There is only one thing nec­es­sary now to make the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia blos­som into a full-fledged univer­sity with per­fect cre­den­tials, and that is a ’var­sity “yell”.

Trek Magazine - - - By Er­win Wo­dar­czak

– Van­cou­ver Daily World ( 30 Septem­ber 1915)

When he first ar­rived in Van­cou­ver in 1913 to as­sume the pres­i­dency of the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, Frank Fairchild Wes­brook was promised that the pro­vin­cial govern­ment would spare prac­ti­cally no ex­pense to es­tab­lish the univer­sity and en­sure that its fa­cil­i­ties and aca­demic pro­grams were com­pa­ra­ble to other Cana­dian univer­si­ties. He was told at a meet­ing with Premier Sir Richard McBride on May 30 that UBC would re­ceive $2.8 mil­lion over its first two years, plus an ad­di­tional “ten mil­lion if need be... [and] what­ever [ad­di­tional] sums were nec­es­sary from time to time.”

The cam­pus de­signs pro­posed by the firm of Sharp & Thomp­son (see next page), cho­sen as univer­sity ar­chi­tects that same year, promised fa­cil­i­ties as im­pres­sive as any in North America. The first build­ings at Point Grey, which had been se­lected as the lo­ca­tion of the cam­pus in 1910, were due to be com­pleted in time for the start of classes in 1915. Wes­brook’s dream of a “Cam­bridge on the Pacific” – for which he had given up his po­si­tion as Dean of Medicine at the Univer­sity of Min­ne­sota – looked well within reach.

Two years later, the dream had given way to a harsh re­al­ity. An eco­nomic slump start­ing in 1913 and the be­gin­ning of the First World War the fol­low­ing year had com­bined to di­vert money, re­sources, and po­lit­i­cal will away from the univer­sity project. In Jan­uary 1915 the ini­tial bud­get was set at only $175,000. Pro­posed cour­ses of study were can­celled or post­poned in­def­i­nitely. The Point Grey cam­pus would not be fin­ished, although land-clear­ing and con­struc­tion of the Sci­ence Build­ing had be­gun. It was still ex­pected that UBC would open its doors to stu­dents in Septem­ber 1915 – but where?

Since 1908, McGill Univer­sity Col­lege of Bri­tish Columbia had pro­vided post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion for the prov­ince. It was based in the Fairview neigh­bour­hood of Van­cou­ver, in two build­ings erected three years ear­lier at 10th Av­enue and Lau­rel Street, ad­ja­cent to Van­cou­ver Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal. Only the first two years of arts and sci­ence in­struc­tion were of­fered; stu­dents wish­ing to com­plete their de­grees had to go to McGill Univer­sity in Mon­treal, or some other in­sti­tu­tion.

Premier McBride’s govern­ment in­sisted that UBC would have to be­gin op­er­a­tions in the build­ings of McGill BC, which would cease op­er­a­tions upon the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the univer­sity. The pres­i­dent and Board of Gov­er­nors protested stren­u­ously, in­sist­ing that at the very least tem­po­rary fa­cil­i­ties should be erected at Point Grey for 1915, with op­er­a­tions mov­ing into the Sci­ence Build­ing upon its com­ple­tion. But the govern­ment was adamant. Only cur­rent work on the con­crete skele­ton of the Sci­ence Build­ing would be funded to com­ple­tion. UBC would have to make-do with the McGill BC fa­cil­i­ties and what­ever ad­di­tional tem­po­rary struc­tures could be erected at the Fairview site.

With the cir­cum­stances of the univer­sity’s im­me­di­ate fu­ture out of their hands, Wes­brook and his staff pro­ceeded with plan­ning for its in­au­gu­ra­tion as best they could. Fac­ulty were re­cruited from other in­sti­tu­tions, some­times af­ter be­ing in­ter­viewed by Wes­brook him­self. In ad­di­tion, many of the aca­demic and ad­min­is­tra­tive staff from McGill BC were re­tained by UBC. Al­to­gether, for its first year of op­er­a­tion UBC would have a teach­ing staff of 34 – of whom two, clas­sics pro­fes­sor Harry T. Logan and dean of Ap­plied Sci­ence Regi­nald W. Brock, were on leave for over­seas mil­i­tary ser­vice – and 12 ad­min­is­tra­tive staff.

Reg­is­tra­tion for classes was sched­uled to be­gin on Septem­ber 27. McGill BC stu­dents were al­lowed to con­tinue their cour­ses of study at the new univer­sity, with those who had al­ready com­pleted their third year of study com­ing back for the fourth year and ex­pected to fin­ish as UBC’s first grad­u­ates in 1916. At the same time, more than half the pro­jected stu­dent body would con­sist of first-years. Most new univer­si­ties be­gin with a fresh­man class and per­haps a hand­ful of older stu­dents. By con­trast, UBC would boast a full com­ple­ment of un­der­grad­u­ates from all years, in the fac­ul­ties of Arts and Ap­plied Sci­ence:

The third fac­ulty, Agriculture, ex­isted on pa­per only. Although Dean Leonard Klinck would of­fer an in­tro­duc­tory course in agriculture that year, a full pro­gram of agriculture classes would not be of­fered un­til 1917.

In ad­di­tion to those listed above, 56 McGill BC stu­dents who had en­listed – many of whom were al­ready serv­ing in the front lines in France – had de­clared that they would con­tinue their stud­ies at UBC at the end of their mil­i­tary ser­vice. Wes­brook and his col­leagues de­cided that, as their col­lege had ceased to ex­ist, these soldier-stu­dents were with­out an “alma mater,” and so should be in­cluded in the UBC stu­dent body – in ad­di­tion, any fees they might owe would be waived. With these over­seas men in­cluded, the stu­dent body for 1915/ 16 would even­tu­ally to­tal 435.

Stu­dents and staff would launch their aca­demic ca­reers in fa­cil­i­ties that were a far cry from what Wes­brook had orig­i­nally been promised. McGill BC had left its two build­ings in Fairview to its suc­ces­sor: a two-and-a-half storey wood-frame build­ing at the south­east cor­ner of 10th Av­enue and Lau­rel Street, and a sin­gle-storey struc­ture, also of wood con­struc­tion, im­me­di­ately be­side it. These would be­come known as the Physics and Chem­istry build­ings, re­spec­tively. Also in­cluded among the col­lege’s as­sets left to UBC were its li­brary col­lec­tion of 1,910 vol­umes, and as­sorted lab­o­ra­tory and of­fice fur­ni­ture and equip­ment.

In ad­di­tion, the Van­cou­ver School Board agreed to loan the chairs and desks that had pre­vi­ously been used by McGill BC. The board also granted univer­sity stu­dents ac­cess to lab­o­ra­tory and work­shop fa­cil­i­ties at nearby King Ed­ward High School.

Per­haps most im­por­tantly, Van­cou­ver Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal was very gen­er­ous in al­low­ing the univer­sity to ex­pand its pres­ence across its prop­erty. VGH board chair­man J. J. Ban­field agreed to the con­struc­tion of two ad­di­tional “tem­po­rary” build­ings, each sin­gle-storey and of wood-frame-and-shin­gle con­struc­tion, on Lau­rel. Com­pleted that sum­mer, these would house classes and lab­o­ra­to­ries for ge­ol­ogy and min­ing.

Fi­nally, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment had paid for the con­struc­tion of a new, per­ma­nent build­ing for VGH’s use as a tu­ber­cu­lo­sis con­trol and treat­ment cen­tre, on the con­di­tion that it be loaned to the univer­sity for as long as it was based at the Fairview cam­pus. For UBC it would serve as space for the univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Li­brary, and the Fac­ulty of Arts – the lat­ter gave it its un­of­fi­cial name of the Arts Build­ing.

By Septem­ber the Li­brary col­lec­tions had grown to 30,000 vol­umes. The Li­brary it­self was lo­cated on the first floor of the east wing of the Arts Build­ing. A small read­ing room, with seat­ing for about 35 stu­dents, was es­tab­lished in space orig­i­nally in­tended as a south-fac­ing deck for hos­pi­tal pa­tients. The book­stacks were lo­cated in a larger room next door.

The Li­brary col­lec­tion was not yet fully cat­a­logued – the books were sim­ply grouped on the shelves ac­cord­ing to gen­eral sub­ject area. Act­ing li­brar­ian John Rid­ing­ton had been hired on a tem­po­rary ba­sis in Au­gust 1914 only to unpack and cat­a­logue books. He was of­fi­cially ap­pointed in De­cem­ber 1914, “in charge of cat­a­logu­ing Li­brary,” although he had no for­mal train­ing as a li­brar­ian.

Au­gust and Septem­ber of 1915 pre­sented a pic­ture of con­trolled chaos in and around Fairview. The univer­sity’s of­fices were still down­town; the new space in the Arts Build­ing had to be made ready. Of­fice walls and par­ti­tions were put up, and tele­phone lines in­stalled. Wes­brook’s at­ten­tion to de­tail was such that the item­ized costs of each project were noted in his di­ary. His di­ary was full of to-do lists, ap­point­ment re­minders, and notes to see so-and-so re. such-and-such. A re­minder of his wife’s birth­day on Au­gust 7 was writ­ten in red ink.

The fi­nal­ized text for the first UBC cal­en­dar was sent to the King’s Prin­ter on Au­gust 2. When it was pub­lished the fol­low­ing month, Wes­brook made sure com­pli­men­tary copies were sent to govern­ment of­fi­cials, lo­cal dig­ni­taries, and other univer­sity sup­port­ers. De­mand for this first tan­gi­ble prod­uct of the univer­sity be­came so great among the gen­eral pub­lic that copies of the cal­en­dar dis­ap­peared as quickly as they were pro­duced.

The move of the univer­sity’s of­fices from Hast­ings Street to Fairview hap­pened on Septem­ber 13. Pres­i­dent Wes­brook wasn’t even in town that day – the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion had del­e­gated him to speak to a meet­ing of school trus­tees in Chilli­wack. His first day at work in his new of­fice was Septem­ber 16. As he wrote in a let­ter a few days later: “We have left the Hast­ings Street of­fices and moved in on the work­men which hur­ried them and in­con­ve­nienced us but I think on the whole the re­sults will be sat­is­fac­tory.”

Even in the mid­dle of such a pe­riod of un­remit­ting ac­tiv­ity, Wes­brook still had so­cial obli­ga­tions to ful­fill. Per­haps the most im­por­tant of these came on Septem­ber 18 when he and his wife had the op­por­tu­nity to meet Canada’s Gov­er­nor Gen­eral, His Royal High­ness the Duke of Con­naught. The Duke was very in­ter­ested in mil­i­tary af­fairs and Canada’s role in the war. Wes­brook took the op­por­tu­nity to tell him about UBC’s plans for an of­fi­cers’ train­ing corps.

Other vis­i­tors to Van­cou­ver had to be met and shown around. Lo­cal friends, col­leagues, and dig­ni­taries were in­vited for din­ner. As new univer­sity staff ar­rived to as­sume their posts, Wes­brook would of­ten meet them in per­son.

Another mile­stone came on the af­ter­noon of Septem­ber 27 when Wes­brook presided over the first meet­ing of the fac­ulty. The pres­i­dent de­clared that he did not want the univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cen­tral­ized among the fac­ul­ties and de­part­ments, and pre­ferred a uni­tary sys­tem. He pro­posed an ad­min­is­tra­tive body con­sist­ing of the deans and de­part­ment heads. De­tails of man­age­ment would be as­sumed by com­mit­tees, the func­tions and mem­ber­ship of which Wes­brook had al­ready care­fully con­sid­ered be­fore the meet­ing. Wes­brook’s cen­tral­ized sys­tem would per­sist un­til 1921, when ad­min­is­tra­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were de­volved to the aca­demic units.

The univer­sity’s ac­tual open­ing was to be a quiet and un­der­stated af­fair. No spe­cial cer­e­monies were planned for Thurs­day, Septem­ber 30. Wes­brook’s di­ary en­try for that day was brief: “9 a.m. – Stu­dents as­sem­bled meet classes in 4 groups with 1 Reg­is­trar & Mr. Klinck.”

The Li­brary col­lec­tion was not yet fully cat­a­logued – the books were sim­ply grouped on the shelves ac­cord­ing to gen­eral sub­ject area.

One rea­son for the lack of fan­fare was that there was no au­di­to­rium or other space large enough to hold the more than 300 stu­dents who were present that first day. In­stead, they were or­ga­nized into four groups in four class­rooms. Each in turn was vis­ited by the pres­i­dent and mem­bers of the univer­sity staff. To each group Wes­brook read a let­ter he had re­ceived from Premier McBride: This be­ing the week upon which Univer­sity work in this Prov­ince be­gins, I take this op­por­tu­nity of writ­ing to you and ex­press­ing my plea­sure at the fact that in ed­u­ca­tional mat­ters we have reached another mile­stone of progress. I want to con­grat­u­late you upon hav­ing en­tered upon the ac­tual du­ties for which you have for some time been so as­sid­u­ously pre­par­ing, and to con­grat­u­late the peo­ple of Bri­tish Columbia upon their at last pos­sess­ing an in­sti­tu­tion that will some day rank with the great Univer­si­ties of the Con­ti­nent...

I want you, on my be­half, to ex­tend greet­ings to your Col­leagues and wel­come the Stu­dents, many of whom will un­doubt­edly oc­cupy po­si­tions of great re­spon­si­bil­ity in Bri­tish Columbia, to fit them for which is one of the ob­jects that gave the Univer­sity be­ing.

It was also felt that ow­ing to wartime con­di­tions and the gen­eral pub­lic anx­i­ety re­gard­ing the war, then en­ter­ing its sec­ond year, it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate to hold any for­mal cer­e­mony or cel­e­bra­tion. In­stead, Wes­brook looked to the fu­ture. Open­ing day was only the be­gin­ning for UBC – there would be op­por­tu­ni­ties ahead to cel­e­brate the univer­sity’s ac­com­plish­ments. As he wrote to Premier McBride later that day,

We shall hope that when next spring we are able to present can­di­dates for the first de­grees granted by the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, there will be op­por­tu­nity for some for­mal demon­stra­tion, at which time the peo­ple of the Prov­ince may see some­thing of the work un­der­taken and ac­com­plished, and that on such an oc­ca­sion, they may have some right to con­grat­u­late them­selves upon their de­ter­mi­na­tion to es­tab­lish a peo­ple’s univer­sity.

UBC’s rel­a­tively low pro­file on open­ing day did not mean that it es­caped me­dia at­ten­tion. News­pa­pers from Van­cou­ver to Vic­to­ria to Ver­non all re­ported on the univer­sity’s launch. An ed­i­to­rial in the Van­cou­ver News-Ad­ver­tiser noted its mod­est be­gin­nings and the dif­fi­cul­ties of launch­ing such a ma­jor en­ter­prise in wartime, but con­cluded that: [Pres­i­dent Wes­brook] is a re­source­ful and ca­pa­ble or­ga­nizer and finds him­self now at the head of a school which starts out much bet­ter equipped and manned, and with a far larger at­ten­dance, than the other univer­si­ties of Western Canada. It is only just to say that the univer­sity would not have been in this po­si­tion if it had not fallen heir to ed­u­ca­tional as­sets of McGill Univer­sity Col­lege, which has laid a sub­stan­tial foun­da­tion for the larger en­ter­prise now un­der­taken by the pro­vin­cial univer­sity.

A sep­a­rate ar­ti­cle in the News-Ad­ver­tiser con­cluded, “the en­thu­si­asm of the fac­ulty is dom­i­nated by their de­sire to see that the univer­sity fills its proper place in the in­tel­lec­tual and in­dus­trial progress of the prov­ince... Its great fu­ture can but dimly be di­vined.” That day’s fea­ture ar­ti­cle in

the Van­cou­ver World paints the most vivid sur­viv­ing pic­ture of UBC’s in­au­gu­ra­tion: There is only one thing nec­es­sary now to make the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia blos­som into a full-fledged univer­sity with per­fect cre­den­tials, and that is a ’var­sity “yell”.

... There were the fresh-faced and some­what un­so­phis­ti­cated fresh­man, the sopho­more with his year of col­lege tend­ing to make him re­gard the “new man” with mixed feel­ings of kind­li­ness and pity, the stu­dious third-year man and the fourth-year stu­dent, ea­gerly wait­ing for the de­gree that shall be the “open se­same” to the great world of strug­gle and fame.

When the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of The World crossed the thresh­old of the Arts build­ing at 9 a.m. over 200 ea­ger stu­dents were crowded to­gether in the atrium wait­ing for the door to their re­spec­tive class-rooms to be thrown open. The buzz of con­ver­sa­tion, such as is only heard on first days, droned through the vestibule. In one cor­ner a group of girls were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ex­am­in­ing new text books. In another two fourth-year men were de­bat­ing the war and mil­i­tary train­ing. Two Ja­panese stu­dents sat as mo­tion­less as stat­ues on a long bench, while a group of young ladies and young men ea­gerly re­viewed the names of the suc­cess­ful can­di­dates at the re­cent sup­ple­men­tal ex­am­i­na­tions, pub­lished on the an­nounce­ments’ board on the wall.

Af­ter the pres­i­dent ad­dressed each of the as­sem­bled stu­dent groups, the pro­fes­sors gave gen­eral out­lines of study for each of their cour­ses, and ad­vised stu­dents as to where to pur­chase text­books and other es­sen­tials. The stu­dents were then dis­missed. Classes would start in earnest the next day.

With that, the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia was launched as the coun­try’s new­est post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion. Its be­gin­nings were far more mod­est than had been imag­ined just two years be­fore. Thoughts of the war weighed heav­ily on stu­dents and fac­ulty alike. At spring con­vo­ca­tion – which Pres­i­dent Wes­brook in­tended as UBC’s “real” com­ing-out party – the grad­u­a­tion gowns would be trimmed with khaki thread to hon­our those stu­dents who had en­listed.

Nev­er­the­less, op­ti­mism and en­thu­si­asm per­vaded the Fairview cam­pus. Those feel­ings would be em­bod­ied by Pres­i­dent Wes­brook when he wrote later to his friend, pro­vin­cial forester H.R. MacMil­lan: “If we do not ac­com­plish good work, it will not be be­cause we do not have good tim­ber. I am de­lighted with the stu­dents in­di­vid­u­ally and think they will de­velop the Univer­sity spirit although as yet they have not had a chance.” Wes­brook’s op­ti­mism for the fu­ture of UBC would be jus­ti­fied over the next cen­tury.

The univer­sity’s ac­tual open­ing was to be a quiet and un­der­stated af­fair. No spe­cial cer­e­monies were planned for Thurs­day, Septem­ber 30. Wes­brook’s di­ary en­try for that day was brief: “9 a. m. – Stu­dents as­sem­bled meet classes in 4 groups with 1 Reg­is­trar & Mr. Klinck.”

UBC’s orig­i­nal Fairview cam­pus at 10th Av­enue and Lau­rel Street. All pho­tos cour­tesy UBC Archives.

of UBC. pres­i­dent k,first Wes­broo Frank

The win­ning ar­chi­tec­tural plans for a cam­pus at Point

Grey, sub­mit­ted by Sharp and


board from left) and UBC Wes­brook (sec­ond

(sec­ond from mem­ber Robert McKech­nie

at a pub­lic event – right), later Chan­cel­lor,

in 1916. likely UBC’s first grad­u­a­tion

Copies of UBC’s first cal­en­dar dis­ap­peared as quickly as they were pro­duced.

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