Campus Roots

The Class of 1919 was the first to complete its entire four-year program of studies at UBC (previous graduates had begun their academic careers at McGill University College). Since the vast majority of its members were from the Faculty of Arts, with only a sprinkling of graduates from Applied Science or Agriculture, the class was commonly known as Arts ’19.

Commemorative trees were a common custom of graduating classes at American universities, and Arts ‘19 decided to follow suit by planting a tree on the unfinished Point Grey campus.  The idea was that future classes would follow their example – thereby contributing to the landscaping of the new campus.

Only a few structures had been built at Point Grey at that time, and no roads laid out.  So as not to interfere with future construction, the students arranged to plant their class tree in the already-established Botanical Garden. A linden tree was purchased, and the ceremony was arranged for May 1919. University president Leonard Klinck and his wife were invited, along with Anne Wesbrook, widow of UBC’s first president, Frank Wesbrook.  Arts ‘19 President W.G. “Bill” Sutcliffe served as master of ceremonies as Dr. and Mrs. Klinck turned the sod, and Mrs. Wesbrook filled the hole and declared the tree officially planted.

(Images from UBC Scrapbook #27)

Commemorative trees were a common custom of graduating classes at American universities

Strangely, the planting of the first class tree appears to have been forgotten by the time the following year’s class was making plans for their graduation activities.  At a general meeting of Arts ’20, it was decided that a “memorial row” of elm trees would be planted at Point Grey “to form a living monument to the graduating class of this year.”  When graduates from Arts ’19 heard about this, the response was prompt:

Editor “Ubyssey.”
Dear Sir :—As a graduate of Arts ‘19, I request permission to express myself in your paper. In your issue of February 5th there was a report of the plans of Arts ‘20 for the two weeks preceding graduation, and amongst these was an expression of their intention to plant a “memorial row” of elms at the site at Point Grey as a “living monument” to themselves. Arts ‘19 planted “one” tree, with the idea that future graduating classes would follow suit, since Arts ‘19 was the first class which had been the full four years at U.B.C., and therefore had a right to establish precedent in this matter. Why, then, should Arts ‘20 be considered so important that such a large and prominent portion of the University grounds should be given over to their memory? Future years will thus be deprived of the privilege of doing their part towards beautifying the University grounds. We wonder if Arts ‘20 has done so much for U.B.C. that it requires a “monument” of such striking importance?
Thanking you,
GRAD.
The Ubyssey (26 February 1920, p. 4)

The official response, if any, from Arts ’20 is lost in the mists of time, but by May arrangements had been made to plant one linden tree, rather than a row of elms. 

Tree-planting ceremonies from the university’s early years. (Images from George Van Wilby fonds, UBC Library Archives)
A tree-planting ceremony from the university’s early years. (Images from George Van Wilby fonds, UBC Library Archives)

The dispute might have served to raise the profile of the new tradition; by the following year the planting of the class tree was recognized as an essential part of graduation. The Ubyssey noted that the class activities of Arts ’21 were “spread over a period of nine days, commencing on Tuesday, May 3rd. On that afternoon the tree-planting ceremony will be held at Point Grey, and in the evening the class banquet at the Citizen’s Club….”  The tradition has continued each spring since.

The first eight graduating classes all planted their trees in the Botanical Garden, among the plants of the Native Arboretum.  In 1926, a year after the campus opened, the trees (all lindens) were moved and incorporated more fully into the landscaping of the university.  Under the direction of Frank Buck, professor of horticulture and supervisor of campus development, they were replanted in a row between the Applied Science and Arts buildings (today’s Geography and Mathematics buildings, respectively), with the 1919 tree at the north end. The row was extended with Oak trees until 1930.

Subsequent plantings were not left to chance and circumstance. Frank Buck and his successors at UBC Buildings and Grounds ensured that the class trees were located to ensure optimum placement for shade and landscaping purposes. Although the class tree ceremony took place in May, the actual tree-planting was done earlier in the year to ensure the tree was established by summer and would not dry out due to late planting.  The ceremony consisted of filling in the rest of the soil around the tree, watering, and a speech by the class president.  In recent years the ceremony has been moved to coincide with the actual planting in March or early April.

Although the class tree ceremony took place in May, the actual tree-planting was done earlier in the year to ensure the tree was established by summer and would not dry out due to late planting.

Tree-planting ceremonies from the university’s early years. (Images from George Van Wilby fonds, UBC Library Archives)
A tree-planting ceremony from the university’s early years. (Images from George Van Wilby fonds, UBC Library Archives)

After 1926, each tree received a marker identifying the year it was planted.  Originally the markers were small granite blocks, but from 1947 bronze plaques mounted on stone or concrete blocks were used instead.  The first eight trees, however, were not given markers, even after they were moved to their present locations.  This oversight was corrected in 1945 using a small grant from the university together with some unspent balances from past graduation classes.

UBC Class Trees – 1919-2010

1919-1930

Group 1: This group of twelve trees is located in a row running down the east side of the Geography Building starting from the north end. The group is made up of two types of trees; oaks and basswoods (lindens). The first eight trees were originally planted in the Botanical Garden and were moved in 1926.

1931-1936

Group 2: These six trees are English oaks and are located on the boulevard of East Mall between Buchanan Tower and Brock Hall.

1937-1940

Group 3: This group consists of four American elm trees located south of the Library.

1941-1946

Group 4: Six sugar or rock maples constitute this group, east of the Chemistry Building.

1947-1955

Group 5: This group of nine trees was made up of native dogwoods and was located on the centre boulevard of East Mall, just north of Brock Hall. These trees didn’t survive.

1956-1959

Group 6: Four oak trees planted beside the Wesbrook Building constitute this group.

1960-1966

Group 7: This group consists of seven Davidia or dove trees in the vicinity of the Biological Sciences Building.

1967-1971

Group 8: These five trees were planted at the new Student Union Building. Sugar maples were chosen by the Graduating Class of 1967 in order to blend with the design of the building. These trees did not survive.

1972

An arbutus was planted at the site of the H.R. MacMillan Building.

1973

Three yellow cedars were planted at the corner of East Mall and University Boulevard.

1974

A red maple was planted south of the H.R. MacMillan building.

1975-1978

A western red cedar was planted each of these years in Fairview Grove.

1979

A fringe tree (old man’s beard, or black tupelo) was planted on East Mall, east of the Hebb Theatre.

1980

A Siberian spruce tree was planted on East Mall, east of the Hebb Theatre.

1981

A Japanese cherry tree was planted in the quadrangle between IRC and Dentistry Buildings.

1982

A Pere David’s maple was planted in front of the Barn Snack Bar on April 1st, 1982.

1983

A yellow cedar was planted on East Mall opposite the old Home Economics Building on Friday, March 11, 1983.

1984

A red oak was planted in front of the cheese factory on Agronomy Road on Tuesday, March 13th, 1984.

1985

A blue Atlas mountain cedar was planted between the Aquatic Centre and the Student Union Building on Thursday, March 21st, 1985. This tree is no longer there.

1986

A Stewart’s golden cypress was planted on the boulevard north of the Bookstore on Thursday, March 20, 1986. This tree is no longer there.

1987

A blue Atlas mountain cedar was planted on the boulevard north of the Bookstore in late March 1987.

1988

A Himalayan silver birch was planted across from the Bookstore in front of the Wesbrook Building on March 31st, 1988.

1989

A red maple was planted on East Mall between the Law and Buchanan Buildings on March 31st, 1989.

1990

An Austrian black pine was planted on East Mall between the Law and Buchanan Buildings on March 30th, 1990.

1991

An English oak was planted on the East Mall median between Law and Buchanan Buildings on April 3, 1991.

1992

A Ginkgo (maidenhair) tree was planted on the East Mall median between Law and Buchanan Buildings on Wednesday, March 11, 1992.

1993

A Katsura japonicum tree was planted on the East Mall Median between Law and Buchanan Buildings, on March 23, 1993.

1994

A dawn redwood was planted in the courtyard between Buchanan Buildings C, D & E, on March 7, 1994.

1995

An Austrian black pine was planted in the courtyard between Buchanan Blocks C, D & E, on March 17, 1995.

1996

A dogwood tree was planted in North Meadows, directly across the street from the Rose Garden Parkade, on March 13, 1996.

1997

A tulip tree (Lirodendrum) was planted on the East Mall Boulevard across from Thunderbird Residences (north east corner of East Mall and Thunderbird Blvd.), on March 14, 1997.

1998

A Katsura tree was planted on the East Mall Blvd. across from the Thunderbird Residences (north-east corner of East Mall and Thunderbird Blvd.) on 1 April 1998.

1999

A honey locust was planted on the East Mall boulevard across from Thunderbird Residences (north east corner of East Mall and Thunderbird Blvd.), on March 30, 1999.

2000

A Raywood Ash was planted on the East Mall boulevard across from Thunderbird Residences (north east corner of East Mall and Thunderbird Blvd.), on March 28, 2000.

2001

A honey locust was planted at the corner of East Mall and Thunderbird Boulevard, on March 22, 2001.

2002

A Japanese Zelcova was planted at the Dorothy Somerset Grove, along East Mall, north-east of the Chan Centre (Gate 3).

2003-2006

Four Zelcova trees were planted in the zelcova Grove, along East Mall, north-west of the Curtis Building (Gate 3).

2007-2010

Four Zelcova trees were planted north-east of the Chan Centre between NW Marine Drive and East Mall.

Comment

9 comments

  1. Bravo! Thank you for publicizing this important historical campus activity. UBC’s legacy includes trees!

    A few minor points: Despite the official records and the writing on the plaque, the spruce planted on East Mall in 1980 is Picea omorika, the Serbian (not Siberian) spruce. The 1956-59 group of oaks along the Wesbrook Building are rare Caucasian oaks (Quercus macranthera). The 1979 tree on East Mall is a black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), not a fringe tree. Not that it makes a difference to anyone these days, but there are also a few spelling mistakes and inconsistencies in the class trees list.

    P.S. Botanical Garden staff are happy to act as technical editors. We are UBC’s Botanical Garden.

    1. Douglas, thank you for the corrections – they will be incorporated in the class tree list on the UBC Archives website.

  2. Philip says:

    1967-1971 Sugar Maples “did not survive”. Sacrificed to SUB buildings expansion? Is there a budget to replant the 5 Group 8 Sugar Maples at another campus location? How about an appeal to Group 8 grads, most of us are likely still around!

  3. Don Boyd says:

    Great article. I never knew that grad class trees were planted every year. I’ll look for my three Yellow Cedars next time I’m on campus.

  4. John Rawkins says:

    I think Philip has a very good idea.
    The 5 Group 8 Maples from 1967-1971 should be replanted, with the grads from those years sending donations to replace them.

  5. Katherine says:

    More dogwoods would be a good choice to plant because they are the provincial flower of British Columbia.

  6. robert (bob) bryan says:

    My God, was my class that close to the beginning of the list of the “historians ” and that long ago? I’ll try to locate those trees sometime soon to prove to myself that I was really there and it isn’t just a dream. Thank you for your enlightenment.

  7. John D Redmond says:

    Yes! Let’s replace all those trees that “did not survive”, which, I’m sure, means that they were chopped down for some expansion or other. As a matter of policy, UBC should replace any trees so affected. After all, I remember my poor lost tree being planted, and I’m still around, for now.

  8. Patricia Baisi says:

    I agree with Mr. Redmond. If UBC cuts down one of the trees planted by a graduating class, they should replant the same type of tree elsewhere on the campus, announce the replanting, and duly mark it as per other class trees. These trees mark our involvement, our growth, and our history. They are our link back to a formative part of our life and the beginning of our journey into adulthood. There are so many reasons I could write about, but I’ll leave that to others more eloquent than I.

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