The Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA) ―now SAIT ― began in the tumultuous years of the Great War. When the school opened in 1916, soldiers and nurses were bravely crossing the sea to fight for freedom. Mothers sent their sons to war with a kiss and a prayer. Wives heard their husbands' voices in letters hastily scrawled in the trenches.
During the war years, everyone pulled together and did their part ― including PITA. The new institute was managed by the Military Hospitals Commission and the provincial government, and it soon became the training ground for veterans re-entering civilian life. On Oct. 16, 1916 PITA's first classes began with six veterans in the Motor Mechanics Program.
The school's relationship with veterans grew. Many of those returning from the war needed to be re-trained so they could find work. By March 1918, 246 veterans were enrolled at PITA.
The institute's way of doing things attracted international attention. PITA's efforts at re-training veterans were so progressive and effective that a group of American educators visited the campus in 1918 to observe the institute's methods in order to duplicate the system in their own schools. Today, SAIT still attracts the attention of international post-secondary institutions whose leaders come to observe how the school delivers innovative, hands-on education.
Second World War
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, skilled workers were in very high demand. The War Emergency Training Program and the Commonwealth Air Training Plan were established to help meet those needs — and PITA was to play a big role in training those workers.
On Sept. 1, 1940 PITA's buildings were transformed into the Royal Canadian Air Force Number 2 Wireless Training School to train air crew who were to serve as wireless operators in bombers. Regular PITA classes were relocated to various locations around Calgary, including under the Calgary Stampede grandstand.
Stories of a student
Clarence Hollingworth, PITA alumnus, retired instructor, 2014 honorary degree recipient and veteran, credits the relationships he made while attending the school's Industrial Electricity program with helping him secure a good position in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War.
Hollingworth was in the navy's recruitment line with another PITA alumnus when he recognized a familiar face. It was E.W. Wood — a PITA instructor who later went on the serve as the principal from 1952 to 1962.
"When we faced him, he said ‘I know you,' says Hollingworth. "We had been students of his at PITA."
"(Wood) said, ‘What are your signing up for?' We both said electrical. He says, ‘You don't want electrical. What you want is the ASDIC course."
The ASDIC course was the Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee, and Hollingworth and his friend took the advice.
"So we signed up for ASDIC," says Hollingworth. "Boy, it was the best move we ever made."
After serving two and half years in the Royal Canadian Navy, Hollingworth returned to Calgary in 1946 and put his PITA training to good use as an electrician. In early 1951, he was invited to be an instructor in PITA's electrical department. He remained at the school, seeing it transform from PITA to SAIT, for 28 years before retiring in 1980.