‘Union College, 1965’ by Robert Dunn

Union College, c.1962, shortly after the east wing was added. Photo: UBC Archives

Union College, c.1962, shortly after the east wing was added. Photo: UBC Archives

The Department of English accepted me in 1965 as a candidate for the M.A. and offered me a Teaching Assistantship at $1,200 per annum, without which I could not have come. In the event, I came by freighter from San Francisco, the Royal Mail Ship Loch Avon, which had six passenger cabins, modestly but handsomely furnished with oak panelling and brass fittings. Passengers dined with the ship’s officers and cadets. The dining room and the lounge looked like they had been borrowed from an English Country House. All the other passengers were retired couples from the Okanagan returning home from “the old country”. The food was plentiful and excellent, the passengers delightful, and the Captain very much in command. When the Pilot came aboard in Portland, eager to depart forthwith down the Columbia River, the Captain made him wait until he had finished entertaining a group of his passengers with a game at cards.


RMS Loch Avon, c.1965

The voyage took ten days, calling also at Seattle, and was scheduled to arrive in Vancouver on September 3rd, but the Loch Avon had been held up at its pier next to the Ferry Building in San Francisco because all the stevedores had been seconded to Oakland, across the bay, to help load supply ships for Viet Nam. When it finally arrived September 6th, it was Labour Day, UBC was closed, and I had to stay the night in the Hotel Devonshire (now demolished). When I reported to the English Department next day, I learned that there was no accommodation available on campus. That night and possibly a second were spent, entirely alone, in one of the military barracks called, I think, Acadia Camp (now demolished), located somewhere in the general vicinity of what is now Regent College on campus. I remember there were metal bunk beds enough for perhaps forty or fifty men but I do not remember who issued me a mattress and bedding for that night unless it was David Macaree, a professor in the English Department, for it was he who very kindly put me on to Union College and saved me from a very distressing dilemma. The only room left at Union College was on top of the chapel, facing north, with an unobstructed panoramic view of the city, the north shore, Bowen Island and all of Howe Sound. It felt like deliverance. For three years I enjoyed the best view in town and probably the best location on campus. It was a five minute walk to the Buchanan Building.

(The author is top row left, eye-glasses and necktie, both years)

Apart from me, there was only one other graduate student in Union College and he was the only unmarried theologian, thus ineligible for the College’s married accommodation (now demolished). All the others in these two group photographs were among the 98 undergraduates in residence and none of them were reading theology. They were a very jolly bunch, notwithstanding the night that they abducted me and about four other newbies and deposited us with nothing but sheets for clothing in the middle of Stanley Park. Happily (and probably by alert) we were soon collected by the RCMP and delivered back to the College, a little chilly but none the worse.

Requirements for the M.A. in English were rigorous, not to say gruelling. The reading list for the Comprehensive Examination stretched from Geoffrey Chaucer to William Faulkner; likewise the daunting graduate seminar requirements, but the most gruelling of all was preparation for the Final Examination in Bibliography. It was said that so many candidates had failed that exam the previous year under Professor William Fredeman that he was encouraged to go on leave. If we thought his successor, Professor Tony Lavin, would prove less demanding, we were wrong. And then there was the thesis requirement, for which, again, I was lucky in having Roy Daniells for supervisor and, in his absence, Jan de Bruyn. In short, it was an intensely rigorous course of study and an intensely enriching experience which left me well prepared for what lay ahead.

My experience in the English Department was intellectually invigorating and access to the splendid Graduate Student Centre (another gift of the Koerners, which always had a log or two burning in the fireplace at coffee breaks in the morning) was greatly appreciated by all, but without the warm, welcoming comfort of Union College, my UBC experience would have been so much less enjoyable. It was not just another student residence. It was not just the conviviality, the congeniality, the delicious three meals a day in the refectory six days a week, it was the sense of collegiality, the all-male fellowship, the sense of belonging to something rather special. In my final year, 1967-1968, with a newly-minted  M.A. in my pocket, I was kept on as a part-time Lecturer in the English Department, and at Union College I was promoted to a Donship and given an even more splendid room with the same breath-taking view but with the added, supreme luxury of a private bathroom, with a full size bathing tub. Deliverance, indeed.


With such remembrance of things past, with so much sentimental baggage of happy memories and enjoyable experience, it was a shock some years ago to watch Union College, by then joined with the Anglican College (now demolished) and renamed as the Vancouver School of Theology, being gutted and, still more recently, being divested of the faculty for which it was built. Still, the building remains, albeit with an ugly carbuncle added to each side of the once slender, elegant and symmetrical tower. Still, even in its present state, it remains always to remind me of that golden
and formative period of my life.


Robert Dunn, M.A., 1967

Pictures reproduced by permission of
Dr. Robert Dunn.

NB: The Iona Building now (2016) houses the Vancouver School of Economics.