Our History

A Seed is Planted

James Patterson, a hard rock miner in Kimberley’s Sullivan Mine and a member of the local School Board recognized the need for apprenticeship training in the East Kootenay region of BC. Not one to sit idly by, he, and some other interested parties, approached the provincial government in 1971 and initiated the process of establishing a vocational school that would serve the East Kootenay region. An East Kootenay Vocational School was formed with the intention of being represented on the McTaggart-Cowan Commission; a government body formed to study the need for post-secondary education in various communities in BC. They were successful and Patterson and Ray Hughes of Fernie were appointed as the region’s representatives.

Early Days

On May 8, 1975, East Kootenay Community College (EKCC) was established. As per a government decree, EKCC’s main campus was to be constructed in Cranbrook, the largest city in the region. Dr. Gary Dickinson became its first principal in June of that year, overseeing the initial offerings of vocational, technical, and academic courses. On October 6, 1975, the first classes began with 351 students in Cranbrook, 64 in Kimberley, 52 in Fernie, 39 in Golden, and 37 in Invermere.

A Campus is Born

Sod turning for a 130,000 square-foot main campus took place in February 1978. Until construction completed in 1982, classes were delivered from 17 different locations in Cranbrook and in high school classrooms in the other EKCC communities. During this time, enrolment was growing quickly.

September 20, 1982, marked the official opening of EKCC’s Cranbrook campus. Though EKCC continued to have a presence in the surrounding communities, new facilities were not completed until:

  • 1988 – Invermere
  • 1989 – Fernie
  • 1992 – Golden
  • 1995 – Creston

Continued Growth

  • A legacy from the BC Summer Games, the track and field at the Cranbrook campus opened in 1985.
  • A 26,600 square-foot, $4.1 million expansion which included a health wing and an addition to the cafeteria for the Professional Cook Training program was completed on October 22, 1992.
  • Two years later, a 5,000 square-foot mechanics shop was added to accommodate the continuing enrolment growth.
  • The College’s first student housing building, Purcell House was completed in 1995.
  • Associate degrees in arts and sciences were added to the program catalogue in 1993.

Change of Identity

In May 1995, a request from East Kootenay Community College to change its name to College of the Rockies was approved through a BC Government Order in Council. Under the new name, the College’s growth continued, seeing:

  • The first online course, Applied Research Methods, offered in January 1997.
  • During the 1997/98 academic year, the Avalanche men’s and women’s volleyball teams were introduced as the latest members of the BC College’s Athletics Association.
  • October 2002 saw the completion of the Kids on Campus childcare facility.
  • November 2004 welcomed the introduction of wireless technology for student laptops at the main Cranbrook campus.

Expansions Continue

A new $16.2 million expansion took place in 2007, adding a new academic building (Summit Hall) and a Trades facility (Pinnacle Hall). At this time, the College also acquired the Gold Creek Trades and Technology Centre in 2007, taking over the former TransCanada Gas facility.

Just a few years later, in 2010, a $12.7 million federal/provincial government-funded expansion including a grand new entrance hall, additional classroom space, and interior renovations to improve the delivery of services began. The project wrapped up on October 29, 2010.

Reaching New Heights

The College’s first four-year degree – the Bachelor of Business Administration in Sustainable Business Practices was established in 2010. The BBA integrates social, economic, and environmental sustainability practices into the curriculum.

On January 20, 2011, the BC Council on Admissions and Transfer granted College of the Rockies a ‘receiving’ institution designation as an addition to its previous designation of a ‘sending’ institution. This allowed the expansion of transfer pathways for students to and from the College.

More Students, More Opportunities

In 1975, the College’s five locations throughout the region saw 543 students. By the 2022/23 academic year, enrolment had risen to 2,341 full-time equivalent students at seven campuses. Including Continuing Education participants, the College serves approximately 9,600 full-time and part-time students each year. During that same period, international student enrolment had grown to 216 students (approximately 9.3% of total enrolment) from 40 countries.

Over the years, both the number of employees and the College’s budget, continued to grow along with student enrolment. Starting with just 24 employees and a$1.2 million annual budget in 1975, the College saw significant growth, boasting 771 employees and a budget of$46.7 million by 2023.

The range of programs offered over the years has also changed and expanded over the years and the delivery of online courses continued to grow exponentially during this time.

Honouring Our Founder

The College expanded once again in 2017, thanks to funding from the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, Columbia Basin Trust, and Teck Limited which allowed for a new building to be constructed. The building is to be primarily used by Industrial Mechanics and Electrical students. With the tie to trades training, it seemed appropriate to finally honour our founder; the building was named Patterson Hall at the official opening in August 2018.

Valued Partnership

A $6-million partnership between Columbia Basin Trust, College of the Rockies, and Selkirk College in 2019, saw each college provided with $3 million over three years from the Trust. These funds were used for items outside the scope of current government funding and were focused on growing program offerings, diversifying, and enriching programs, and enhancing the overall student experience.

Homes Away from Home

Also in 2019, the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training provided $11.6 million of a $17.7 million dollar student housing. Columbia Basin Trust contributed another $1 million with the College contributing the remainder. Construction on the student housing buildings began in September 2019 and the housing spaces officially opened in winter 2021. The five cottage-style buildings increased on-campus housing by 100 beds. The five new buildings are collectively referred to as ʔa·kikⱡuʔnam which translates to “village” in the Ktunaxa language. The individual buildings are named: ʔakisqnuk (Columbia Lake), Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡiʔit (Tobacco Plains), ʔaq̓am (St. Mary’s), Yaqan Nuʔkiy (Lower Kootenay) and Kyaknuqli?it/Kenpesq’t (Kinbasket Shuswap).

More Milestones

It seems 2019 was a busy year:

  • The College graduated our first cohort of Bachelor of Science in Nursing students. The program, offered in partnership with University of Victoria, previously saw students travel to Victoria to finish off the final three semesters of the program at the university.
  • In June 2019, the College and the Ktunaxa Nation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), building upon the long-standing partnership between the two and recognizing the Indigenous Education Protocol for Colleges and Institutes signing that took place in July 2015. A few years later, in 2023, the College was proud to be recognized by Colleges and Institutes Canada for Indigenous education excellence.
  • October 2019 saw the establishment of the College’s first Alumni Network, providing perks and networking opportunities to former students.

Hit by a Pandemic

Like the rest of the world, College of the Rockies was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With our campuses closed, students finished out their academic year, and the one following, entirely online. Thankfully, the College’s long history of offering online programming helped us to transition quickly. The College launched a Student Emergency Help Fund to assist students who may have lost their employment or were facing other hardships due to the pandemic and gathered healthcare supplies from their Health and first aid programs, contributing over 75,000 items to healthcare workers throughout our region early in the pandemic. In fall of 2021, students were able to return to on-campus learning.

Growth at Our Campuses

In 2018, our Invermere campus began offering its first diploma program – the Hospitality Management diploma and in 2021, Adult Upgrading returned to the Invermere campus through the Upgrading for Academic and Career Entry (UACE) program.

With the growth of programming, the Invermere campus was bursting at the seams. In 2023, thanks to a $2.8 million infusion from the provincial government, the campus gained some more space. Having always shared space with David Thompson Secondary School, the Invermere took over the high school’s art room which was attached to their portion of the building and, in turn, had a new art room constructed for the DTSS students.

Our Creston campus became the new home to the College’s Fire Services Training program in late 2023, with the first intake of students expected in September 2024.

Work Integrated Learning

In the summer of 2022, the College launched work-integrated learning opportunities to many programs for the first time, providing hands-on learning to interested students. After starting off small with co-op opportunities, in October 2023, the College was selected by RBC and Riipen’s REACH UP program to create 400 work-integrated learning experiences. Creation of the WIL experiences began in fall 2023 and continued to the end of the winter 2025 semester.

Increasing safety

October 2023 saw the start of a new access road to the College, providing a much-needed second entrance/exit to the College.

A History of Leadership

Since opening its doors in 1975, the College has grown and thrived under the leadership of a distinguished series of Presidents. In order of their service, these individuals are:

  • Gary Dickenson (1975 – 1977)
  • Dr. Lorne Ball (1977 – 1982)
  • Jake McInnes (1982 – 1993)
  • Dr. Berry Calder (1994 – 2001)
  • Dr. Nicholas Rubidge (2001 – 2013)
  • David Walls (2013 – 2020)
  • Paul Vogt (2020 – present)