THE GREAT TREK

The stu­dent pil­grim­age that came to de­fine a univer­sity

Trek Magazine - - First Day - By Chris Hives

On Septem­ber 22, 1925, the univer­sity held its first classes at the new Point Grey cam­pus. The move from the site of what is now the Van­cou­ver Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal to Point Grey was an im­por­tant part of UBC’s his­tory, but that was not in and of it­self the story. The real story was the mas­sive stu­dent-con­ceived and ex­e­cuted pub­lic­ity cam­paign that con­vinced the govern­ment to pro­vide funds to build the univer­sity and move it from its over­crowded fa­cil­i­ties at the Fairview site. The cam­paign cul­mi­nated in the Pil­grim­age, or what we now call the Great Trek.

The Leg­is­la­ture had ap­proved funds to clear the 175-acre site at Point Grey in 1913, and work be­gan on the Sci­ence Build­ing the fol­low­ing sum­mer. How­ever, the First World War be­gan soon af­ter the con­crete and steel frame­work be­gan to take shape, and with the di­ver­sion of re­sources to the war ef­fort, the govern­ment stopped con­struc­tion. The bare gird­ers of the Sci­ence Build­ing would serve as a mon­u­ment to the un­re­al­ized vi­sion of the Point Grey cam­pus for al­most a decade.

Ev­ery­one viewed the use of the shacks at Fairview as an ex­i­gency mea­sure and hoped that work would soon re­sume at Point Grey. But with a de­pleted trea­sury, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment did not con­sider the univer­sity a high pri­or­ity. UBC spent its first decade at Fairview. Un­for­tu­nately, Pres­i­dent Wes­brook died shortly be­fore the ar­mistice in 1918. He was re­placed by Dean of Agriculture Leonard Klinck.

The in­ad­e­quacy of the Fairview fa­cil­i­ties be­came in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent with each pass­ing year. Be­tween 1916 and 1922 UBC en­rol­ment ex­panded by 211 per cent (from 378 to 1,178), while the ca­pac­ity of the build­ings grew by only 25 per cent. The wards of a small three-floor former hos­pi­tal build­ing made rea­son­ably good class­rooms, while the rest of the fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing the Au­di­to­rium, of­fices and lec­ture rooms, were housed in old army shacks. Ad­di­tional space had to be found as the num­ber of stu­dents grew. Pro­fes­sors held agriculture classes in a pri­vate res­i­dence, French classes in the base­ment of a church un­used by its con­gre­ga­tion dur­ing the week, and chem­istry classes in the fa­mous chem­istry tent erected on the site. Pro­fes­sors of­ten had to re­peat their lec­tures sev­eral times be­cause not enough ad­e­quate class­room space ex­isted and nei­ther stu­dents nor fac­ulty mem­bers had proper lab­o­ra­tory fa­cil­i­ties. The Au­di­to­rium, used for gen­eral

as­sem­blies, held only 650 peo­ple. But the close quar­ters and rel­a­tively small stu­dent num­bers pro­duced a co­he­sive and united stu­dent body, and a strong sense of com­mu­nity be­tween stu­dents and fac­ulty. This spirit set the stage for the events of 1922.

By the spring of 1922, stu­dents be­gan or­ga­niz­ing a cam­paign to gen­er­ate sup­port for the re­sump­tion of con­struc­tion at Point Grey. Re­turned war vet­eran and AMS pres­i­dent-elect Al­bert “Ab” Richards (Class of ‘23) be­came leader of the “Build the Univer­sity” cam­paign. As a first step in what would be­come a mas­sive and well-or­ga­nized un­der­tak­ing, stu­dents were asked to take pe­ti­tions back to their home­towns in the sum­mer and col­lect at least 25 sig­na­tures. The pe­ti­tion read, in part: “... we the un­der­signed humbly pe­ti­tion the Govern­ment of the Prov­ince of Bri­tish Columbia to in­sti­tute a def­i­nite and pro­gres­sive pol­icy to­ward the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, and to take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to­ward the erec­tion of per­ma­nent build­ings on the cho­sen Univer­sity site at Point Grey.” While stu­dents col­lected sig­na­tures at home, the Pub­lic­ity Cam­paign Com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of Richards, Mar­jorie Agnew, Percy Barr, J.V. Clyne, Al­lan H. Finlay, Jack Grant, and Aubrey Roberts co-or­di­nated ac­tiv­i­ties in Van­cou­ver and or­ga­nized meet­ings with ser­vice clubs and busi­ness lead­ers to pro­mote their cause.

Stu­dents re­turned in the fall with 17,000 sig­na­tures on their pe­ti­tions. Lead­ers felt that the num­bers, though im­pres­sive, were not enough to con­vince the govern­ment to take ac­tion. As part of Var­sity Week (Oc­to­ber 22-28), the stu­dents con­ducted a door-to-door can­vas in Van­cou­ver to in­crease the num­ber of sig­na­tures. They di­vided the city with each class re­spon­si­ble for can­vass­ing in spe­cific sec­tions. Just prior to the Van­cou­ver can­vas, a spe­cial edi­tion of the Ubyssey pro­vided stu­dents with facts and fig­ures they could use in pro­mot­ing the cause. The in­struc­tions also made clear that the suc­cess of this ex­er­cise de­pended on ev­ery stu­dent do­ing his or her part, and re­minded them that as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the univer­sity their be­hav­iour would have an ef­fect on pub­lic opin­ion. At the end of the or­ga­nized pe­ti­tion blitz, stu­dents had col­lected 56,000 sig­na­tures. Stu­dents also so­licited sup­port from ser­vice agen­cies and other or­ga­ni­za­tions. Dur­ing Var­sity Week, many store win­dows in­cluded dis­plays and posters sup­port­ing the cam­paign. News­pa­pers, too,

Stu­dents form ‘ UBC’ in front of the Sci­ence Build­ing. All pho­tos cour­tesy of UBC Archives.

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