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Our Story

Part of our community

Our story is interwoven with the history and development of the agriculture industry of Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Provinces. As an institution, we also figure prominently in the history of the Truro and Bible Hill area. 

Historical developments

Before merging with Dalhousie University to become the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) was the third oldest centre for agricultural education and research in Canada.

The college’s roots included the School of Agriculture, established in 1885 at the Provincial Normal School, the Provincial Farm, established in 1889 at Bible Hill and the School of Horticulture, established in 1894 in Wolfville.

These three agencies were later merged to form a new College of Agriculture, which officially opened on February 14, 1905 with the farm in Bible Hill and a new main building serving as its headquarters.

Melville Cumming was the first principal. The two names, College of Agriculture and Nova Scotia Agricultural College, were used interchangeably during the early years.

Professor H. Smith conducted the first government-funded agricultural research in the Maritimes at the School of Agriculture in 1885.

The early years

The role of the new college was to assist and prepare farmers. At the time, the words "agriculture" and "farming" conveyed similar meanings.

In the 1880s, Professor Smith began giving lectures to farm groups as part of the first extension activities in the region. He also hired graduates of the college to give talks during the winter.

Students not going directly into farming would often transfer to Macdonald College at McGill University or the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph to complete their degree.

Many of these graduates entered public services and were among the early leaders of agricultural services for Canada.

The first female graduates were among the first such graduates in Canada.

Growing opportunities

In 1913, several programs and campus facilities were greatly expanded when federal funds were made available to encourage agricultural education.

Some of these included home economics education, women’s institutes, rural science and youth training.

New demonstration buildings at exhibition sites throughout the province were part of the response to take agricultural education closer to the people. Nova Scotia was among the first areas in Canada to have clubs with agricultural themes for rural youth.

The demand from governments for more food production during World War I further enhanced agricultural education and demonstration activities.

In the 1920s, increased demands on the college field staff led to the formation of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and later, the Department of Agriculture with full-time staff for agricultural extension and service functions.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the college became an important avenue for improving the genetic base of farm livestock by bringing in high quality horses, cattle, pigs and sheep.

Post World War II changes

With the outbreak of World War II, student enrolment was reduced.

Following the war, class sizes expanded in response to the large number of veterans seeking agricultural courses. Anyone with qualifications was accepted and a local hotel was rented to serve as the college’s first residence.

A disastrous fire in 1946 destroyed the science building and the college was challenged to deal with large student numbers and no science facilities.

A temporary campus at the military hospital facilities in Debert, NS was organized and served as the home base for all instruction until the fall of 1953. During that period, most students lived in the military buildings at Debert.

It was the construction of a new science building, now known as Harlow Institute, and a central heating plant that enabled the college to move its programs back to the Bible Hill campus.

Enrollment continued to grow and in 1959, the first residence on campus was opened.

Growing with the industry

Agriculture was changing as many activities, such as preparing livestock feeds, developing fertilizers and creating equipment began moving off the farm.

Food processing and other marketing functions were also expanding and the scope of the programs was broadened to keep up.

During the 1960s, the scope of agriculture began to broaden substantially and a more comprehensive vocational and technical education was required.  

Additional residences, three new academic buildings, new barns, and campus services were developed to satisfy the educational demand and accommodate expansion in the industry.

The college’s Atlantic role for vocational and technical education was formalized by the four Atlantic Provinces in the 1960s. Later, through the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, the degree program was officially recognized as a Maritime program.

The growth in student numbers in the 1970s included many women who began enrolling in larger numbers. Women’s sports teams were formed and new student services offered. It was during that time the Athletic Centre was added along with a new dining hall. The old auditorium in Cumming Hall was redeveloped into what is now known as the Alumni Theatre.

Degree granting adds further development

In 1980, new legislation was passed by the Nova Scotia government to allow the college to either grant a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture or negotiate a suitable degree granting arrangement with another institution. An academic agreement for degree granting purposes was developed with Dalhousie University.

September 1981 was the first year of the B.Sc. (Agriculture). Students were registered into a full four-year program with four areas of specialization: Agricultural Economics, Animal Science, Plant Protection and Plant Science.

More buildings were added during the 1980s including a library, an extension to Cox Institute and the Animal Science building. An increase in faculty and expanded research activities followed and the college began responding to opportunities for more international development programs.

In the early 1990s graduate studies began to develop with students regularly registered in programs supervised by the faculty. The M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees were granted by Dalhousie University.

Aquaculture was introduced as part of the degree program. This required a further expansion of facilities for the unique lab requirements necessary for instruction and related research.

A national resource

In recent years, the delivery of publicly funded research and development services has undergone considerable change throughout all of Canada. Numerous public and private partnerships had evolved which included the NSAC as a key player. As a result, several Chairs of Research were added to the staff.

AgiTECH Park was developed at the former campus of the Nova Scotia Youth Training Centre. Striking the best mix of educational programs and research activities became a challenge as the college began to match its offerings to the unique purposes for each source of funds.

Adapting to change has been a frequent characteristic of the college as faculty aspired to conquer adversity and better serve farmers, rural development groups, farm related firms and agricultural services.

Although developed primarily for people in the Atlantic Provinces, the college has been shaped through its service to become an important Canadian and international resource.

This summary is based on historical research conducted by Dale Ells, Dean Emeritus. For a more complete history of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, please read Shaped Through Service, a 279 page illustrated history of the College. Copies are available at the Agriculture Campus Bookstore or from the author.