If You Build it They Will Come: The History of UBC

Thursday, January 31st, 2013


Few of those who organized and took part in the Build the University Campaign in 1922 could have predicted the scale of development that would take place decades later.

When the student population outgrew the existing university- in the Fairview district, where Vancouver General Hospital now stands-they used Varsity Week in October 1922 to raise awareness of their need to move to a bigger, permanent home. Their efforts culminated in The Great Trek, when 1,200 students walked and waved banners from downtown Vancouver to the Point Grey campus.

A week later they handed in the 56,000-signature petition they’d amassed over the summer and fall to the legislature in Victoria. This, combined with the presentation and public support, persuaded the Province to finish what it had stopped due, largely, to the advent of The First World War.

On September 22, 1925 UBC as we know it held its inaugural assembly.

There is more to the backstory of UBC, which you can read about here and also in this article by Emma Spenner Norman, which details how UBC’s idyllic setting was considered a place of inspiration, and how the area had long been used for education by the Musqueam people.

The initial 175 acres of Crown land at Point Grey was set aside for a university by the University Site Act of 1912, and in 1920 the British Columbia University Loan Act increased the amount of land for residential development to 3,000 acres.

Former BC Premier and then Lands Minister Duff Patullo drew up the first subdivision plan for Point Grey in 1926. Only the first phase was completed as the Great Depression and later the Second World War came and halted the development of all the UEL.

This loss of momentum, combined with later opposition to numerous development attempts rolled on into the modern era and the undeveloped land, almost 2,000 acres, became Pacific Spirit Park in 1988.

The park and the private properties on the original 175 acres are not part of UBC and have their services provided by the Provincial government. The remaining 1,000 acres is the university’s and is what UBC is developing to endow the university.The UBC Properties Trust

 develops and manages land. Its function is to reinvest in the future of the university, with UBC and the UBC Foundation being its sole beneficiaries.

And as the UBC Campus and Community Planning Department states on its website: “The land is being used to transform UBC from what was historically a commuter campus into a vibrant, sustainable, live-work-learn community of scholars.” Five UBC neighbourhoods embody that transformation.

U-Town (University Town) Neighbourhoods

The Trust’s first project, Hampton Place, generated $80 million for UBC (Here’s how those funds were distributed.) Opened in 1989, and completed about 2000, this near-1000-unit residence predates UBC’s development plan which outlines the projects that followed.  Since this first build there have been three other communities developed. There are 11 buildings, high rise and town homes, which are home to about 2,000 people. Interestingly, the demographic here has shifted initially from retirees and older adults to young families.

Hawthorn Place opened in 2007.

The neighbourhood consists of faculty, staff, student and family housing and is situated between the East and West Mall south of Thunderbird Boulevard. There are 709 units.

Chancellor Place, at the intersection of Chancellor Boulevard and Wesbrook Mall, was completed in 2010 and consists of 614 units.

It was built to resemble the scale of houses opposite, and the two condos bookending the original theology school funded the much-needed repairs to this building.

The smallest is East Campus. It consists of market rentals, student accommodation and housing for visiting professors in TRIUMF House, which shares its name with the subatomic physics lab at the University.

Wesbrook Village is also well under construction but there is still much to develop at what will be UBC’s largest neighbourhood. This community, and  plans for the future of the campus, are the focus of Part Two of our look at UBC housing.

The developers that have been integral in building UBC communities are:

© 2012 Real Estate Weekly

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