Standing on a hill overlooking Cochrane, Alberta there is a statue of a cowboy on his horse. The statue is entitled "Men of Vision" and was erected in memory of those early pioneers who established the area as a ranching operation in the 1880s which continues to the present day.
On another hill overlooking Cochrane stands the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College. Although without a statue, the seminary is a living testimony to the vision of pioneer Canadian Southern Baptists who desired to have a place to train their future pastors and church leaders.
Officially opened in 1987, the history of the school actually begins much earlier. What follows is one attempt to trace the story of Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College from those early times to today. Truly, there were and are "Men of Vision" who prepared and sustain the dream of theological training for Canadian Southern Baptists.
In the early 1950s pastors and lay leaders of Regular Baptist churches of British Columbia met Southern Baptists from the Baptist General Convention of Oregon-Washington. They were impressed with educational materials produced by Southern Baptists that had a distinctly Baptist approach to missions and evangelism. Their desire for training was met initially through conferences, seminars and other short-term opportunities. However, something more was needed.
In 1963 the Canadian Southern Baptist Conference was formed. This development provided a framework for pastors and churches to work together. In the mid 70s, Canadian Baptist Theological College was founded in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan under the direction of Henry Blackaby, pastor of Faith Baptist Church. Drawing students mainly from Saskatchewan and Alberta, the college filled a need for basic theological training for the conference. Teachers in the college included pastors from the local area as well as pastors from distant cities who commuted to Saskatoon.
In the early 1980s a Theological Education Study Committee was formed to explore theological education needs for the Canadian Southern Baptist Conference. The committee reported to the conference annually.
In 1984 the Southern Baptist Convention encouraged Canadian Southern Baptists to form their own convention and voted to make its resources available to the new entity. As a result, in 1985, the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists was formed and a decision was made to establish a seminary offering graduate level theological training.
The new Convention asked the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to help. The offer was accepted. Resources were now available to meet the long-standing need and desire to train future pastors and church leaders in Canada. A date of 1987 was set for opening the new school. The first office of the school was located in the Crowchild Square Shopping Plaza in Northwest Calgary.
Two events made the 1987 start-up date attainable. First, a 149-acre parcel of land overlooking the town of Cochrane, Alberta became available at a much-reduced price. Ten years later, Cochrane would be the fastest growing community in all of Canada. Second, Foothills Christian College in Calgary closed and their 7,000 volume library, along with a variety of equipment, was purchased for the new seminary. Over the summers of 1986-87 a maintenance shop and main administrative building which housed classrooms, offices, chapel and library was constructed with volunteer help.
When the sod-turning ceremony for the administration building was held in April 1987, Rev. John Cunningham, retired pastor of Cambrian Heights Baptist Church in Calgary, was present. One of the early pioneers in Canadian Southern Baptist work, Pastor Cunningham wept for joy as he helped turn the first shovel of dirt. He rejoiced to see the fulfillment of a 30-year dream and added his own personal library to the seminary as a sincere gesture of gratitude for the ministry of the school.
The International Mission Board (IMB) provided most of the funds for these purchases of land, buildings, books and equipment. Through the first nine months of 1987, the FMB contributed $821,000. James Teel, fraternal representative of the IMB, moved to Canada in March 1987 with the assignment to coordinate start-up activity for the school. A fund-raising campaign, Come Share the Dream, among the churches of the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists raised $180,000 dollars. This was a remarkable amount from a new convention consisting of only 85 churches with approximately 5,000 members. An example of the enthusiasm and sacrifice in support of the offering for the school was given by 4-year-old Mark Graham of Vancouver who gave $92 (with his parents' help).
The first CSBS&C president was Dr. Clint Ashley, hired in 1986. A former missionary to Brazil and pastor in Pullman, Washington, Dr. Ashley had served earlier on a liaison committee of the Baptist General Convention of Oregon-Washington and Canada and was familiar with the quest for theological education in Canada.
In the summer of 1987 the first two professors arrived: Drs. Wayne Cook and Mike McGough. The seminary opened in August 1987 with 20 students: 16 men and 4 women. Since the main administrative building was not complete, classes began in the maintenance building. Chapel services were conducted there also, with an overturned, empty trash can serving as a pulpit. The first four classes taught were New Testament Survey, Beginning Greek, Preaching and Systematic Theology.
The next summer three more professors arrived: Drs. Bob Tucker, Broadus Hale and Duane Garrett. All five professors were IMB personnel.
Dedication of the school took place in November 1987 during the annual meeting of the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists. Dr. Russell Dilday, Jr., president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas delivered the dedication message. The ceremony was held in the main administrative building that had just been completed. Classes were conducted in this building from October 1987 to May 1996.