A Booming Future

The 1950s begins with a boom: UBC now has 822 deans, visiting and special lecturers and research fellows on the roster. In less than a decade, the university grew from three core faculties — Arts and Science, Agriculture and Applied Science — to eight including Law, Forestry, Graduate Studies, Medicine and Pharmacy. With its 40 faculty members, the Department of English is the largest, expanding to meet the influx of returning veterans.

More students means more space is needed. Within a few years of the decade’s start, twenty new buildings are constructed on campus, including new homes for Engineering, Biological Sciences, the Wesbrook Building, Buchanan, War Memorial Gymnasium and others. With these permanent spaces, new departments and faculties are born: Nursing, Asian Studies, and the College of Education. As UBC expands in depth and reach, it attracts more funding, allowing it to offer prestigious doctorates in subjects such as Biology, Physics and Forestry. To incentivize academic achievement in the province, Premier W.A.C. Bennett introduces a scholarship program that provides up to 50 percent of school fees for students with first-class standings.

The surge in student enrollment spurs the government to pledge $1 million over 10 years for UBC infrastructure expansion. A deliberate strategy to attract top-tier scholars begins with the Faculty of Graduate Studies. President MacKenzie cites the biggest challenge is finding fellowships at the doctoral level for talented students. To help overcome chronic staffing shortages and meet the expanding need for qualified research and teaching staff, UBC recruits from the USA and the UK.

Great Trek

Soviet ‘scientific success’ and the Space Race puts the focus on science from K-12 and in higher education but it also instills a nagging uncertainty as Western educators try to ‘catch up’ to their Soviet Bloc counterparts.

The university creates invaluable relationships with key funding partners in the National Research Council and private sector donors Leon and Thea Koerner, who with the founding of the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation in 1955, help establish an era that sees deeper and ever more partnerships to help the university better serve its community and the province.

When Queen Elizabeth II visits the campus on July 15, 1959, philanthropist, wartime administrator and forestry industrialist Harvey Reginald “H.R.” MacMillan provides a $50,000 scholarship to commemorate the event.

The influences from outside the somewhat idyllic Point Grey campus such as the rise of the civil rights movement (e.g. the federal Canadian Bill of Rights is enacted on August 10, 1960), Sputnik, the Korean War, the deepening of the Cold War, and the swelling ‘baby boom’, all have knock-on effects for the university that continue to this day.

Looking forward to a new more progressive era, UBC positions itself to capitalize on scientific innovation and UBC President Norman MacKenzie’s vision for an international university is finally within reach.

1950–1959: Timeline

Explore the era

  • A short film on UBC created by Parry Films of North Vancouver and the UBC’s Alumni Association who sponsored the film (1958).

  • An early ‘infographic’ from the 1950/51 President’s Report showing the number of veterans enrolled at UBC between 1945-1951.

  • A swimmer dives into Empire Pool at UBC during the 1954 British Empire Games at UBC. Photo courtesy of The Vancouver Sun.

  • Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visit UBC, 1959.

Norman MacKenzie

“The most essential need at this University now and for the next few decades will be the creation of graduate and professional schools second to none in Canada or in the United States. No less a goal is worthy of us, nor should we be satisfied with anything less.”

Norman A.M. MacKenzie
President, 1944–1962


UBC is proud to mark its 100th anniversary as a global leader in education, research innovation and community engagement.
Learn more about the UBC Centennial.