‘Some Landmark Events in UBC Athletics Over the Past 100 years’ by Fred Hume

  • As of 2013 UBC is the leader among Canadian university team sports in the number of national championships won with 116, beginning with UBC’s first Canadian title won in 1931.
  • UBC is a unique institution in that it has official permission, granted by the West Coast native people, to use the Thunderbird name. This permission and a gift of a totem pole was received in the fall of 1948 with the power of the mythical Thunderbird seen as synonymous with that of UBC teams.
  • The concept of the National team in Canadian ice hockey was initiated at UBC through St. Marks’ Father David Bauer and his 1964 Olympic team made up of players attending university, in this case UBC.
  • The concept of National Championships for Canadian university women was first established in 1970 through the persistent work of UBC’s Director of Women’s Athletics, Marilyn Pomfret.
  • Sports Medicine in Canada has its origins at UBC through UBC graduate in medicine, Dr. Doug Clement, Olympian, coach and educator. He with his team initiated the concept in large part through his being a protégé of Oregon’s Bill Bowerman, the North American pioneer in this field.
  • UBC’s men’s volleyball team won Canada’s first university volleyball championship in 1967; then, with its World Student Games experience in Japan, brought back to Canada the revolutionary Asian style of volleyball, re-inventing the way the game is played in North America .
  • The sport of men’s field hockey, dominated by UBC during the 1960s and 1970s, was permanently included as an Olympic sport in large part though the work of former UBC athlete and Geology professor, Harry Warren. Warren’s son Victor of UBC was a star on the first Canadian Olympic field hockey team in 1964.
  • Through the ingenuity and fundraising efforts of UBC’s women’s field hockey team and its coach May Brown, Canada, represented by BC, sent its first National team to the Women’s World Field Hockey Championship in Australia in 1956.
  • December 25, 1920 turned out to be a historic day in the annals of UBC as this young, small university scored a totally unexpected rugby victory over US champion Stanford. From this victory emanated a sense of UBC pride, spirit and identity. This game is acknowledged as the moment UBC students and faculty – the university – “found herself.”
  • UBC boasts being Canada’s only university to have produced a major league baseball player – a product of the Thunderbird baseball program under coach Terry McKaig. Jeff Francis has had an impressive major league career, mainly with the Colorado Rockies (2004-2010).
  • As of 2013 UBC can claim an impressive 228 Olympians (who were members of the university’s Varsity athletic teams.) Since the first UBC Olympian, track star Harry Warren in 1928, Varsity athletes have won 59 medals including 18 gold.
  • In December 1973 the UBC men’s ice hockey team becomes the first hockey team from the West to travel to China. Organized by the Department of External Affairs, this tour was designed as a cultural exchange stressing friendship and the teaching of hockey. This team could be considered a pioneer in the sharing of respective cultures in the formative days of diplomatic relations between East and West.
  • In the summer of 1954, UBC’s eights rowing crew won Canada’s first-ever Commonwealth Games gold in rowing and were invited by Prince Philip to compete the next year at Henley, where they finished second. In 1956 the UBC four-oared crew won Canada’s first Olympic rowing gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics.
  • September 8, 1930, UBC’s women’s basketball team representing North America won the World Championships at the 1930 Women’s Olympiad at Prague. The UBC women defeated the European champions France 18 – 14 before 10,000 fans to become the “toast of Europe.”
  • The UBC men’s basketball team represented Canada at the 1948 London Olympics. The Bob Osborne- coached Thunderbirds had won the nation-wide team qualifying tournament for the right to represent Canada. These Olympics would have also seen UBC’s top sprinter John Turner compete, but alas he was injured. He did go on to a Rhodes Scholarship and political fame.
  • In 1945/46 UBC became the first university in Western Canada to establish a degree program in Physical Education (now Kinesiology). Inspired by former UBC athlete Maury Van Vliet, the program was implemented and directed for 33 years by Robert Osborne.
  • By the summer of 2004 UBC had firmly established itself as the national leader in women’s university sport. During 03/04 UBC women won six national university championships a new Canadian record for a single season. The six women’s titles were field hockey, soccer, swimming, rowing, basketball, and golf.
  • As of 2015, UBC’s football program has produced 123 players who have played games in the professional Canadian Football League (CFL). This list also includes one player who played in the NFL and two who are inductees in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
  • In November 1927 UBC’s football team competed in the playoffs for the Grey Cup. As provincial champions, UBC faced the prairie champion Saskatchewan Roughriders for the right to represent the West in the Grey Cup game in Toronto. Despite a valiant effort Varsity went down to defeat in a two-game total-point series. This was the one and only time UBC would have this opportunity to compete for Canada’s top football prize, now itself just over 100 years old.
  • During the first decade of the 2000s UBC completely dominated Canadian university swimming setting a Canadian record of 12 consecutive national titles. As of 2013 UBC Swimming held the Canadian all-sport record of 21 national titles, the first being won in 1964/65.
  • Two prominent UBC educators, Dean of Pharmacy “Whit” Matthews and Physical Education director Bob Osborne were the two principal “founding fathers” of what was known as the CIAU – now CIS – our national university league. These two ushered in this new league in June 1961.

For more information about events and personalities in UBC sports history, go to the UBC Sports Hall of Fame at http://www.gothunderbirds.ca/index.aspx.

Fred Hume is UBC Sports Historian and a member of the UBC Sports Hall of Fame.