New Frontiers

With the Apollo 13 mission making headlines around the world, coupled with successful interplanetary probes and other space frontier news, interest and investment in astronomy and astrophysics increases at UBC.

In 1970, thanks to earlier funding and with a ‘lift off’ development grant of $538,600 from the National Research Council (NRC), the UBC Institute for Astronomy and Space Science (IASS) comes into being. The new Institute energizes the three stand-alone departments of Radio Astronomy, Laboratory Astrophysics and Optical Astronomy. It allows for new hires, seminars and specialized work, and with NRC support, is instrumental in the construction of the 15-foot radio telescope on UBC’s south campus.

Not to be outdone, the social sciences, bolstered by increased government funding and donations such as the munificent $3-million support for UBC Library acquisitions from BC lumber baron H.R. McMillian, are enriched, along with areas such as sociology, economics, anthropology, and political sciences.

Although there are shortfalls in federal and provincial government funding for research and new classroom space, funding from the private sector supports innovation in new areas of study such as the environment and conservation, computers, telecommunications and biotechnology as the ‘information revolution’ doggedly spreads in this new, hard-edged conservative, political and economic environment.

Yet, there continue to be research breakthroughs. The prestigious Ford Foundation awards the university $500,000 for studies on how humans affect the environment. Another $500,000 from the National Research Council funds the development of the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island along two miles of pristine coastline in Barkley Sound. The centre makes use of an abandoned Pacific cable building whose architect was none other than Francis Rattenbury (1867–1935), best known for his design of the city of Victoria’s proud Empress Hotel. The complex system of pipes and holding tanks for fish and other marine life, as well as equipment designed to prevent interruption of sea-water flow, is overseen by UBC’s Dr. Norman Wilimovsky.


The National Research Council funds the development of the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island along two miles of pristine coastline in Barkley Sound. The centre makes use of an abandoned Pacific cable building whose architect was none other than Francis Rattenbury (1867–1935), best known for his design of the city of Victoria’s proud Empress Hotel.

The Centre is supported by all five western universities: UBC, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. Its multidisciplinary research in ecology, climate change and aquaculture establishes a new model for research collaboration, one that UBC will become globally known for in the future.

Meanwhile, a similarly interesting mix of research is happening on UBC’s south campus where, in 1974, the inter-university research facility Tri-University Meson Facility (TRIUMF) gains public profile as the cyclotron produces its first beam. Juxtaposed with this cutting-edge technology, the new UBC Dairy Cattle Teaching unit demonstrates milk production systems to the public at its bovine-friendly facility that features a milking parlour, milk room, open-air animal pens, laboratories, and classrooms.


In 1974, the inter-university research facility Tri-University Meson Facility (TRIUMF) gains public profile as the cyclotron produces its first beam.

In 1974, women outnumber men in first-year registrations at UBC for the first time since the First World War. Combined with the growing feminism movement, UBC’s culture begins to change as women increasingly make their presence known on campus; their energy and desire to influence the direction of the university is felt at every level. In September 1976, the Academic Women’s Association (AWA) is founded to promote equal opportunity for women in all areas of the university. As well, UBC becomes the first university in Canada to offer a Women's Studies program for academic credit.

As enrollment plateaus, inflation rates and the cost of construction rises. Funding shortfalls loom, and the burden of the cost of education begins to shift towards the student who must look to the Canada Student Loans Program to fund their education. From 1972 to 1975, the NDP government takes command of the province but like its Socred predecessor, it offers minimal support for academic priorities and education. At UBC, the 1,749 teaching staff, whose keen desire is to raise the bar of research and exemplary teaching, feels frustrated by the lack of funding.

However, the desire to stay relevant and become a global place of learning never wavers. In 1976, UBC establishes the Centre for Human Settlements to house the 240 presentations made by 140 countries that participate in the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT 1). Distinguished scholars from all over the world, many of them sponsored by UBC, descend on nearby Jericho Beach where the conference is held.

By mid-decade, the university is in a tumultuous internal state: for the first time in its history, UBC must justify itself. As enrollment in higher education drops and underfunding for research drastically affects universities across Canada, many are forced to shut down programs and lay off staff. At UBC, the rising indirect costs of the growing research program are taken out of the operating budget, which in turn affects payroll to the university. Cuts are made; morale drops.  

UBC meets these challenges by staying focused on quality teaching and learning and searches for ways to increase the calibre of its curriculum design. Unlike most other learning institutions during this decade, UBC decides to raise its admission requirements and overhaul its curriculum in nearly every faculty, with a continued mandate to offer exceptional learning and research opportunities for students and faculty alike.

Meanwhile, by attracting high-quality domestic and international faculty and researchers, new sources of funding begin to emerge, which in turn attracts top-level graduate students to the campus. By 1979, research funding makes a comeback and jumps to $26 million, up 23 percent from the previous year.

At the close of the decade, UBC demonstrates a remarkably nimble and entrepreneurial response to the real-world challenges of inflation and underfunding, while remaining true to its commitment to be a place where excellence is the norm and not the exception. 

1970–1979: Timeline

Explore the era

  • A view of the installation of the magnet at TRIUMF, 1973.

  • Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau tours the Museum of Anthropology with UBC President Douglas Kenny and the museum’s architect, Arthur Erickson, 1976.

  • Parents protest lack of daycare space on campus, 1975.

  • A Lotus pulling into to pay for parking on UBC’s Vancouver campus, 1979.

  • UBC student Mike Long, 22, searches for textbooks in the UBC Bookstore in 1978. Photo courtesy of The Vancouver Sun.

  • Astronomy telescope being erected in October of 1971.

John B. MacDonald

“I believe our purpose is to learn not only for the sake of learning, which is a noble activity, but in order to enrich and enhance the quality of life. This mission is carried on through the unending process of learning and discovery within the community of scholars the faculty and students — that makes up the University. Teaching and research, the prime functions of the University, are really two forms of the same activity. Both involve learning, and those who assert that teaching alone is the primary function of a university forget that the teacher who stops learning through research deprives students of new knowledge.”

Douglas T. Kenny
President, 1975–1983

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