I Was There

“In this, her labour of love, Ellen Schoeck has captured the spirit and soul of a century old institution. She has done so with a rigour for accuracy and with a passion for its people.”

The Honourable James Edwards, Chair Emeritus of the Board of Governors.

Winner of Grand Gold and Grand Crystal from CASE VIII: Council for the Advancement of Secondary Education

I Was There: A Century of Alumni Stories about the U of A, 1906-2006

After meeting several times with Hugh in Toronto, I took a year off work and dug into old books, yearbooks and documents, with help from archivist Kevan Warner, who pulled dolly after dolly over to me in the old archives building.

One day, I found a tiny PS in Dr Walter Johns’ history of the U that entranced me. Dr Johns said he had hired Ruth Bowen (‘lady editor’ of the Edmonton Journal) to interview all the oldsters who had been on campus from 1908 through the 1940s. At the time Ruth did her interviews, the oldsters were all well into their 90s. Their personal stories were what I was after.

And I went on from there, interviewing hundreds of alumni. Fascinating. I hope that I captured the spirit and soul of the university’s people. And historian that I am, the hard facts are woven in and around the people stories. For instance, our founding date is 1906, not 1908.

Here are a few early stories to check out: Hugh Morrison and initiation; the heart-breaking end to Priscilla Hammond’s life; Reg Lister and WWI; Elizabeth Sterling Haynes and Little Theatre; and the Evans sisters in WWII.

I am grateful to the Banff Centre for two stints in the secluded Artists’ Colony. I began the book there and tapped a person I trusted to make sure there was nothing boring in the book. I wanted the book to sing!

Ellen working on I Was There at the Banff Center.

I Was There was published by the U of A Press in 2006, 100 years after the University was established by the freshly minted provincial legislature in its first sitting. We celebrate the 2008 date as that was the year we opened our doors to a public eager to send their children to a university right on their doorstep.

I Was There sold out years ago but can be found in used bookstores. Audrey’s Books in Edmonton has a limited numbers of I Was There.