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Western College of Veterinary Medicine

In the first University of Saskatchewan’s President’s Report (1908–09), President Walter Murray recommended that the University make a provision for a “College of Veterinary Science” in the building plans for the University.

Although a College was not established until 1963, classes in veterinary sciences were taught through the College of Agriculture in 1913 and an animal diseases laboratory was established in 1924. Eminent research parasitologist Seymour Hadwen served as a research professor at the University of Saskatchewan from 1923 to 1929, during which time he became the first Canadian veterinarian elected to fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada (1926). In 1930 Dr. J.S. Fulton was named head of the Veterinary Sciences Department, where he gained national and international fame by developing vaccines used to prevent Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) in horses in the late 1930s. The University began selling the vaccine in 1939 for 75¢, undercutting the cost of a similar vaccine sold in the United States for $1.80 per dosage. Revenues from the sale of the vaccine financed the construction of the Virus Laboratory Building (renamed the J.S. Fulton Laboratory in 1964) from 1947 to 1948. Dr. Fulton also discovered that the same virus caused a human disease previously diagnosed as non-paralytic poliomyelitis and produced a vaccine for humans. From 1947 until 1972, one of the first women veterinary scientists in Canada, Dr. Althea Burton, worked on WEE.

The Depression of the 1930s and the higher priorities of a medical school, an arts building and an adequate library postponed the construction of a Western College of Veterinary Medicine. In 1957 Professor V.E. Graham’s survey of current and anticipated needs found the average values of livestock in the western provinces over the previous seven years amounted to $679.5 million. He determined that 350 veterinarians were needed in the western provinces but at the time there were only 50 veterinarians in private practice in Saskatchewan. Clearly the veterinary colleges in Ontario and Quebec were not supplying enough veterinarians to the western provinces and something had to be done. Finally, in 1963 an agreement was reached and the federal government provided capital funding support of 25%; the province of Saskatchewan committed $1 million and the four western provinces agreed to share the operating costs. The University was authorized to begin recruiting staff for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine on August 29, 1963. The first classes were held in 1965 in an interim-housing unit built to satisfy the federal government’s insistence that classes begin immediately. Construction on the main building began in 1966, and occupancy and official dedication occurred in 1969. A major expansion of these facilities was completed in 1981 and in 1988.

The University of Saskatchewan is now a major veterinary medical centre in Canada. The Western College of Veterinary Medicine focuses on teaching, research and services and is the only veterinary teaching hospital in Canada with an MRI dedicated to pets and the only facility in western Canada able to provide radiation therapy for animal cancer patients. The presence of the College led to the establishment on campus of a federal Animal Pathology Laboratory; VIDO (a self-reliant veterinary research institution); the Toxicology Centre; the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre and the Prairie Diagnostic Services.

N. Ole Nielsen

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