A local miner’s vision led to an enduring legacy
College of the Rockies People: Their Courage, Curiosity, and Contributions
James Patterson was born in Scotland in 1919 and moved to Canada with his family at the age of three. A Second World War veteran, Patterson helped to break down the sea wall in Dieppe and to build airfields and runways for Allied bases.
Post-war he spent his life continuing to break down barriers and build new opportunities in the communities he loved.
Lucky for the Kootenays, Patterson returned to Kimberley after the war and married his wife, Rose. He joined the Sullivan Mine as a hard rock miner, and became active in the labour movement.
At the age of 57, Patterson retired from his mining career. He went on to become an environmentalist, an advocate for those fighting for compensation from the Workers Compensation Board, and the founding president for the western Canada chapter of the Steelworkers Organization for Active Retirees.
Though he was unable to pursue education when he was younger, Patterson made up for that by enrolling in distance education courses. His keen interest in education led him to serve on, and Chair, the local school board for many years.
In 1971, on an ordinary day with extraordinary consequences, Patterson had a conversation with a local young lady he believed had potential to do great things. He was dismayed to learn that she was not going to be able to attend post-secondary due to the cost of living away from home.
That same week, Patterson made a call to Victoria and spoke with a government official. He asked what would need to happen to have a vocational school open in the East Kootenay. That one phone call made all the difference.
Education Minister Donald Brothers ordered a feasibility survey to determine the need for a vocational school in the region. This prompted local governments to get involved. Soon, the East Kootenay Vocational School Committee (EKVSC) was formed, consisting of representatives from Indigenous groups, industry, unions, school districts, and local citizens.
By 1973, the EKVSC, mayors of all East Kootenay communities, and district school boards requested representation on the McTaggart-Cowan Commission, a government body formed to study the need for post-secondary education in various areas of B.C. Patterson was one of two East Kootenay representatives appointed.
Finally, on March 12, 1975, almost four years after Patterson’s initial phone call, it was announced that the provincial government had authorized the establishment of a community college for the East Kootenay. It was ordered that the college be operational by fall 1975.
On October 6 of that year, East Kootenay Community College offered its first classes, including vocational, technical, and academic courses.
Dr. Gary Dickenson, East Kootenay Community College’s first principal, once said of James Patterson: “I don’t believe in my life I have ever met a more dedicated person to a community and a region than Jim Patterson was.”
Since those first classes, held above a department store in downtown Cranbrook, East Kootenay Community College has undergone significant growth and change. Now College of the Rockies, the main campus is located in Cranbrook and has undergone many expansions. Satellite campuses also offer programming in Kimberley, Fernie, Creston, Invermere, and Golden. Students can enrol in Continuing Education programming as well as earn certificates, diplomas and degrees. The college’s own Bachelor of Business Administration: Sustainable Business Practices would certainly appeal to Patterson’s environmentalist roots.
At the building’s grand opening, his daughter Nancy said, “Our dad would feel incredibly honoured to have this beautiful building named Patterson Hall and he would be overwhelmed by the many successful endeavours of the college.”
In his first message as College Chair in 1975, Patterson said, “My hopes are constant that the college will, by its very being, make the world a more satisfying place in which to be alive.”
Though he passed away on March 26, 1999, our corner of the world is definitely a more satisfying place in which to be alive, thanks to James Patterson’s tremendous contributions.
College of the Rockies