Today the premier post-secondary educational institution in the Central Vancouver Island region, Vancouver Island University (VIU) has origins dating back more than eight decades – having evolved to accommodate the changing needs of the communities it serves.
Today VIU is a full spectrum degree granting university (offering master’s and bachelor’s degrees as well as two year diploma and single year certificate programs) with an enrollment of more than 16,000 dispersed between its four Central Island campuses. However its origins are much more humble, stretching back to 1936.
That year Jack Macready, a mechanic and garage owner opened a single room automotive repair training facility at Wakesiah Avenue and Fourth Street in Nanaimo. That first year a grand total of eight students joined Macready in his shop, learning skills to help propel them into automotive repair careers.
In 1938 the federal and provincial governments launched programs to assist with the funding of vocational training within the province. As a result Macready’s initial workshop was moved to a larger space on the property of Thomas Hodgson School, located at the corner of Machleary and Wentworth Streets in the city’s downtown core. Renamed the Dominion Provincial Youth Training Centre, the enhanced institution had a focus of providing training for youths eager to enter the workforce.
During those early years, while the different levels of government provided the basic funding, the slowly expanding school relied heavily on the support of the local community to succeed. For example during the depths of the Great Depression local support included everything from donating equipment to providing firewood to help heat the school.
As the years passed, and the educational needs of the community began to both grow and evolve. As a result the Dominion Provincial Youth Training Centre was rebranded the B.C. Vocational Training School in 1959, a centre that provided a much more diverse vocational training opportunity than its humble predecessor. By 1969 the institution was refocussed and renamed again, becoming known as Malaspina College.
Located on the site of the former Nanaimo Hospital on Kennedy Street, Malaspina College offered a much more academic curriculum than its vocational ancestor. In 1976 Malaspina College moved to custom built facilities at its present Fifth Street location, being renamed Malaspina University-College in 1989 as it dramatically expanded on the type and range of programs it offered its growing student body. The final evolution to a full degree granting university occurred in 2008 when the institution became known as Vancouver Island University.
Today, in addition to the main campus in Nanaimo (with more than 900,000 square feet of build space), VIU operates campuses in Duncan and in Powell River in addition to an educational centre in Parksville. With a current enrollment of 16,175 (including nearly 1,600 international students) Vancouver Island University continues to grow, expand and adapt to the emerging technologies and evolving educational needs of is student body.