About The Great Trek
By Sheldon Goldfarb
The Great What? The Great Trek – but not the one in South Africa that led to all sorts of unpleasantness and a war. No, no, that was back in 1835, and the Trek we mean was on October 28, 1922.
… Aha, the March on Rome?
No, no, that was a bunch of Fascists. In Italy. Annoying that they chose the same day to march as the students of UBC. That’s the Great Trek we mean, on October 28, 1922 in Vancouver. The students marched from the old campus to the new.
There was an old campus? Hasn’t UBC always been in Point Grey? No, no, for its first ten years it was in Fairview, the part of town around 10th and Oak, next to the Vancouver General Hospital.
Wasn’t that inconvenient? Yes, especially during the Spanish Flu, when the hospital tried to expand into UBC’s buildings (well, they may have been the hospital’s originally, but still). And worse, there just wasn’t enough space, facilities were not ideal, students had to hold a lab in a tent and classes in churches and private homes. No wonder they referred to that campus as the Fairview Shacks.
The Province newspaper even ran a cartoon comparing UBC to the Old Lady and the Shoe. There were so many students, they didn’t know what to do.
Well, yes, they did: They protested. You promised us a campus in Point Grey, but we’ve been stuck in these shacks for seven years. (The plan had been to build in Point Grey, but the war intervened, World War I, government spending went elsewhere, and there was just a lonely, half-completed frame of the Science building on the proposed Point Grey campus.)
Petition! The students started a petition and gathered 56,000 signatures calling on the government to resume construction, and they garnered support from labour unions and the Chamber of Commerce, the Sun and the Province, and basically the whole community.
March! And then as the pièce de resistance a march of the whole student body from downtown Vancouver out to the site of the proposed new campus. Once there they clambered up onto the half-built Science building and then arranged themselves into a giant U-B-C, all the while singing songs and raising banners saying “Build the University!”
They also built a memorial cairn, and then the student leadership went off to Victoria with the petition. And it worked!
The Government Sees the Point! That was the punning headline in the Ubyssey after the government announced that it would pay the $1.5 million needed to complete construction.
And so in September 1925 UBC’s new campus opened with a completed Science building and a new library, both of which still exist. Here’s the library, now part of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre:
It was quite an astonishing accomplishment: 1200 students getting the government to act. The whole student body energized and acted as one. And that was what we call the Great Trek*.
*It wasn’t actually called the Great Trek then, but the Pilgrimage or the Parade, and the whole push for the new campus was called the Campaign. Only in later years did people start referring to the trek we made, that great trek, and eventually the Great Trek.