Recent History – 2000
June 2, 2000
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
With the 25th anniversary of Northern Lights College (NLC) about to be celebrated, a book about the history of the institution has been released.
Written by NLC registrar Paul Dampier, Highways of Learning: The Northern Lights College Story is the culmination of three-and-a-half years of effort sparked by an interest in the buildings on the Dawson Creek campus.
“Whenever anyone walks down the campus in Dawson Creek, your curiosity is immediately aroused by the old buildings,” Dampier said. “What was this place originally?”
Contrary to popular belief, the Dawson Creek campus was not originally a Second World War vintage military base, but rather a product of the Cold War.
The base was constructed in 1955 as part of the Mid Canada radar defence line that rested between the DEW line in the Far North and the Pine Tree line to the south.
Upon learning facts like this, Dampier thought it would be worthwhile to set the record straight.
“No one would believe this if people saw my desk and my home and my office, but I do have a tidy mind in terms of trying to make sure I know what the facts are,” he said.
“And then, of course, the facts tell a story, so it’s fun to, from the facts, be able to weave a story.”
For documentation, Dampier turned to an unusual source — the people who had been with the school.
“So many of these people, of course, are farmers or ranchers, and they said ‘well, look I think I put all that stuff out in the building out back,” Dampier said. “Can you call me tomorrow night, and I’ll see what I can find.”
“And sure enough, of course, they never throw anything away, and I ended up with all the information I needed by way of source documents.”
There was more to researching the 140-page book than chasing paper. Dampier also had no trouble talking to people.
“It was fun talking to people who had involvement at the time, and I don’t think they had any idea that the college would develop the way it has,” he said. “And so they were interested to know somebody thought it was worthwhile to record that history and they were very willing to share their stories.”
It’s not the first time that Dampier has completed such a project. He’s written four other books, about Camp Elphinstone, the Vancouver YMCA, the Anglican Church in Burnaby and the Foundations of Adult Education in Canada.
The difference this time is that the work was funded by Russell and DuMoulin, Barristers and Solicitors, and the Northern Lights College Foundation.
Dampier has no formal training in history, but he does have a Masters in Adult Education. “I think that means you’re interested in how people associate themselves with learning, with institutions that provide learning opportunities, so I think that’s the inclination I have towards writing these types of histories,” he said.
In all, 500 copies of the book have been published. Dampier does not expect to make millions. Indeed, copies of the book will be donated to public libraries throughout northeast B.C. although it can also be purchased at NLC bookstores.
A thumbnail sketch of Northern Lights College
DAWSON CREEK Ñ Originally the Dawson Creek campus of Northern Lights College (NLC) was a military base.
The base was established in 1955 as the western-most sector control centre of the Mid Canada line of radar defence.
In 1964, the federal government declared the base surplus and sold it to the B.C. government and converted into one of 10 vocational training schools in the province.
The B.C. Vocational School – Dawson Creek opened its doors in the fall of 1966 and offered numerous training programs including the only provincial agricultural program at its Mile Zero Farm.
In the early 1970s, the provincial government decided to amalgamate with the new community colleges which were opening throughout the province.
In the case of the North, the nearest community college was in Prince George and thus the vocational school in Dawson Creek continued until an Order-in-Council created NLC in 1975. Campus centres were opened in 1975 in Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Cassiar, Atlin and smaller communities in the Stikine region.
Within two years, assurances of substantial college development in Fort St. John convinced that school district to join, and in 1977 NLC could claim to serve an area one-third the size of B.C.
Subsequently, Tumbler Ridge (1983) was also served.
The first principal was Dr. Barry Moore, from 1975 to 1979. The second principal, Jim Kassen, has served in this capacity since 1980.