I transferred from SFU to UBC in 1981. I remember going to the PIT on that first Friday in September and scribbled on the wall in the ladies washroom stall was “Chilliwack Rocks.” I grew up in Chilliwack and I immediately felt a bond with that stall. I would wait in line to use it, as I felt some sort of an attachment to it.
After writing a gruelling exam during the latter part of first year medicine, I went for a swim in the outdoor pool near the War Memorial Gym. I then lay on the fresh green lawn feeling the softness of the grass, the warmth of the spring sun and the tremendous relaxation in that glorious moment. This memory comes to mind every time I walk past this part of campus, and at times in between.
During my 11 years at UBC, I have lived in three UBC residences. It was an experience that enriched my life. I still remember vividly a Halloween prank by my quad mate while I was living in Gage Towers.
For those who are not familiar with Gage Towers, let me explain the layout. Each floor was divided into four quads. Each quad has six rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom to be shared. In those days, each floor usually had two quads for ladies and two for men. Each quad has two main doors: one for access to the elevator and one for the fire exit. It was common practice that the doors were locked at night. Still, students found ways to tamper the locks, so that men could sneak into the ladies’ quad to do some pranks or vice versa. The morning of Halloween (either 1984 or 85), we woke up and found that there was a Jack O’ Lantern sitting on the couch in the kitchen and watching TV. The cute Jack was also wearing a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans (stuffed with newspaper inside). There was also a message that he was left there by the ladies in the adjacent quad. Nice and cute, isn’t it?
One of our quad mates, Mr. B., decided to play a prank on the ladies. That evening, he took the fully clothed Jack and sneaked into the ladies’ quad. He also had two garbage bags of fallen leaves which he collected during the day on the sidewalks near Gage Towers. He laid Jack in the bathtub of the ladies’ washroom and then filled the tub with all the fallen leaves. He really thought it was a cute revenge — until the next morning.
We were all woken up by loud bangs on the front door. When one of us opened it, the six ladies literally forced in and started to yell nasty things. Some of them were even crying. The six guys stood there and puzzled over what had happened. Once they calmed down a bit, we could hear they were saying, “Spiders! Spiders!” Ah, it was not Jack that scared them. I could empathize with how they felt, because I have family members who are arachnophobic. Poor Mr. B had no choice but to admit to the ladies that he was the culprit. He had to immediately go their bathroom and do a cleanup. Not only did he miss a class that morning, he later bought them some flowers or chocolate to apologize.
This is a 2014 photo of me standing in front of a lab in the Geology building. The significance of this photo is that I lived in Surrey during my time at UBC. There was no SkyTrain and I had to commute by bus. I spent four hours a day on the bus, thus negating any study time (I always had to stand). Living at home, I didn’t receive much of a student loan. Fortunately I received a work/study grant via Dr. Danner. I worked in his lab (the one in the photo) making thin sections of rock for studying under a microscope. I squeaked through 2nd year, but knew that the commute was killing me. So for my 3rd and 4th year in geology, I “lived” in the lab. There was a couch that I slept on and I kept UHT milk, a kettle, instant porridge, instant soup and peanut butter under a fume hood. I showered in the basement. I went home every Tuesday to do laundry, buy food and watch the A-Team. The rest of the week I was in the lab working or studying. This less-than-ideal situation paid off as I graduated with good grades. If it wasn’t for Dr. Danner and that lab, I don’t think I would have made it through four years of university.
My memories of UBC evoke happiness and what I will always call the happiest years of my life. I started at age 25 after spending my previous years mucking out horse stables and working as a cook in restaurants and private homes. I could barely believe life could be so wonderful, spending my time with so many intelligent people, having real lunch breaks, filling my mind with so much knowledge and glowing with my accomplishments. And having the swimming pool so close to home was the icing on the cake. I still swim in a masters swim club 35 years later but my first masters swim club was at UBC. Going back many years later, that chlorine smell behind the pool fills me with joy and nostalgia all over again. My years at UBC were truly golden. In addition I could share my experience with my mother, who was a graduate of the education department in the post war years. UBC taught me how to think, taught me the value of education and the importance of lifetime learning. I went on to become a veterinarian, and I still read to learn more about history, politics and the environment. My years at UBC taught me the value and joy of doing that.
In 1984, I received my MSc in chemistry from the University of Waterloo and decided to “head west young man.” I contacted several professors at UBC for interviews and booked a plane. Delays meant I touched down at the Richmond airport late at night. I was excited and couldn’t wait to see the campus, so I rented a car and drove out to Point Grey campus to see the chemistry building. I arrived, parked my car and walked to the chemistry building. It looked eerie at night; straight out of the 1800s. Very gothic and something Dracula would have lived in. And, unfortunately it was now 11 pm at night and nobody was around. The building’s doors were locked, so I took a stroll around the building and noticed a very antiquated door had been left slightly ajar at the top of a fire escape on the third floor. I jumped up and grabbed the lower rung of the fire escape ladder and hauled myself up a very rickety iron stairway on the outside of the building. It was shaking with each step. Managed to make it to the third floor and entered the door. Now I was in! I walked freely around the labs and hallways with no one in sight. The interior of the building was like stepping in a time machine and I fell in love with the architecture. I saw the layout of the place and decided that this was where I would do my PhD. The next day, the chemistry department head asked if I wanted a tour of the building. I declined with a smile and told him of nightly escapade. He was shocked that I was able to burgle my way into the locked chemistry building. Incidentally, he became my PhD supervisor. Later, he told me that my actions had led to a policy where every lab had to be locked from the inside AND outside just in case any visiting out of province graduate students decided to go for a midnight tour. I still smile at the bold actions of my younger self. Today at 55 years of age, I am a UBC chemistry professor and I check the lab doors to see if they are locked at night. What goes around comes around…