Campus history

UBC’s sprawling campus is a perfect combination of a timeless past and much-anticipated future. Its eccentric variety of scenery and architecture supplements Vancouver’s film industry by offering the setting for anything from a cult classic teen rom-com (She’s the Man) to Netflix’s new blockbuster sci-fi film (The Adam Project).

One minute you’re walking past the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre wondering why there’s an ancient horse carriage in a glass box and the next you’re in the midst of a new construction zone trying to figure out why one university would need this many engineering buildings.

However, as you walk around the endowment lands, you may also notice a wide variety of formidable totem poles scattered across campus, along with signage in a language that you may or may not be totally familiar with.

These fixtures are part of UBC’s ongoing reconciliation efforts with the Musqueam First Nation. UBC has always been “a place of learning,” well before it began calling itself that. While campus has only been around for about 100 years, the Coast Salish peoples have lived and learned on this land far before us. UBC is located on the ancestral, unceded and traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Check out the Indigenous Portal to learn more about UBC’s relationship with the Musqueam Nation. As students on stolen land, it is important to recognize and comprehend exactly how the university came to be — as difficult as it may be to digest.

Now, here’s the bureaucratic stuff: UBC was first established in 1908 with the passing of the University Act. In 1910, Point Grey was selected as the site for its campus.

Due to the First World War, UBC halted construction, had military training included in curriculum and saw a decreased enrolment rate due to students serving. In 1922, UBC students had had enough of their makeshift campus in Fairview, mainly due to overcrowding concerns. They took to the streets, marching from the Georgia Viaduct to the proposed site of the Point Grey campus in what was later known as The Great Trek.

After gathering signatures during the march, students presented a petition signed by 56,000 to the Legislature in Victoria. Construction resumed, and in 1925, the very first permanent building was completed — the science building, now part of the chemistry department.

Just as the university began to see some light at the end of its tunnel of struggles, the 1930s brought on an influx of new issues relating to the Great Depression, the most prominent being salary cuts. Then came the issue of building, course and facility expansion as a result of increasing enrolment. However, World War II called away both students and faculty into the war efforts, ironically solving some of the university’s short-term problems while simultaneously creating new ones.

Since the Second World War, UBC’s expansion has increased exponentially, with new buildings almost every year (that’s where your tuition money is going!). In fact, there is a very high chance you will witness both the construction and openings of a plethora of new buildings and structures during your time on campus — each grander than the last — and all a little piece of history added to the archives.