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The Great Trek Cairn

By Sheldon Goldfarb

The most lasting physical memorial of the Great Trek is the eight and half foot high cairn that sits on the grassy boulevard on Main Mall between the Chemistry Building and the Henry Angus Building.

The cairn was the idea of Professor Paul Boving, who taught agronomy at UBC from 1915 until 1940. His suggestion was eagerly picked up by the students’ Publicity Campaign Committee, and despite the objections of the Ubyssey (which thought it was too expensive) $125 was set aside for the construction.

The cairn was designed by the University’s architects, Sharpe & Thompson, free of charge, and was set up by Angus McRitchie of the Art Monument Company. At the time of the Trek the top was left uncovered, and the student marchers each deposited small stones inside it.

The cairn itself was created out of larger stones at the construction site and was the first completed structure on campus.

Besides the small stones, there are reports that a parchment recording the history of the Build the Campus campaign was put inside before the top was sealed up.

On the north side of the cairn is a plaque saying, “To the Glory of Our Alma Mater Student Campaign 1922-23.”  Another plaque was attached to the south side in 1943-44 from the class of that year, and more recently a plaque was put up on the west side briefly explaining what the Great Trek was and what the monument is for.

At the end of the original Trek, after the occupation of the Chemistry Building Frame and the creation of the giant U-B-C human display, there were speeches at the cairn, a sort of “Cairn Ceremony” which became an annual tradition.

In his speech at the end of the Trek, at the first Cairn Ceremony, AMS President Ab Richards spoke about the significance of the cairn, seeing it as a landmark of student unity:

“Our slogan during Varsity Week was ‘Build the University.’  We, the students, are building and completing the first unit in the permanent plans of our University. The work that we are doing is significant of the hope that the people to whom we appeal and the Government who represent them will carry on this work. We hope that very soon around our Cairn of rock buildings will rise and a University be established which will bring glory and honor to our Alma Mater and renown to our Province and Dominion. The building of the Cairn to me is full of meaning. It stands for the combined efforts of 1,178 students. Each rock represents a personal contribution in a worthy and just cause.

“As the mason with his trowel shapes and cements the rocks together into a complete and unified whole so the Campaign has bound the student body together by a bond as strong as the very granite itself. Let the Cairn stand then, not for dedication, not as a memorial to our efforts but as a landmark for the future.

“To our successors let it be emblematic of a united student body. May it bring glory and honor to our Alma Mater.”

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