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The Day of The Trek

By Sheldon Goldfarb

On October 28, 1922. Saturday, noon, the 1178 students of UBC gathered at the Georgia Viaduct in downtown Vancouver. All the reports say every student showed up, though members of the rugby and soccer teams did not stay for the whole march because they had games to go to.

Besides the students, there were scores or even hundreds of well-wishers present in cars (the students would not ride in the cars: they were there to march). There were also 35 floats, some of which represented the various faculties and programs (Science, Arts, Engineering, Agriculture) and some of which were donated by outside groups like the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs. There were also some trucks donated by local merchants and a marching band.  

One of the more memorable student floats showed a giant mock-up of a sardine can to convey the message of overcrowding at the temporary campus in Fairview. Another showed a chemistry lab in a tent, since at Fairview chemistry labs were in fact being held in a tent.

The students had done their pre-Trek publicity well. Thanks to the work of a Publicity Campaign Committee chaired by AMS President Ab Richards, advertisements had gone up around town, students had spoken to various groups, and there had been door-to-door canvassing to get people to sign the petition to build the University.  Banners even went up on streetcars and promotional material appeared in the display windows of The Bay and other businesses. There was a booth at the PNE. The Vancouver newspapers came out in favour. There was widespread support throughout Vancouver and the whole province, though not apparently from the exclusive Vancouver Club, whose location the marchers made a point of avoiding. But the Mayor of New Westminster showed up, driving his own car to accompany the marchers.

The students set off at 12:30 pm and wove their way through downtown Vancouver, along Main Street to Hastings, then over to Granville and down to Davie Street. The day was clear; the temperature would hit 10 degrees. “Even the Weather Favours Us,” said one banner. Large crowds gathered to watch the march, which was only temporarily interrupted by a railway train at Carrall Street.

At Davie the students divided into two groups to get on two different streetcar lines. The streetcar company (BC Electric) was also in support of the march, and had made the streetcars available free of charge. The women students got on cars that went to the end of the line at Tenth and Sasamat, while the men got on cars that went to Fourth and Alma.  From there both groups walked to the unbuilt campus along horse trails or wagon roads, singing their song:

We're thru' with tents and hovels,
We're done with shingle stain,
That's why we want you to join us
And carry our Campaign.
The Government can't refuse us,
No matter what they say,
For we'll get the people voting
For our new home at Point Grey.

The men arrived first and when the women showed up a few minutes later, the men let out a “Skyrocket Cheer” (apparently this meant they yelled out Sis-Boom-Bah). Cheers and yells were all the thing in those days; the AMS even had Yell Leaders and a Yell King (who were all male).

Then there were speeches and more songs and yells, and at one point the students clambered up into the half-built Science Building (which was meant for the Engineers then, but which is now the Chemistry building). Once there the Yell Leaders led more cheers, the banners waved (“Build the University”), and a film crew took pictures. And then the students reassembled on the ground to spell out a giant U-B-C. There was a film of that too.

The Ubyssey reported:

The movie men were on the job as usual and shot miles of pictures of the students on the frame building
and formed up in the letters U. B. C. on the grass of the adjoining field.  No Valentinos and very few Pickfords were discovered on the film when it was developed but the camera man reported that some of the students showed promise.

In case the marchers or their supporters were hungry or thirsty, the Campaign Committee, with the help of the University cafeteria, had set up a hot dog stand and were also selling coffee, proceeds to go to cover the expenses of the march.

At some point the marchers each dropped stones into the memorial cairn that had been erected. An account of the march (the Pilgrimage as it was called then) was also deposited inside. And then the Trek was over, except for the leaders heading off to Victoria the next week to present the massive petition (56,000 names) to the Legislature and to confer with the government – which led a week later to the government announcing that it was going ahead with the long dormant campus construction, so UBC would get its new home in Point Grey.  

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