War Memorial Gym and Heritage at UBC Walking Tour

Heritage Vancouver Tour & Talk

On June 12, 2019, Heritage Vancouver organized a walk through UBC to discuss the future of War Memorial Gym, a previous entry on Heritage Vancouver’s Top10 Endangered Sites, and other aspects of UBC’s heritage.

Currently, the glass and concrete gym is slated for renewal, or for demolition and replacement, under the 2015 UBC GamePlan–the university’s Recreation and Athletics Facilities Strategy. However, there are important heritage values and history embodied in the building which commemorates those who gave their lives in WWII.

The tour also focused on the general context for heritage conservation at UBC, touching on UBC’s early agricultural history and the mix of old and new sites along Main Mall, such as the Irving K. Barber Library and chemistry building. The tour concentrated on how British Columbia’s oldest university approaches heritage and conservation, with a focus on the gym which is seen as beyond its useful life. We’ll look at the development context of UBC, how land use is being optimized, and how the UBC GamePlan affects the future of significant athletics buildings on campus.


All photo credits go to Ben Geisberg

Tour Leads

• Gerry McGeough – Director, Planning and Design at Campus and Community Planning

• Jan Fialkowski – Heritage Vancouver Board Member

UBC Through the Ages

The Heritage Vancouver UBC tour started on a beautiful, warm summer night outside the Old Barn Community Centre, located on the footprint of one of the University of British Columbia’s original farm buildings. It was a fitting way for Heritage Vancouver board member and tour leader Jan Fialkowski to segue into a discussion of UBC’s beginnings as an agricultural school. Jan provided an overview of UBC from its location on the ancestral unceded territories of the Musqueam First Nation, and the massive forests that once covered the Point Grey peninsula, to its 20th century provincial designation as the University Endowment Lands. UBC had very modest beginnings as an agricultural school with an award-winning dairy herd. She also emphasized the role student activism played in the success of building UBC, beginning with the Great Trek in 1922.

Tour Synopses

Gerry McGeough, UBC’s director of planning and design, co-hosted the tour and outlined the UBC GamePlan, the university’s action plan to address current athletic and recreation needs and facilities. He talked about the challenges of UBC evolving while still acknowledging and preserving its heritage. McGeough outlined the tools, processes, and decision-making principles involved. UBC engages heritage values with development values to shift the emphasis from built heritage to community values and cultural heritage. He outlined the thematic framework which UBC embraces to shape its future. McGeough showed examples of design values on the redesigned and student-centric Main Mall that inform new construction at UBC while simultaneously retaining intangible heritage values such as Musqueam narratives and histories.

The tour concluded at the War Memorial Gym, a Heritage Vancouver 2018 Top10 Endangered Site built following World War II through the efforts of UBC students. It is an important heritage building not only at UBC but in the Lower Mainland. Dan Cooper, UBC associate director of facilities, explained how the gym symbolizes the importance of UBC’s war heritage – in the 1950s nearly half of UBC students were veterans and they raised a large portion of the money to build the gym to commemorate the sacrifices of UBC students who fought in both world wars. The discussion covered the current debate to renovate the existing gym or re-develop the site to meet the needs of modern athletics and recreation. It is a delicate balance with progress and efficiency almost always taking precedence over heritage.

UBC’s colourful history, student activism and engagement, and the future of the university were themes highlighted throughout the tour, with both Fialkowski and McGeough offering examples of both the tangible and the intangible past, UBC’s present values, and the needs of the future.