Fairview campus looking east from the roof of King Edward High School -- ca. 1917 (click for full-size)The University of British Columbia opened on September 30, 1915 in facilities previously occupied by McGill University College of British Columbia in the Fairview area of Vancouver, on the site of what is now Vancouver General Hospital. Although a site commission had, several years earlier, selected Point Grey as the location for the new university, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 halted development of the site following the initial clearing of the land and some preliminary construction.
Fairview campus -- sign says "Point Grey or bust!" -- 1923 (click for full-size)Fairview campus "shacks" -- 1923 (click for full-size)Overcrowded lecture halls and inadequate laboratory facilities characterized the University's early years at Fairview. Additional space had to be found as the number of students grew. Professors held agricultural classes in a private residence, French classes in the basement of a church un-used by its congregation during the week, and chemistry classes in the famous chemistry tent erected on the site.
Physics lab in church basement, Fairview campus -- ca. 1922 (click for full-size)Students and faculty alike viewed the "shacks" at Fairview as a temporary inconvenience and looked forward to what they felt would be an imminent move to the new campus. Unfortunately, the inadequate Fairview facilities would serve as home to the University for its first full decade of existence. As the number of students attending UBC expanded, the frustration with government inaction on the construction of a new university campus also grew so much so that the students decided to take action.
Students and faculty assembled outside Arts building at Fairview -- ca. 1920 (click for full-size)Planning for the student campaign began in earnest in the spring of 1922 under the leadership of returned war veteran and AMS president-elect Ab Richards.As a first step in what would become a massive and well-organized "Build the University Campaign", students were asked to take petitions back to their hometowns in the summer and each collect at least 25 signatures petitioning the government to resume construction of the Point Grey campus.
Ubyssey headline "Student Campaign Vigorously Prosecuted During Summer" -- Sept. 22, 1922 (click for full-size)Having collected some 17,000 signatures during the summer break, students upon their return to Vancouver in the fall embarked on a promotional campaign and massive canvas of the city to collect additional names. At the conclusion of the organized petition blitz, the students had collected approximately 56,000 signatures. The students utilized "Varsity Week" (October 22nd-28th) to raise public awareness about the plight of the young institution.
Varsity Week activities culminated in the "Pilgrimage" (the
term "Great Trek" would be coined some 25 years later) on Saturday,
October 28, 1922. Nearly 1,200 students with banners and
placards, floats, and a marching band made their way"The Pilgrimage will start from the Georgia Street Viaduct, on the corner of Georgia and Main. From there it will proceed up Main to Hastings, up Hastings to Granville, and along Granville to Davie. At Davie and Granville the B.C. Electric will have cars waiting to transport the pilgrims, bag and baggage, to the corner of Tenth and Sasamat. From there the pilgrimage will be resumed on foot through the wilderness of Point Grey, and on towards the Promised Land. When the site is reached everyone will combine in the performance of certain rites and functions before the moving picture camera."
-- The Ubyssey, Oct. 12, 1922 through downtown Vancouver and on to the unfinished campus at Point Grey (see map). After travelling from Blanca Street to the campus on what was little more than a wagon road, the marchers gathered beside the eight-year-old concrete and steel framework of the Science building and then climbed into the unfinished structure. That early student "sit-in" and subsequent Trek participants' formation of the human "UBC" helped lay symbolic claim to the unfinished Point Grey campus.
The pilgrimage ended with the dedication of the cairn that still stands on campus (lower right). Commissioned by the students before the "Great Trek" it was fittingly the first structure to be completed on the new campus. Ab Richards expressed the hope that "very soon around our cairn of rocks buildings will rise and a university will bring honour and glory to our Alma Mater and renown to our Province and Dominion."
Ubyssey headline, "Government Sees the Point!" -- Nov. 9, 1922 (click for full-size)In the week following the pilgrimage, the students presented a 56,000-name petition to members of the Legislature in Victoria. The impressive petition, persuasive presentation and obvious public support convinced the government to resume work on the Point Grey campus, and on September 22, 1925 students gathered in the crowded auditorium for the inaugural general assembly on the new campus.
Student organization of the Great Trek and the entire publicity campaign represents a remarkable, but not isolated, chapter in UBC's history. Subsequent student initiatives led to the construction of several campus buildings including the Gymnasium (1929), Brock Hall (1940), Armoury (1941), War Memorial Gymnasium (1951) and the Student Union Building (1968). Although perhaps not on the scale of the Great Trek, these initiatives too, helped define the University.