Distinguished Alumni: Bruce Strachan

His student ID number was 710087.

It was 1971 and he was student number 87 at the College of New Caledonia.

But Bruce Strachan wasn’t a typical student in those days. At 30 years old and happily married, he was among four or five mature students at CNC enrolled in the university transfer arts and science program.

“CNC offered a superb environment for a mature student,” he said during lunch at CNC’s Kodiaks Restaurant. “There were small classes taught by interesting instructors.<'p>

“My first year was exciting. I got along with the 17 and 18-year-olds and had a lot fun. They relied on my wisdom. As a mature student, I applied myself. I had already experienced college life.”

What lead Strachan to re-start his life at CNC is an interesting tale.

He and his wife arrived in Prince George in the fall of 1966 after spending years working as a professional musician in the U.S. His dad was transferred to the city a year earlier and told him it was “a young person’s town” and an ideal place to set down roots. Like so many young people, he and his wife decided to give it a year.

For a time, Strachan worked as a tire salesman, started a nightclub and for three years was employed as a professional musician at the Delta Inn of the North.

When Strachan turned 30 in 1971, he realized he needed to do more with his life.

“I didn’t want to leave Prince George, but I’d had enough of playing music in bars,” he said.

His next-door neighbour Murray Johnson, a CNC instructor, encouraged him to apply to the University Transfer Program. Strachan took his advice and took a full arts and science load. To make ends meet, he played piano part-time at Shaky’s Pub. Since music played a large part of his life, he also studied university-level music composition and theory.

When he finished school in the spring of 1973, he wanted to attend UBC and earn an education degree.

“I thought I was going to teach music but it didn’t turn out that way,” he said.

But CNC again intervened. In June, he was offered a job as the college’s Information Officer. It was good timing, the couple’s first child, a son, was due a few weeks later.

As the information officer, it was Strachan’s job to inform the public about what was happening at CNC and that it was the place to go after high school.

“That was a challenge,” he said. “It was the end of the industrial era. Our UT and technical programs came along at the same time. “Industry needed Grade 12 and post-secondary trained people. Canfor and Northwood were looking for forestry-resource students from CNC. Enrolment went up quickly.”

A comprehensive advertising strategy was put in place. Every January, he started from scratch on a typewriter putting together the academic calendar. He helped out in registration, admissions and counselling.

He also coached the college debate team as part of the Collegiate Debate Society. He and two students travelled around the province, competing at Langara, BCIT, Royal Roads and Vancouver Community College.

“We won lots of debates,” he said. “There were a lot of issues to debate such as Pierre Trudeau and the Vietnam War.“

In the fall of 1976, he was elected as a trustee to the Prince George School Board. He also served as chair for one year. He took his political career a step further in 1979 when he sought and won the nomination to represent the Social Credit Party in the newly formed electoral district of Prince George South. His platform? Education, of course.

“I wasn’t nervous when I ran,” he said. “Things were good. We were building schools and the economy was good. I opened schools when I was school board chair. I watched CNC grow too.”

He would go on to win two more elections and in that time as an MLA, he served as Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly for five years and as a Cabinet minister for another five. Advanced Education and Health were among his Cabinet posts. After provincial politics, he served as a Prince George city councillor and director for the Fraser Fort George Regional District.

Looking back, he realizes he wouldn’t be where he is today without CNC.

“It really gave me a start in life and turned my life around. I had no idea what I was going to do,” he said.

“I’m proud of my education. It doesn’t matter what discipline you take, education teaches you to think. That’s what CNC did.”