association, Honourary Colonel of the 416 Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cold Lake, a director of the Calgary Airport Authority and a member of the Provincial Air Strategy Steering Committee. Smith had a distinguished public service career as a city alderman, an MLA and a three-time MP. His many honours included the Order of Canada, the Alberta Order of Excellence and an honorary degree from SAIT.

Begin Tower

SAIT's newest residence tower is named after Mike Begin, a former SAIT Board of Governor's chair. Before retiring in 2011, Begin was a key player in the development of the tower which became a replacement for Owasina Hall, which closed in 2006. Begin also helped secure $300 million in funding from the Alberta Government, which went towards the development of the Trades and Technology Complex.

Bob Edwards Building, Mayland Heights Campus

Robert (Bob) Chalmers Edwards (1864-1922), known as "Eye-Opener Bob," was a newspaper man and social reformer who came west in the 1890s. Settling in Calgary in 1904, he began publishing a newspaper called the Calgary Eye Opener. He was at times as much a character as the political personalities, social pretenders and town oddities he lampooned. After years of satirizing politicians, Edwards ran as an independent in 1921, winning a seat in the Alberta Legislature.

Brawn Fieldhouse

SAIT has enjoyed a long-standing association with the Brawn Foundation, a Calgary organization devoted to supporting health, education and community activities. An endowment created by the foundation funds scholarships for SAIT students. The foundation was a major donor to the construction of the fieldhouse.

Cenovus Energy Centre

At approximately 40,000 square feet, the Cenovus Energy Centre houses the Power Engineering Technology (PET) and Process and Power Operations programs. The building is named after Canadian energy company Cenovus which donated $3 million towards construction of the Trades and Technology Complex.

Clayton Carroll Automotive Centre

In recognition of the impact and value a SAIT education made on his life, alumnus Clayton Carroll donated $1 million to enhance automotive training for students. Carroll was born in Nevis, Alberta. Upon graduating from SAIT's Automotive Service Technician diploma program in 1940, he worked as a foreman at Calgary's munitions plant where he helped build naval guns for the armed forces. After World War II, he was service manager for Hammill Motors Ltd., followed by five years in truck sales at the White Motor Company of Canada Ltd. In 1953 he and partner James Burns founded Pioneer Paving Ltd. and went on to build the first phases of several of Calgary's major roads including the Deerfoot, Blackfoot and Sarcee trails.

Cohos Commons

Martin Cohos, a Calgary architect, contributed his expertise to a number of SAIT building projects including the design and construction of the Heart Building and renovations to Heritage Hall. In 2007, SAIT awarded him an honorary applied degree in recognition of his significant contributions to the business sector, his commitment to the community and to SAIT. Cohos was also the first recipient of a new SAIT honour — the President's Volunteer Award — in 2008.

E.H. Crandell Building

Edward Henry Crandell's (1858-1944) business activities changed the face of Calgary. The former mayor of Brampton, Ontario arrived in Calgary in 1900 and operated an insurance and real estate agency until he established the Calgary Pressed Brick and Sandstone Company in 1906. His brick plant was located in Brickburn on the Bow River near Shaganappi Hill. His firm constructed some of Calgary's finest buildings and residences, most with a characteristic combination of brick and sandstone. Crandell was active in Calgary's social life and fraternal orders and also held aldermanic and school trustee offices.

Eugene Coste Building

Eugene Coste (1859-1940) was responsible for the discovery of natural gas in Alberta. A geologist and engineer who had already discovered gas in Ontario, he was convinced that parts of Alberta contained large amounts of natural gas. Drilling in 1909 near Bow Island produced a large commercial field that led to the formation of the Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light, Heat and Power Company. On July 17, 1912 natural gas reached Calgary through a 176-mile transmission line, the longest 16-inch pipeline in North America at that time. Coste's vision and industrial pioneering earned him recognition as father of Canada's natural gas industry.

John Ware Building

Cattle drover John Ware (1845-1905) arrived here in 1883 from the United States. Born into slavery, he lived to become one of the most respected ranchers in the Calgary district. His understanding of cattle, his ability to ride and his sense of humour made him respected by cowboy and rancher alike. At a time when a man was judged by his neighbourliness, his loyalty and the way he honoured his word, Ware was a paragon and legend of the old west. Excellent horseman though he was, his death was the result of a riding accident. His funeral was the largest Calgary had seen to that time. In September of 2001 the cafeteria in the John Ware Building was re-named the 4 Nines after John Ware's brand — 9999.

Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre

The west wing of the Trades and Technology Complex is the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre. The building is named for Petroleum Engineering Technology and Reservoir graduates David Johnson and Murray Cobbe who each contributed $5 million towards the building's construction through the Promising FuturesTM Campaign. The 273,000 sq. ft. facility is located near the centre of SAIT's campus, completing the revitalization of the 14 Avenue entry from 14 Street to Heritage Hall.

N.R. "Buck" Crump Building, Mayland Heights Campus

Norris Roy "Buck" Crump (1904-1989) was reared in a railway environment. His father signed on as a section hand with the CPR at Winnipeg less than a month after his arrival from England. Born in Revelstoke, Buck Crump was already hard at work for the railway by age 16. On his way to the CEO's office, he worked his way from engine wiper through just about every job in the operating and motive power departments. As CEO, his extensive railway knowledge and hands-on experience earned him the respect and admiration of many employees. He is remembered chiefly for phasing out steam locomotives across the CPR system in favour of more efficient diesel power.

Rance Fisher Wellsite Production Education Centre

Rance E. Fisher has been an enthusiastic contributor to SAIT for many years. He helped to equip facilities, served on several program advisory committees and donated a working service rig to the Wellsite Production Education Centre.

The Wellsite Production Education Centre is SAIT's original Centre of Technology, established in 1992. This fully operational oil and gas production facility includes a 757-meter directional well bore and a functioning service rig. It offers rig technician, instrumentation control, plant operations, hydrogen sulphide training, and service rig operations training to students in apprenticeship, diploma and applied degree programs. The facility also serves as a technology demonstration and test site for the energy industry.

Senator Burns Building

While homesteading in Manitoba, Patrick Burns (1856-1937) won a contract to supply meat to the crews building the railway. He followed the rails across the west and by 1890 he had settled in Calgary and opened an abattoir. This grew into a meat packing business and food company that made Calgary the Western Canadian headquarters of the livestock industry. The operations were successful due to Burns' control of all phases of production: distribution and marketing were as important to him as the operation of his six ranches. An accomplished horseman, Burns was one of the Big Four who underwrote the 1912 Calgary Stampede. He was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1931.

Stan Grad Building

At the centre of SAIT campus is the Stan Grad building which connects to Heritage Hall. The building is named after Stan Grad, a 1967 Petroleum Technology alumnus who donated $7 million towards the Promising FuturesTM campaign. While a student, Grad was unsure he wanted to complete his education at SAIT, but instructor Reg Erhardt encouraged him to continue. Erhardt, a SAIT instructor for 29 years, became SAIT's president from 1990-91. The library inside the Stan Grad building is named the Reg Erhardt Library in his honour.

Thomas Riley Building

SAIT is located on land that once formed a part of Thomas Riley's ranch. Riley (1842-1909) was born in Derbyshire, England and in 1862 came to Canada. The Riley family moved north of the Bow River to what are now the Hillhurst and Hounsfield Heights communities. The Rileys were among the most well-known residents of southern Alberta and did much to promote the province. Riley was a prominent member of the community and was twice a candidate for election to the North West Legislature.

Roadway names

Several SAIT roadways are named in honour of early principals of the Institute:

Roadway Principal Tenure
Miller Avenue Dr. J.C. Miller 1916-1917
Boyce Crescent J.F. Boyce 1917-1918
Ross Road J.H. Ross 1919-1923 (Acting)
Dr. Carpenter Circle Dr. W.G. Carpenter 1924-1941
Fowler Drive Dr. James Fowler 1941-1952

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