UBC History

As a UBC student, you’re part of a long legacy.

When you walk past IKB, you’re seeing the same weathered stones as students who studied medicine before the invention of penicillin. But the cliffs and forests around campus have a far deeper history with the Musqueam people, who know the peninsula as ʔəlqsən (point of land).

Indigenous peoples have been living on their traditional and ancestral lands since long before UBC’s campus was established. UBC campus sits on the unceded territory of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) people, and Vancouver sits on the unceded land of the Musqueam, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation).

The University Act of 1908 established UBC, and the province decided the university would sit on the current Point Grey Campus in 1910. This allowed UBC to be responsible for its own utilities, services and governance, meaning if you live on campus, you don’t actually live in the City of Vancouver.

Construction of the campus began in 1914 but was soon halted by World War I, so UBC operated out of a former facility of McGill University College in Vancouver.

In 1919, students returned from military service to tight tents and overcrowded churches that were used for classes. This was until 1922, when unsatisifed students began The Great Trek, a march that gathered 56,000 signatures to persuade the provincial government to continue the construction of what is now UBC’s Vancouver campus.

Students marched from the temporary campus to the campus we know today and set up camp. The Great Trek succeeded in convincing the BC government to restart the construction of campus.

While the Great Trek was a landmark moment of student activism, it was also colonial land theft. Contrary to student protestors’ rhetoric, the land was not empty, and UBC’s construction dispossessed the Musqueam people of their land.

UBC is still reckoning with its colonial history and present. Part of that reckoning includes incorporating Indigenous content into curricula, adding signage in the Musqueam language hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ to campus residences and other gestures toward increasing Indigenous visibility. This is an ongoing process that you as a student should educate yourself on — you can start with the resources at indigenous.ubc.ca.

Our campus opened its doors in 1925, marking the beginning of UBC as we know it.

The university grew slowly until the end of World War II, when the student population exploded as baby boomers reached adulthood.

Since then, UBC has been marked by the legacies of prime ministers, scientists and groundbreaking researchers who walked the same sidewalks and learned in the same classrooms. Now, you have a chance to make your mark (but no pressure!), and to tread respectfully on a landscape with a long history before and after you.