An Unstoppable Spirit

The Great Depression era brings financial setbacks, cuts in operating grants, salary and staff — and yet, campus pride swells as UBC students distinguish themselves in arts, athletics, education, commerce, science, engineering and agriculture. The Alma Mater Society, various student clubs, and a dedicated Student Union Building spring up and fuel an unstoppable university spirit.

In 1930, at the aptly named Flag Pole Plaza on North Main Mall, a 204-foot flagpole, carefully transported through the streets of Vancouver and up to the Point Grey campus, is erected to become a symbol of pride for the young university.

However, that pride is tested amidst prolonged government budget cuts and a UBC administration that struggles to stay afloat. In 1932 the Kidd Report — authored by former president of BC Electric Company, George Kidd, and assisted by a panel of elite Vancouver business leaders — is released. Among its call for general tax increases and deep budget cuts, the report proposes the possible closure of the university.

In public and in the press, Professor Henry Forbes “Harry” Angus, head of the Department of Economics, Political Science and Sociology, roundly denounces the report’s recommendations. In his words:

“What matters to me is whether we are improving the quality of the men and women of the Province. It is by this test that I judge the achievement of our university and of our primary and secondary education as well.”


“What matters to me is whether we are improving the quality of the men and women of the Province. It is by this test that I judge the achievement of our university and of our primary and secondary education as well.”

Henry Forbes Angus
Head of the Department of Economics, Political Science and Sociology
Professor Henry Forbes “Harry” Angus, head of the Department of Economics, Political Science and Sociology

Angus is not alone. The Tolmie Conservative provincial government rejects Kidd’s wide-ranging draconian proposals. UBC narrowly averts a crisis but as BC’s sole university, it still must find ways to remain open and relevant.

In 1936, with funds donated by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the UBC Department of University Extension is established “to assist British Columbians in a time of crisis.” For many unable to afford education, the non-credit vocational and professional development courses provided much-needed access to education across the province.

Farther afield, UBC’s reputation grows. Applied Science graduate students get involved with a prospective development project in Northern Rhodesia; many other UBC graduates find positions in the energy, natural resources, mining and engineering sectors. UBC students are seen as assets to BC, and the university itself as an investment well made by government.

Meanwhile, researchers and professors in the Faculty of Agriculture continually explore and push the boundaries, from the respiration of plant roots to the effects of hormones on chicken eggs. As a result, the BC agricultural industry begins to realize tangible savings, now equipped with new tools and methods for a healthier, stronger and economically sustainable sector.

Even in the depth of the Dirty Thirties, the Tuum Est spirit of UBC’s students continues to shine — and help the university built environment come to life. For example, the student-lead funding drives for a new stadium, as described in The U.B.C. Alumni Chronicle, are made up of  “sales of hot dogs and candy yo-yo’s on the campus, moving picture shows, noon hour dances and concerts, raffles, social event of all kinds.” But against this hopeful growth of new departments, faculties, facilities and finally, a stadium and playing fields, looms an ominous new threat to the young university’s future.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invades Poland. Two days later, the United Kingdom declares war on Germany. On September 10, Canada joins the fight. The Second World War breaks out and the university finds itself a ‘campus at war’ with its priorities now shifted to the war effort.

1930–1939: Timeline

Explore the era

  • The first flagpole at UBC was 204 feet and was carefully ported from the ocean, through downtown Vancouver, then up to the Point Grey campus.

  • Harold King (Education 1932) wrote this anthem for the ‘blue and gold’ sports teams to inspire both athletes and their supporters. Download the sheet music.

  • A small class gathers in 1933 to learn about Animal Husbandry.

  • Go back in time with alumnus Eric Nicol, who remembers life on campus in the thirties at UBC.

President Quote

“For the past few years the President's report has concluded with a statement on the needs of the University: particularly with respect to the urgently-required increase in accommodation and equipment. These needs are still insistent: in fact, with a further increased enrolment, and the adoption of the policy of compulsory military training, they are even more acute than formerly. But in these stern days when the need of individuals and institutions must give place to the greater needs of the Empire and of humanity itself it would ill become the University to press its claims importunately, urgent though they be.”

Leonard S. Klinck
President, 1919–1944

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