I remember people telling me “if you remember the 60s, you weren’t really there.” Drugs were a big part of the burn-the-bra, flower-child, free-love generation. But I had led a sheltered life. So when I ended up in residence in my third year at UBC, all that stuff just went right over my head. I remember the horrid smell in the dorm when I passed by fellow residents playing cards and smoking.
“What is that smell?”
“Oh, these are cabbage cigarettes – I’m trying to quit smoking.”
I believed the student. After all, I had heard of cabbage cigarettes. The same year I was with some other students in a cafeteria, and one was acting very oddly. I asked “What is up with him?” and they said, “He is doing drugs again.” Up until then, I had no idea anyone at university was doing drugs.
Let us fast forward to graduation year. I had just finished my last exam and was sitting in the new Student Union building waiting for my ride home. This guy is quietly walking around asking if we want to buy “Saratoga Gold.” I wondered out loud “What would make one kind of gold better than another?” My friends explained that it was “high” quality marijuana.
So yes, I do remember the 60s. I remember being afraid of being a freshman because of how that was portrayed in movies. I remember being afraid of the challenge of university courses, until I realized I had been well prepared for it in high school. And loving the way we were treated as adults, having to make decisions for ourselves. One of my favourite stories is about the day I heard about a new course – computer science – from a friend who was in my math classes. He said to me, “Have you chosen your electives yet for next year?”
“I just took a class that I think you would really like – computer science.”
Based on that brief encounter, I decided to take the class. I was in heaven! I decided that computing, as an administrator (ie: support for clients, managing the computer center), was my career goal. Luckily that worked out for me.
The other fringe benefit of taking computing science was that I met my husband in that class. He often says “We met in the Theatre (pause for effect) – Hebb Theatre.” I wasn’t looking for a partner at the time but we bonded over the time spent keypunching our assignments together up until midnight. Those cards were submitted for running on the computer, and took as much as three days to be returned to us with the results. Usually by then we had looked at printouts of our instructions and noticed errors in coding and/or keystrokes and had as many as three other versions in the queue. Those were the days!
In my third year, I took a calculus course that started at 8:30 am. The professor rode his bicycle to class and there was a standing order that if he wasn’t at class by 8:45 am, we were to assume that he wouldn’t be there. He had a habit of creating exam and homework questions and handing them out before he tried to solve the problems himself. Usually there were several problems to which the students could not find a solution and in the next class the professor told us to ignore these questions because there was no solution. One midterm exam, for which he again made up the questions, was particularly tough. When the exam was finished and the professor had collected the papers, he left them in a cardboard box outside his office because he was in a hurry to go somewhere. Needless to say, the exams “disappeared” and the professor had to make up another midterm exam, which was much easier. No one admitted to taking the exams, although several students were suspected (I was not one of them). Previously, in my first year at UBC, I was very lucky to be assigned to Walter Gage’s calculus course. He and the course were thoroughly enjoyable and he was so popular that other students would stand in the hallway trying to hear his lectures even though they were not assigned to his course.
Ahh, Alan. My friend, you still delight me to this day. Our days of carpooling from Kerrisdale out to university were a delight of friendship between a bunch of guys. Our talks and your grumpy “Morning” before a decent cup of coffee are not soon to be forgotten.
First-year university and still living at home. Five guys borrow Mum or Dad’s car to drive for a week at a time. John’s rattling Land Rover, Brian’s 1963 Pontiac Laurentian, Bruce’s car and your little putt-putt, Alan. My parent’s 1962 Pontiac Strato Chief. Taking turns going to UBC campus every morning. Kibitzing, stories, worries, sometimes university stuff, and traffic tickets. Traffic tickets? Isn’t that a great segue into this story folks? Yes, traffic tickets.
Here’s the scoop. Alan was driving all five to UBC and parking in B-Lot. B-Lot was the parking lot out behind hell and gone from which we had to trudge into classes every morning. One morning there was a UBC traffic patrol cop directing traffic. Alan blew past him. David and John in the back seat of course start into Alan about how the cop is taking down his license plate number. What? What? What are you guys talking about? We tell him. The cop wasn’t but we tell Alan that “fact.” Get his goat. Tease Alan a bit. This was on a Friday morning.
On Saturday, John and I had got together and decided to extend the prank. We typed a letter to Alan, saying he had to present the letter at the traffic office on campus during one of Alan’s chemistry laboratory time slots. Alan had to bring a friend to verify his identity and that summons letter. Missing a lab was a big deal in those days. Oops, it’s Saturday today, can’t deliver the letter. No problem, we are university students. We can solve the problems of the world. We typed the envelope, placed the stamp and then used some carbon paper and a pencil to “stencil the stamp.” Then we drove over to Alan’s house, snuck up the front steps and slipped it into the mail slot – on Saturday afternoon. No real postman was ever out at that time.
Monday rolls around and it’s my turn to drive. John is sitting in the front seat and the other three in the back. Alan of course brings up the ticket and how he needs to have one of us attend with him to verify Alan is Alan. Having spoken with everyone prior, David had to do this, Brian that, John had a lab, Bruce was dating a chick for coffee at the Ponderosa cafe. Nobody could go with Alan to the traffic office.
Alan hands the letter up to John sitting beside me, John reads it, and hands it to me. We are parked in B-Lot by this time. I read the letter. It says to bring the letter to the office. Out of sight of Alan in the back seat, I mime tearing up the letter to John. Yes, his nodding head says.
I tear up the letter in front of everyone! Alan goes ballistic! He needs that letter, he needs another body to verify his identity and this whole thing is screwing up his Chem lab. Nobody is helping him, he’s going to get a ticket and here we are tearing up the letter to boot. Alan is jumping up and down in the back seat of the car. Didn’t know he could move that fast or in those directions.
I then showed Alan the initials at the bottom of the page for the author and the secretary: “DP/JW.” It takes Alan about six seconds to process and then he really really explodes as he realizes the whole thing is a set up. He grabs his books and satchel and opens the door, piles out and slams the back door and we can see him muttering all the way onto campus. He did ride home with us but he was not a happy camper that afternoon.
And this is university life at its finest. Scholastic, serious. Yes and no. Now and then. But fun, light hearted, loving of friends and learning. Sometimes scholastic, many times serious. But great fun. Great.
My all-time favourite washroom graffiti comes from my UBC student days. I think it was in the Hennings building, because I was a physics major. The graffiti said: “Time is merely a device to prevent everything from happening at once… and it doesn’t work.” QED.
It was September 1962. I was late for my first Math 120 class in Arts 100 so tried to enter the huge lecture hall without being noticed. Dean Walter Gage, who had already begun his lecture, stopped and asked me if I was lost. I was so nervous that I could not answer.
“This is Math 120, son. Are you in this class?” he asked.
“I think so,” I replied timidly.
Pulling out the class list, he asked, “name and student number?”
I managed to choke out: “Wilson, William Lane, 94621621, Sir.”
“Wilson?” he queried. “Are you a Native Indian, William?”
I was one of the few Native Indians at the university at the time. My brothers and sister had gone before me, but I felt very much alone, especially standing before the famous math teacher.
“Is Reginald Wilson your brother?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” I replied, near tears.
“Then Cal and Donna must be your brother and sister, right?” the Dean asked smiling. “Well, William, if you are even half as bright as your siblings, you will be a great contribution to this class. Now find a seat and with your permission I will continue with the lecture.”
In one brief moment this great man made me feel comfortable in a totally intimidating environment. I was fortunate enough to meet with him many times later, and even be one of many to whom he would lend money to “get by.” It was a seminal moment in my life.
I was one of the few lucky students who participated in the very unique (and never to be repeated in such a fashion) “workshop” that the School of Architecture ran in August of 1968. Some say that it was a sociological study and we students were the specimens being experimented with. I never found out the whole truth. We were dropped off on a deserted island without food and shelter for over a day, we slept on a glacier, we toured a McMillan Bloedel plywood factory on Vancouver Island, we lived in an old brick kiln south of the border, and we spent a few days in the east end of Vancouver, sleeping in a seedy hotel. I was a young very straight and proper fellow from London, Ontario, a city where drugs and hippies were completely foreign, and I was thrown into the adventure of my life. It was truly an extraordinary experience, one that will stay with me forever. My first day at the school saw me wearing a tie, dress pants, and a sports jacket. I was the only one in such “business” attire. After the workshop, I wore jeans, started growing a beard, and realized that a whole new world had been opened to me. That first month changed my perspective on life and I will forever be grateful to the men and women at UBC’s School of Architecture for giving me such an incredible gift!
It (almost) felt like cheating when:
- Three of us did the same group project for four different computer science courses over two years.
- Four novels were assigned reading for English 100, but I had only read two. The final exam was a choice of two essay questions from four, one on each novel
- I wrote essay answers to all questions of a third year Math course, each of which began “If I knew the formula, here is how I would solve this problem…” I passed the course.
The incident with the Valiant: On our way to UBC in September 1970, on our first day of classes, the fellow I rode to university with each day and I were approaching Boundary Road in Burnaby when we saw a familiar face from high school driving his mother’s Valiant. The Valiant was accelerating as it approached the gas pumps at the Esso station. Worse yet, the driver seemed unable to decide which side of the gas pumps to choose. It was all over in a flash, not literally, thankfully. Gas was shooting out everywhere and three or four uniformed employees came running out in obvious panic. The driver was unhurt, and the Valiant was still drivable. In less than a month, there were cement posts installed on either end of the gas pump islands at that station, and they soon appeared at other gas stations. The Valiant was not repaired for several months. Seeing either the damaged Valiant parked at UBC or those cement posts at that gas station allowed us both to relieve the pressure of our UBC studies by laughing uncontrollably. I still occasionally laugh to myself when I see those cement posts at gas stations today.
I was a law student and dad was a geology prof. Two of my friends were in his course. They invited me to go with them to their 8:30 class, and we settled in the back corner. Dad started lecturing. He was showing slides of geological formations, and one showed a little boy sitting on a rock. About that time, he noticed me. Without missing a beat he announced that “the child in the photo is my daughter’s brother,” and continued on. The three of us at the back had a good laugh while the rest of the class scratched their heads wondering why he’d said that.
The Ridington Room – the humanities reading room once comprising most of the Main Library’s North Wing – is gone now. It has been replaced by some ultra-modern design whose architectural aesthetic fits the remaining part of the old library like a grass skirt on an octogenarian.
Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve such fond memories of studying in the now-departed portion, with its high windows, chancellors’ portraits, and ample resource materials. Unlike the elevated noise levels of the study areas of Sedgewick Library, the Ridington Room was the quiet haunt of students seeking undisturbed study. There were three regular students using it during my time: me, a guy in a ponytail and cowboy boots, and a co-ed with glasses who always wore a skirt. As I began to think about graduate studies, I found myself spending more and more time at the shelves near the west door; these held the course catalogs of other universities. I loved UBC, but I had a real itch to travel and had promised myself that I would go to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I decided on the University of Toronto.
The Friday after I arrived in Toronto, I was seated with two of my new classmates when a third classmate approached with another female student. “Hi guys,” she said, then turned to her companion. “This is Deirdre from my residence, who’s doing her master’s in English.” What was going through Deirdre’s mind when she looked at me? “Him again! The guy from the Ridington Room!” We began dating that December and were married a few years later. I don’t like the look of the new attachment to the Main library, but maybe that’s because I have such fond memories of the old Ridington room, the place on campus where I almost met my wife.
My daughter and I recently attended a student-led tour of UBC. A lot has changed since the fall of 1972, with many new buildings and facilities, but most of the student residences at Place Vanier remain as they were those many years ago. The tour leader mentioned that she had lived on the first floor of Okanagan House in her first year at UBC, as I had done in my first year.
At that time, Okanagan House was not co-ed and the characters that lived there were a mix of male students from BC, mostly, with a few from other parts of Canada and the US. The older students who were returning to residence quickly passed along the required knowledge and behaviour expected in residence and we newcomers were eager to fit within the expected norms.
By the second week, when all the students had moved in and the parents who helped us were gone the patterns of daily life began to emerge. Part of this was the trek to the cafeteria for dinner loving prepared by the cafeteria staff under the watchful eye of “Fang” the dietician. The trek was punctual so as to occupy the table with the best vantage point for observing the female half of the residential campus. On occasion, a display of displeasure with the menu might occur; one instance resulted in a large pyramid of inedible fishcakes.
Place Vanier at that time consisted of 10 houses and inter-house rivalry was championed with sports events, parties and other spiritual competition. A house uniform consisted of a T-shirt emblazoned with the house name and art work. We were the Okanagan Beavers, a double entendre that may not mean anything today.
Leaving small town BC for university is daunting. But residence life quickly overcame the home sickness many expected. Social activity revolved around the house you belonged to and the floor you lived on. The first floor was smaller because of the main foyer and lounge, so it was easy to get to know your neighbours. In addition, there were large contingents of students from interior towns like mine, including Nelson, Trail and Cranbrook, which made it easy to get to know students in other houses. Back then, for many of us, “any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” When added to the people you met in your faculty, the social networking expanded rapidly. A friend of mine who did not live on campus remarked as to how many people I seemed to know as we walked between classes. I guess this is what we did before Facebook.
I wish I had written down the names of those who lived on the first floor that first year, but I still remember most of them. Three of us were high school classmates so they were easy. There was Paul, the guy in the wheelchair who could have been mistaken for Steven Hawking. There was Tex, the Aggie from up north who had the blonde girlfriend. There was Newfy who wasn’t from Newfoundland but Moncton, which we felt was close enough. There was Lloyd from the US studying Italian literature, which was better than attending U of Vietnam. There was Bill, the chain smoker from Penticton, and a few others, including Ron the dentist.
If your door was open, you were extending an invitation to others to come in and chat or have a beer. If your door was closed it meant you were not to be disturbed as you might be studying, sleeping or otherwise entertaining in private. Normally the social activities convened in one of the three double rooms that were occupied by first year students like me. Not only could these rooms handle a larger crowd, but the occupants typically had a light load and it was more important to serve the social needs of the floor. If you really had to study there were other places to do it.
It was not uncommon to have reasonable quietness up to about 9 o’clock, when two things happened. The first was that the calories burned doing homework needed to be replenished and, secondly, one just got bored or tired of studying. This meant a trip to the canteen for a burger or the ordering up of pizza, which usually needed cost sharing and greater participation, because it was well known that the bigger the pizza the cheaper the chew.
During periods of higher stress (i.e. around midterms and exams), or to celebrate a birthday, it was not uncommon for the whole floor to get involved in mischief. For my birthday, I was tackled and hauled up to the library fountain for a ritual dunking, not an easy task. This doesn’t sound too bad but it was October and cold, and my clothes had been removed so they would not get wet.
Water featured in many pranks, including propping a garbage can partly full of water against a resident’s door. Raids with water-filled balloons might have happened as well. There were other events involving engineers and aggies that need not be mentioned, but it was always done in the name of fun and it was paramount to avoid injury to body and property.
Coinciding with the Stanley Cup, we would hold our own version with a table-hockey competition that would go on for days. During breaks you would join the Hearts tournament.
I wonder what life is like for students in residence these days and I wonder what it will be like for my daughter. One hopes that she too will find camaraderie and friendship build on innocent fun.
In the summer of 1961 after my first year of teaching, three other young Saskatchewan teachers and I decided to venture to UBC summer school. We were housed in Fort Camp, old military buildings, for the duration of our stay. After a day of classes we would arrive back to our Fort Camp residence and head to the foot baths that we so appreciated and used daily – until we mentioned this habit to one of our male friends. He dissolved into fits of laughter and informed us that these foot baths were in fact urinals! Our building had housed servicemen years before. I have never lived down being an innocent and naive prairie girl. Of course, having married the male friend, I expect I never will.
I was the first in my family to graduate university, so attending the formal graduation ceremony was a significant occasion, especially for my parents. Initially, I was blasé about attending but at my parents’ urging, and mostly for their benefit, I agreed to go. Without a clue about what to expect at a university graduation ceremony, I disappeared with the other students to don my cap and gown and left my parents to find their own way to seats in the Memorial Gymnasium. We had arrived at the campus late because of traffic, and at this point all that we hoped for was that they would find a seat and not have to stand throughout the long ceremony. I fell in line, according to my last name (Campbell at the time) in the Arts faculty, and proceeded to walk with the several hundred other students to the gym, gowns flapping. When I stepped inside the gym, I could feel my heart racing. I immediately began searching for my parents and soon realized it was hopeless. The place was jam-packed with hundreds of family and friends all there to watch their student receive their degree and I knew my parents were unlikely to pick me out of this identically robed group. As we made our way in pairs down the centre aisle, it suddenly occurred to me that I was actually graduating, from a university and I could feel the tears welling up, which I instantly tried to blink away. And then it happened. Without thinking about it, I remember casually looking up towards the top of the gym on the left side and there, staring right back at me as if it was the most natural thing in the world, was my father. He had a look on his face I will never forget. It was random for sure, but I felt then in 1978 as I do now, 37 years later, that on that occasion that day, we were meant to acknowledge in each other a sense of pride of accomplishment.
Alumni, ah yes, me here…you may have dodged around him a long time ago…the fresh-faced frosh who stoically navigated a 45 minute, car-pooled drive from North Van, on another wet day, somewhat chilled by the Pacific salt, trekking in from B-Lot and turning around to see if the blue ’72 Datsun’s lights were still on (“lady driven” the manager reassured me when I bought it from Brasso’s with my baby bonus savings. I kind of believed it. Naive.) If I forgot to lock my car door and turn off the lights, the UBC campus cowboys would reach in and do the right thing. And occasionally they’d squish me like a sardine into a tightly packed, standing-room only, big, dark blue school bus for a free ride down to the bookstore cafeteria where a sticky bun and a few refills of hot coffee would fortify my ambition to attend English 100 at Buchanan. Professor T. Blom welcomed us first-timers to UBC, showing us how to submit our assignments (folded lengthwise and on time) and to proofread according to the rules of the little red Handbook of English. Around this time, I also discovered that not all doctors were medical practitioners and I managed to have quite a few abstract conversations with people who were light years ahead of me with more considerably weighty thoughts, and me blissfully unaware and naively ignorant of most everything metaphoric but still adamantly full of piss and vinegar. In hindsight, it’s inspirational to know now that I was being taught by compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who could listen and would listen to a recent high school graduate who (a)mused about what is “the good,” what is “the point” and what is “mine.” I soon found out.
Tuum Est – and sometimes it was handed to us with stunning panache. Hebb theatrics for Physics 120 students included a few audience-wide water sprays from the engineering students’ portable fire extinguishers, a visit by Lady Godiva on her white horse (come on in and join the other 300 kids here, m’ lady; we teens are all worldly and in need of a distraction), and outside, my feeling of being truly embarrassed for all of us who had the displeasure to eyeball a large red shroud draped over the upper half of the Ladner clock tower announcing this week’s weak. What time is it anyway? For this newbie, a time it was. Everywoman and Everyman knew it was E week once again, the E being the bastion of testosterone and redness. What did it mean? Perhaps the masters of the mighty metaphor engineered the levitated Volkswagen shell and the jaw-dropping pranks as symbols of their dominion over us plebs. What was the point, I wondered? In Main Library, I flipped through the greasy-fingered, subject-card catalogues (later upgraded to microfiche) hoping to substantiate an answer somewhere in the dusty stacks of hard-covered books: Engine. Engineer. English. Ahh, yes…Enigma. E=Nigma squared. Tuum Est? This had meaning, yes? To have ownership in the motto is to share it with others, I learned awkwardly. Sort of between Funda. and Evol. when one plods through the portal of higher learning at Main (and Hastings?)
By second year, I transferred out of Education at Scarfe (another big E on campus) and left behind an unused locker in the building’s basement ($2.00 rental per semester), a highly strung-out group of aspiring teachers who drank generic coffee by the pound from Scarfe’s windowless dungeon cafeteria, and at least one of my battered umbrellas. It rained again some nights when I trekked back to B-Lot and I vowed to get a coveted C-Lot sticker someday. On some of these dark and stormy nights, I would digest my thoughts in the belly of Sedgewick library. At one of the many group tables, enclosed private smokers would puff away in relative peace and quiet, perhaps reflecting upon a Hemingway elephant, a bored Salinger shrug, or a Chaucerian tour de France romance. But this covert sanctuary slowly gave way to a new found chasm of memory loss for this newbie. If it was a wintery Wednesday night, the PIT (no chrome) swallowed me up. Here I played Pong, Pacman, and Foosball on beer bets. And from the one television on the wall over the bar, Howie Meeker analyzed the Canucks’ great plays during Hockey Night in Canada while misty blue cigarette smoke drifted cancerously past the screen and mingled with the fetid odor of Old Style Pilsner. The PIT was our dark cave, man, with the sounds of Trooper, Genesis, or The Guess Who helping us to pound back the sudsy angst of not finishing another assignment on time. (But very well re-edited and proofread considering the dim lighting).
But I overly reminisce in my suds as I recall my youthfully misspent hours playing nickel pinball or quarter bowling in the bowels of the SUB to wait out the drizzle which, of course, never ended. Upstairs in a glassed-in room on the main concourse, I could read and doze off in my quasi-bohemian lifestyle with free-loaned, thick-padded Koss headphones stuck on my head and listen to the beat of CITR or CFMI 101. This was only my second year. Would I survive my precipitous foray here at Point Grey? Stay tuned.
By third year, and having been excellently entertained by my fair lady’s share of student/equity actors playing around on the Freddy Wood Theatre’s stage (Misalliance anyone? Pygmalion?), I became a Gothic Arts person and spent even more of my precious time dubiously performing little Miltonic skits in the old war shacks behind Scarfe for some theatre credits. Feeling disenchanted and somewhat Middle-Aged by third year, I was of the academic opinion that not only were these fifty-something two-by-fours going to implode, the math building was going to collapse soon from the leagues of ivy on its walls, and, indeed, the old War Armory would catastrophically explode from the collective stress of hundreds of exam-writing newbies crammed in there like so many small fry. So by third year, I resolved to get my act together if I wanted to be employable, at least beyond Alma and Fourth – and like a fastball, it suddenly hit me. I could get a C-Lot sticker because I was surly, argumentative, and…entitled. The distance between learning and leaving suddenly got shorter for this superficial, pre-internet prole.
Sweet, it’s fourth year suddenly. I was now well on my way to finding deeper and more realistic meanings of debt, humility, and, behold, A-Lot sticker status. Ironically, being closer to the action would lead me to getting further away someday I (a)mused. That was the plan. Now looking back at these fleeting, tumultuous years, my professors – Drs. Blom, Loeffler, Nadel, De Bruyn, Lunsford, Johnson, Jordan, Belanger et al – all patiently encouraged me to focus on a personal path of life-long enlightenment despite the literal and figurative rain and wind I had beating on me. I was supported by the best practitioners of learning and three and half decades later, I am still humbled by my UBC experience and influences. Yes, truly “Tuum Est” (Ibid.)