The University of Calgary was established in 1966, yet its roots date back more than half a century earlier to the establishment of the Normal School in Calgary in 1905. The Alberta Normal School was established in Calgary to train primary and secondary school teachers in the new province. The people of Calgary, however, attempted to establish another publicly funded university in Calgary itself. "An Act to Incorporate the University of Calgary" was presented for first reading as a Bill in the Alberta Legislature in an attempt to establish a private university in Calgary. The Legislature allowed the institution to incorporate as 'Calgary College', rather than as the 'University of Calgary'. It withheld from the College the powers to confer degrees and to hold the examinations required for admission to the professions.
Calgary strove to have an institute of higher learning with degree conferring powers which led to the University of Alberta opening a branch in Calgary in 1945. The University of Alberta Calgary Branch eventually gained full autonomy in 1966 and became the University of Calgary.
The university was modeled on the American state university (similar to the University of Alberta), with an emphasis on extension work and applied research. The governance was modeled on the provincial University of Toronto Act of 1906 which established a bicameral system of university government consisting of a senate (faculty), responsible for academic policy, and a board of governors (citizens) exercising exclusive control over financial policy and having formal authority in all other matters. The president, appointed by the board, was a link between the bodies to perform institutional leadership.
In the early 20th century, professional education expanded beyond theology, law and medicine. Graduate training based on the German-inspired American model of specialized course work and the completion of a research thesis was introduced. The policy of university education initiated in the 1960s responded to population pressure and the belief that higher education was a key to social justice and economic productivity for individuals and for society. The University of Calgary launched its program in architecture in 1971. The University of Calgary tartan is associated with the university and with its pipe band.
The university's first president, Herbert Stoker Armstrong, held a strong belief that "although the university is accountable to the society that supports it, the university must insist on playing a leadership role in intellectual matters if it is to be worthy of the name."
During the late 1960s, the University of Calgary saw a massive construction boom. Construction on campus included Blocks F and G of Calgary Hall, Blocks C and D of the Engineering Building, the lab of the Kananaskis Centre, a research, training, and service unit, and the opening of the new University Theatre in Calgary Hall. In addition, Banff Centre (originally known as The Banff School of Fine Arts) became affiliated with the University of Calgary. The School of Social Welfare was also established. Total full-time enrolment in 1966 exceeded 4000 students and there were 355 academic members of staff.