Editor’s Note: Foreword to the Past

UBC’s first president, Dr. Frank Fairchild Wesbrook, visiting Point Grey, ca. 1916.
Cover image: UBC’s first president, Dr. Frank Fairchild Wesbrook, visiting Point Grey, ca. 1916.
The dynamite shack was located on what is now Main Mall. If it were still around today, it would be dwarfed (and upstaged) by the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on one side, and the Applied Science building on the other.
The dynamite shack was located on what is now Main Mall. If it were still around today, it would be dwarfed (and upstaged) by the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on one side, and the Applied Science building on the other.

Looking out at today’s campus from the comfort of the climate-controlled Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre – only five minutes’ walk from where the shack stood on what is now Main Mall – you can see buildings old and new stretching to the horizon, and the omnipresent cranes are evidence of more growth to come.

Having spent the last few months engrossed in archival UBC images and footage, and nosing through boxes of decades-old university correspondence, I see striking contrasts with the past all around.

An early skateboard?
An early skateboard?
Students liked to have as much fun then as they do now.
Students liked to have as much fun then as they do now.

This month, for example, students returned to campus in their thousands – lugging backpacks, riding skateboards, texting friends, acclimatizing to student life. Judging by some candid black and white photos of early students on UBC’s original Fairview campus (there were fewer than 400 of them back then), it’s clear they indulged in as many antics as students do today – only they did it in long skirts and three-piece suits. Fashion isn’t the only thing to have changed: the classroom setting has gone from straight-back-and-chalkboard to interactive and hi-tech, and the university’s campuses are far more culturally diverse.

The passage of time is also apparent from the type and volume of research discovery. The first recorded invention disclosure at UBC was for a device to allow the more efficient planting of trees. More recently, forestry researchers have mapped the genomes of the spruce tree and the mountain pine beetle, and are also exploring how trees might best adapt to climate change. Hand-in-hand with new areas of research, the university now has a staggering number of courses on offer in almost every subject imaginable – not only on campus but out in the community as well.

So UBC evidently started with a lot of big bangs (if the shack’s anything to go by) and has been rapidly expanding ever since. There’s a lot to cover in one Centennial issue, which is why we decided to have two:

This one focuses on UBC’s first century – covering some of the institution’s earliest stories, examining how student life and politics have helped shape its cultural identity, and highlighting just a few of the research areas in which it now enjoys a commanding reputation.

The less introspective spring 2016 issue, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of UBC’s first graduating class, will check in with some of UBC’s 305,000 alumni living and working in approximately 140 countries, and look ahead to a different world hinted at by emerging fields of research. It will also delve into some of the university’s roles in the community, as well as its fast-expanding international activities and partnerships.

We’ll never know exactly what Frank Wesbrook was envisioning as he looked out over Point Grey on a chilly day in 1916, or thereabouts, but it’s safe to say he’d be mightily impressed by what UBC has become in just a hundred years.

 

Vanessa Clarke
Editor

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