Lethbridge College legacies: Gilbert Paterson

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“As a member of this board for 27 years and as the prime mover in the formation of the Lethbridge Junior College he made education opportunity possible for generations of southern Alberta youths. As a man he made us all a little better just because he was with us.” – Lethbridge Public School Board

“[O]ne whose entire life was dedicated to the uplifting of humanity. The many years he devoted to the numerous activities in which he always played a leading role have left their mark not only on the city of Lethbridge but indeed on the province of Alberta… It can truly be said the heritage he has leftbehind for this and future generations to enjoy is indeed a monument to his efforts and loyalty to his fellow citizens.” – Lethbridge Mayor Frank Sherring

“The original idea of the junior college which Lethbridge has today can be attributed directly to Mr. Paterson.” – Dean W. J. Cousins, Lethbridge College

Such were some of the tributes at the passing of Gilbert Paterson in 1964, a man who dramatically changed Lethbridge. In addition to his other work in the community, Paterson was the visionary and driving force behind the idea for and creation of the Lethbridge Junior College, which today has become Lethbridge College. Paterson realized that without a post-secondary institution, Lethbridge risked losing its youth as they left the city for other educational opportunities and jobs.

Kate Andrews, who grew up on the same street as Gilbert Paterson, described him as the “idea man” and noted that Paterson was the “pilot light or the flame from which we all caught the spark.” One of the greatest strengths of the college from its origin has been that both the city and the rural area felt the college was their school. This belief was carefully constructed and resulted from the partnership of Paterson and Andrews because, as Kate Andrews noted, “He represented the city – I represented the country. I feel it’s the only way an educational venture of this kind can be successful.” And it most certainly was successful.

For his community-minded work, Paterson was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws by the University of Alberta, received an honorary life membership in the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and had both the Gilbert Paterson Elementary and Junior High School (now Gilbert Paterson Middle School) and the Paterson Building at Lethbridge College named in his honour.

Gilbert Paterson had a deep interest in education, community and the future citizens of Lethbridge. He came west as a young man and attended Calgary Normal School to become a teacher. He taught for a while in Champion, Medicine Hat and Bow Island and served in the First World War. After the war, Paterson attended the School of Law at the University of Alberta. He practiced law in Lethbridge for decades, mostly in the Rice and Paterson law firm.

But it is for his influence in the educational field for which he is best remembered. His passion for education and dedication to create enduring educational legacies lives on in Lethbridge through the institutions he helped create.

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