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UBC Library and Archives

The Great Trek, 1922 Hives, Christopher


Item consists of a production using select historical photographs and film footage to document the early history of the University and, in particular, the efforts of the students to facilitate the development of UBC's Point Grey campus in 1922. [Note - also available on YouTube at:] [The University of British Columbia opened on 22 September 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. 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 unused by its congregation during the week, and chemistry classes in the famous chemistry tent erected on the site. 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. 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. 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 through downtown Vancouver and boarded electric streetcar at Granville and Davie which transported them to 10th Ave. and Sasamat in Point Grey. From there they marched on what was little more than a wagon road, to the UBC campus site and 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." In the week following the pilgrimage, the students presented a 56,000-name petition to members of the B.C. 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 crowded into a crowded auditorium for the first 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.]

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