The Nickle Arts Museum officially opened on January 12, 1979. The Museum was named for Samuel C. Nickle, a Calgary oil executive who founded Northend Petroleums and Anglo-American Oils in the 1940s. In 1970, Mr. Nickle donated one million dollars to the University’s Building Fund for the construction of “a building that will contribute to the education and overall benefit of both students and the community at large, by including facilities for the maintenance and display of works of art, artifacts, archaeology and numismatics.”
The Nickle's art collection focuses on artworks of the geographic area of Western Canada, but also extends to art of national and international importance, including works by Northern Canadian artists. The art collection currently consists of over 3,000 items. Most of these are works on paper with a growing number of paintings, sculptures and ceramics. The Nickle also manages a small African and Asian collection consisting of 19th and 20th century artifacts. The Nickle Coin Collection is one of the most important such collections in Canada.
The Nickle has hosted over 500 exhibitions since opening its doors, featuring local, provincial, national and internationally renowned artists. The opening exhibition in 1979 showcased the diversity that has been a staple of the Nickle offerings for the last 50 years: items from the numismatic collection, the Seymour collection of coronation medals, a collection of 30 forms of abacus, watercolors from Kurt Kranz (Le Chambre du Turk), models, plans, drawings and photographs of architect Douglas Cardinal, and student art projects.
In 2011 the Nickle moved to its new home in the Taylor Family Digital Library.