NIAGARA CLOSEUP: Niagara College turns 50

By Michelle Allenberg, The Tribune

In 1967, with one employee and two empty rooms, Niagara College opened its doors in Welland.

The college, now home to more than 10,000 students at multiple campuses, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

When it opened in September 1967, 450 students began their education in programs that included for business and secretarial roles.

Before the campus was built on Woodlawn Road, staff worked out of a two-room office on King Street in Welland. Mary Hornak was hired as the first employee of the college working as secretary
to the college president, George Bowen. She remained the only staff member for the first few weeks.

Hornak, with a laugh, recalls the rooms were small and she was tasked with filling them with office supplies.

“I just can’t get over that it started with two small rooms and it’s grown so big,” she says.

Many of the college’s campus classrooms weren’t ready the first few days, so some classes were held outside on the lawn. During that time, students would have enjoyed scenic farmland that
surrounded the college, which is now the centre of a large residential area of the city.

Hornak remembers a teacher who came from out of town being amazed by the college’s location.

Hornak says the teacher said it was just “a sea of cows grazing.”

The college was built on what was then the outskirts of Welland. Hornak says Woodlawn Road wasn’t designed for heavy traffic at the time. That led to issues the first year when ice and snow
thawed. She remembers one day in March 1968 when Woodlawn Road was a sea of mud and until the end of the first school year the city put down gravel to ensure students could access the
campus. The road was completely rebuilt the summer before the second year of classes.

Hornak says the early days were great because everyone was in the same building. People got to see one another everyday, so they created friendships.

She says once additional buildings, including the Mackenzie building were completed, it wasn’t quite the same.

“The first year the spirit was there and everyone pitched in to help. You needed a desk moved, ‘Sure, we’ll help.’”

Since 1967 the college has grown dramatically, with more than 10,000 students currently enrolled.

Over the decades, as enrolment increased and additional programs were offered, the college branched out to other communities within Niagara. It operated the Mack School of Nursing next
to the former St. Catharines Genral Hospital on Queenston Street. Also in St. Catharines over the years was the Wellandvale campus at Twelve Mile Creek and the school of horticulture on Niagara Street.

Today there are three campuses in Niagara, including Niagara-on-the-Lake on Taylor Road, the Niagara Falls campus on Dunn Street and, of course, Welland. The college also provides
programming in downtown St. Catharines.

It also has a campus in Saudi Arabia.

When the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus was being developed off the QEW, Welland Mayor Frank Campion says he was initially worried about the future of the Welland site. At the time Campion
was a city councillor.

After the new location was opened on Oct. 22, 1998, Campion says he recalls being reassured by Niagara College president Dan Patterson that the school was committed to Welland.

He says Patterson has done a great job in supporting economic growth in Welland and the continued development of campus buildings — they include a residence, its showcase athletic
centre and motive power and technology hubs.

Patterson, who has been head of the college for 24 years, says the institution works with communities and business leaders in the region to support the economy. The college has partnered with local industry and businesses to provide hands on experience for students. He says these partnerships often result in job growth and student employment.

When Patterson looks to the future, he says he sees Niagara College focusing on small- and medium-sized enterprises.

“In order to survive you need to innovate,” Patterson says about the importance of growth.

He says he’s is proud of the college’s innovation to date, which includes the development of Canada’s first teaching winery and brewery. Through hands-on teaching in the college’s brewery,
winery and restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, to name a few, students learn the skills they need to become entrepreneurs. Each college division is treated as a small businesses, and students
get to sell brewed beer on campus or serve meals at Benchmark Restaurant.

Soon the college will have Canada’s first artisan teaching distillery.

“We are always looking at the future marketplace because our students are really in an evolving marketplace that is becoming more global,” Patterson says.

The future of Niagara College looks bright, with a current investment of $50 million for campus redevelopment projects. This year construction began at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus on a
4,410-square-metre, four-storey expansion that will include a fitness centre/studio, gymnasium, classrooms, security office, science lab and more.

Construction on a green automotive lab at the Welland campus is scheduled to be completed in May. The 324-square-metre lab is an extension of existing facilities at the Rankin Technology

For a complete list of projects visit

Getting a quality education and marketable skills is at the heart of the college experience.

Susan Iannuzzelli never finished high school, but because of Niagara College she went on to receive a masters of science in education. She dropped out of school in Grade 9 and married
young. When registration for Niagara College began before the school opened in 1967 she applied as a mature student. Iannuzzelli says she had to take an entry test before being accepted,
and she was one of the first few students to attend the college.

“Everyone was really young in the program. I was married and everyone was younger, but I thought it was all really great … it was so close to home.”

Iannuzzelli, who now lives in Niagara Falls, attended a two-year social work program. She remembers her time at the college fondly, saying she loved the school and had teachers who she
loved as well. Although she was older than many of her fellow classmates, Iannuzzelli says, everyone got along well and she had the time of her life at school.

“They were great and it changed my life. If it weren’t for Niagara College I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

There were only about 25 students in her classes and she recalls there being very few classrooms. At the time, the college was “just one big square.”

Iannuzzelli, who is now 73, says the changes at the college she has seen throughout its 50 years have been wonderful. With the addition of campuses in Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, she says it gives students the option of saving money and attending a great school. She said she sees a bright future for the college and it will continue to open doors for students.
Iannuzzelli went on to study at Niagara University, receiving her masters of science in education.

She was a social worker and teacher for many years before retiring.

“I am proud to say I went to Niagara College.” Patterson says Niagara College staff have remained dedicated to student satisfaction throughout the years. He says he recognizes students are good consumers, and they tend to shop around for the right education before making a decision. He says it is extremely important to foster a culture of inclusively, diversity and putting students first at the college.

Niagara College is one of Ontario’s 23 colleges celebrating its 50th anniversary.

50th anniversary events

Niagara College’s celebrations kick off April 1 with the college’s annual seafood gala. The gala will be held at the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort Grand Hall in Niagara Falls. The reception
begins at 6 p.m. and dinner is at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling Joanne Cousineau, development and event co-ordinator, at 905-735-2211 ext. 7775.

May 6 the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at the NOTL campus will host the Niagara 50th Anniversary Dinner. For tickets and information call Sarah Scott at 905-641-2252 ext. 4623.

The celebration continues Oct. 4 with the 50th Anniversary Start Something Amazing Bus Tour. The interactive travelling museum will stop at the Welland campus for tours.

A province-wide 50th anniversary celebration was announced with the introduction of the William G. Davis Innovation Fund. It was created in honour of the former Ontario premier and minister of education. Davis paved the was for the establishment of Ontario colleges. Students and college alumni will compete for prize money by submitting innovative ideas. For more information visit

Now and then

Niagara College has broken ground by offering the first commercial beekeeping program in eastern Canada, with an on-campus apiary. The NOTL campus also offers a teaching winery with
16 hectares of vines, a teaching brewery and greenhouse.

Last year Ring Road at the Welland campus was renamed 100 Niagara College Blvd. to mark the 50th anniversary.

First year enrolment had 450 students.

In recent years the college has had more than 10,000 students enrolled each year.

International student centre

Each year Niagara College welcomes more than 3,000 students from around the globe. The college celebrates Canada’s true diversity with students from more than 90 countries, including
China, Brazil, Russia and Japan, to name a few.

On May 15, 2013, the Segal International Centre opened at the Welland campus to support the large number of international students. The centre was named in honour of the Segal family who
were longtime supporters of the college and owners of, an international student insurance provider.

In 2010 international enrolment was only about 1,200 students and in 2013 when the centre was opened there were more than 1,700 international students. With the continued increase in
enrolment, services offered at the centre have grown, too. Services now include admissions, housing, financial, academic counselling and social activities.

The international centre also assists students find off campus housing with local families. This allows the students to get a real Canadian experience learning about Canadian culture.

Since the opening of the international centre the College’s initiatives have extended beyond international student recruitment. There are currently opportunities for students to work abroad in
the form of international partnerships and projects. Some of the countries involved in these partnerships are Vietnam, Brazil and Peru