From The First Class to CBU Faculty: Meet Blair MacNeil P. Eng.

As a student enrolled in the first class of the College of Cape Breton (CCB), Blair MacNeil was among the pioneers who helped to build the foundation for what would go on to become the University College of Caper Breton (UCCB) and Cape Breton University (CBU) as you know it today.

Blair started at CCB in the fall of 1974 and graduated with a Diploma in the spring of 1976. This first step was a significant milestone in Blair’s life, yet it only marked the beginning of his lifelong relationship with CBU. “CCB, UCCB and CBU have been with me every step of the way over the last 50 years,” says Blair. “And I will add that all four of my kids also went to CBU and each has had an overwhelmingly positive experience.”

The diploma, still proudly hung in Blair’s office today, endorsed him for the first two years of a Bachelor of Science that he was able to complete at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) in 1978. Blair continued his pursuit of higher education by getting his degree in Electrical Engineering at what was then known as the Technical University of Nova Scotia in 1981.

After working in the local coal industry throughout the 1980s, Blair was able to secure a 6-month term position at UCCB in 1989. Following the completion of this term, Blair landed another 3-month term in 1990. When a full-time position opened up in 1994, Blair was lightning-quick in applying and the rest is history, as he has been teaching at CBU in the Electrical Engineering Technology program ever since.

When thinking back to the many great professors that Blair had during his time with CCB, he says Dr. David Irwin is the first that comes to mind. When Blair spoke to Dr. Irwin years later, Dr. Irwin noted that Blair and his son were the only father-son pairing to come through his class. Other names Blair noted as having a positive impact on his education were Dr. Rom Palepu in Chemistry, Bill Wiseman in Math and Harry Boardmore in English.

During the initial years of CCB’s establishment, Arts and Science courses were held at the Xavier Junior College (XJC) buildings on George Street, while Technology and Trades programs were conducted at the Nova Scotia Eastern Institute of Technology (NSEIT) campus on Grand Lake Road, the current site of CBU. Outside of class, Blair had a job delivering computer cards from the George Street campus out to Grand Lake Road, where they were run through the mainframe computer and the results were sent to a printer. “I would eat lunch there and deliver the results back to George Street. If you got a format error, you had to try again the next day,” says Blair. He jokes that, “since 1974, computer technology has come a long way, but that is where it started!”

Other fond memories that Blair often likes to look back on are seeing a young Rita MacNeil performing early on in her career at a club on George Street among other talented performers, and many weekend dances and events that took place at the Lyceum across the street that always brought students and the community together. 

Today, Blair can still be found teaching students and engaging in friendly camaraderie with colleagues in the halls and classrooms of CBU. He has grown alongside the University and its many stages. As it has evolved, so has he. As a student, a husband, a father and a mentor.

CBU is proud to celebrate our 50th Anniversary with the community that passionately advocated for post-secondary education on the Island, our dedicated faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and all those who have supported us along the way. From humble beginnings, we’ve experienced a remarkable journey filled with both challenges and triumphs. As we commemorate this significant milestone, we invite the community to join us from June 24-27 for a series of events and projects to celebrate our past, our story, our future.

Learn more about the 50th Anniversary Week at CBU.ca/50th-week