Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island

In June 1983, an agreement was signed by representatives of the four Atlantic Canadian provinces and the Canadian government to establish a veterinary college in the region—the fourth in Canada. Three years later, the Atlantic Veterinary College was a reality on the University of Prince Edward Island’s campus.

That agreement did not come easily. At the time of the signing, there were three veterinary colleges in Canada, located in Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. But there was no veterinary college on the country’s east coast. Atlantic Canadian students who wanted to study veterinary medicine either had to go to Ontario, where the number of seats available to them was rarely above six, or to colleges out of the country.

In 1970, the Canadian government commissioned a study to assess the need for veterinarians in Canada. That study determined that there were not enough veterinarians in Canada and recommended that the existing three veterinary colleges expand their classes to graduate at least 100 more veterinarians a year. The schools were, in fact, already expanding their class sizes, but in 1971, the Canadian Agricultural Services Co-ordinating Committee concluded, as a result of the 1970 study, that consideration should be given to the establishment of a fourth veterinary college. Five years later, Dr. D.G. Howell, then-dean of the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario, was commissioned by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission to study the need for, and feasibility of, establishing a veterinary college on the Atlantic coast. In his report, he recommended that a new veterinary college be located on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province.

But it would be another ten years of discussions, arguments, and political wrangling—about everything from the need for a fourth college to its location—before the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) opened its doors at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). In September of 1986, 52 students began their studies in veterinary medicine at AVC, at times wearing hard hats as construction continued around them.

With the graduation of AVC’s first class in 1990 came full accreditation granted by the AVMA’s Council on Education. Over the years, AVC has maintained full accreditation, which is essential to the success of the College and a point of pride. Since 1990, AVC has educated more than 1,300 veterinarians. With a total student population of approximately 240 over the four-year DVM program, AVC maintains one of the smallest class sizes among North American veterinary colleges, resulting in a close-knit community that works to the students’ benefit. Professors often know students by their first names, and students learn from, and work with, faculty who are internationally renowned in their disciplines.

The College brought with it the first graduate studies program at UPEI—a master of science degree. Graduate students now come from more than 15 countries to work alongside recognized research leaders and earn their master of science in veterinary medicine, master of veterinary science, or PhD degrees in aquatic and terrestrial animal health, human health, and comparative biomedical sciences.

Since its establishment, AVC has built an impressive record in research and service, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Given the College’s location in Atlantic Canada where the wild fishery and fish farming are important economic drivers, research in aquatic animal health seemed a natural fit for the College. In fact, when a fourth veterinary college was still in the discussion stage in the 1970s, the Hon. Eugene Whelan, then federal minister of agriculture, was determined that it would include a fish health component. He got his way.

AVC is now internationally known for its expertise in aquatic animal health, particularly aquatic epidemiology. Its team of aquatic animal health experts work directly with the aquaculture and wild fish industries to enhance the healthy development and management of aquatic food animals. Currently, the College is home to several renowned research chairs and centres that focus on various aspects of aquatic animal health. This includes a prestigious $10-million Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology that is advancing the science of aquatic epidemiology and the health of aquatic food animals.

On the terrestrial animal side, AVC is an important resource for the agriculture industry through its full-service veterinary teaching and referral hospital, ambulatory service units for cattle and horses, and integrated research and service in food animal health and production. Approximately 6,000 large and small animals are treated at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital on-site each year, while thousands more are seen on farms, stables, and racetracks throughout Atlantic Canada. An example of melding research and service is Maritime Quality Milk which works with dairy producers and industry organizations to improve herd-health management techniques and raw milk quality, and to reduce production costs. MQM is now one of the leading dairy health centres in Canada. As well, AVC works with the swine industry to produce disease-free breeding stock, which is exported worldwide, and to manage disease issues, such as the recent outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that affected some swine farms in Canada.

Supporting AVC’s work in aquatic and terrestrial animal health is its Diagnostic Services unit, which conducts over 400,000 mammalian and aquatic tests each year for clients in Atlantic Canada and beyond. Diagnostic Services also provides a quality assurance program for over 350 veterinary labs around the world.

Research at AVC goes beyond animal health; researchers are working to find solutions to human health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, metabolic disorders, epilepsy, and kidney disease. The College collaborates with other universities and health organizations in Atlantic Canada and around the world to advance human health.

As the College has grown in its three areas of focus—research, teaching and service—its physical size has also increased. The building has expanded from its original size of 250,000 square feet to now over 358,000 square feet. Additions include a 55,000-square-foot research complex, an expanded aquatics animal holding facility, and a learning commons, as well as improvements to the Diagnostic Services unit, and expansion and renovation of its veterinary teaching hospital on both the large and small animal sides. Taken together, these improvements enhance service to the College’s thousands of clients and enrich AVC’s teaching and training capacity.

  • 1983—Dr. Reginald Thomson appointed founding dean of the yet-unbuilt veterinary college.
  • 1986—First class of veterinary students enters AVC, which is still under construction in some areas. First Master of Science program established.
  • 1987—First Master of Science degree awarded.
  • 1990—First doctor of veterinary medicine degrees granted at UPEI. AVC gets full accreditation.
  • 1994—Animal Welfare Unit opened (later named Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre)
  • 1999—First PhD granted.
  • 1999—First vet camp in North America established at AVC for school-age children.
  • 2001—Dr. Alistair Cribb, professor of clinical pharmacology at AVC, is named UPEI’s first Canada Research Chair in Comparative Pharmacology and Toxicology.
  • 2006—Maritime Quality Milk and the Atlantic Centre for Bioproducts Valuation receive $6 million in federal government funding.
  • 2007—Centre for Veterinary Epidemiological Research is established. Now one of the leading centres for animal health epidemiological research in the world.
  • 2008—A team of researchers at AVC develop the world’s first vaccine that is effective against a destructive microsporidian parasite of salmon.
  • 2008—AVC opens $20-million research complex.
  • 2008— Canada Research Chair in Population Health: Epi-Informatics granted to UPEI/AVC.
  • 2010—$10-million Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology granted to UPEI/AVC.
  • 2010— OIE Collaborating Centre for Epidemiology and Risk Assessment of Aquatic Animal Health established—the first centre of its kind in the world.
  • 2012—Canada Research Chair in Integrated Health Research for Sustainable Aquaculture granted to UPEI/AVC.
  • 2014—AVC’s Class of 2014 is the 25th class of veterinary students to graduate from UPEI with their doctor of veterinary medicine degrees.
Sources: Bruce, Marian. Pets, Professors and Politicians: The Founding and Early Years of the Atlantic Veterinary College. Island Studies Press, 2004.