About the Department

Our History

Post-secondary education in British Columbia got off to a very slow start. The first university act, passed by Provincial Legislation in 1890/91 was never implemented. In 1899, Vancouver High School (named Vancouver College) became affiliated with McGill University to provide a first year in arts. The act of 1890/91 was repealed in 1906 and steps taken to incorporate a University of British Columbia. In 1910, a committee of academics from across Canada chose the site on Point Grey-a scenic peninsula adjoining the western edge of Vancouver. By 1912, plans were drawn for four permanent buildings; these were in an early stage of construction when classes commenced in 1915 – a full decade before the buildings opened on Point Grey. F.F. Wesbrook was appointed President in1913 and classes were held in temporary buildings (known as the “Fairview Shacks”) located in the region of present Vancouver General Hospital.

The Biological Sciences were organized in a Biology Department with Professor Andrew H. Hutchinson (MA McMaster, PhD Chicago) as Head. Hutchinson was a broadly based general biologist, interested in many areas of Biology and Oceanography. His department offered courses in Botany, a course in Vertebrate Physiology (John Allardyce PhD McGill) and Genetics (Ruth Fields (California grad) and VC Brink (MSA Brit. Col., PhD Wisconsin). Local talent taught the animal sciences courses.

At that time, the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, founded in 1908, was primarily a summer seaside laboratory – a base for visiting University Professors and students interested in the Pacific fauna and flora. C. McLean Fraser (Toronto), a world authority on Hydroids, was Director. He spent his winters in Vancouver teaching Zoology. Some lectures, laboratory planning and supervision were undertaken by Edith Berkeley (Univ. London grad). Cyril Berkeley lectured in Chemistry and Bacteriology in the early days. The Berkeleys later settled in Nanaimo, worked at the Biological Station and became world authorities on the marine polychaete worms.

The mandate of the Biological Station was changed in 1924, when the station became a year-round operation with full-time scientists concerned with the investigation of Fisheries and Fish Technology. W.A. Clemens (MA Toronto, PhD Cornell) became Director; McLean Fraser moved to Vancouver and organized the Department of Zoology. Courses in Genetics and General Physiology remained in Biology, which became the Department of Biology and Botany. In 1924, George Spencer (BSA Toronto, MS Illinois) was appointed to teach Entomology. He also developed fine courses in Histology and in Histological Technique. Gertrude Smith (PhD Berkeley) taught Embryology and McLean Fraser handled the other basic zoology courses.

In 1940, McLean Fraser (PhD Toronto) retired and W.A. Clemens was appointed Head of Zoology with objectives of expanding the department and emphasizing integration with Provincial Fish and Game Departments. Gertrude Smith, became Mrs. Gertrude Watney and retired from the University. Ian McTaggert Cowan (BA British Columbia, PhD California) joined the faculty teaching Comparative Anatomy, Embryology and various Wildlife Courses. W.A. Clemens, taught General Zoology, History of Biology and introduced several Fisheries courses, Physiology and Genetics remained in the Biology and Botany Department.

In 1945, William S. Hoar (BA UNB, MA UWO, PhD Boston) was appointed Professor of Zoology and Fisheries-a chair funded by a large grant from H.R. MacMillan and BC Packers.

1945 marked the end of World War II and the return of the ex-service men and women. Virtually overnight the University expanded from about 3 500 students to about 11 500. Many new faculty were appointed. With the graduation of the ex-service students, registration declined to about 4 500 and then commenced its expansion to current numbers.

New programmes, departments and faculties followed in rapid succession. In the 60s the Biology and Botany Department became the Department of Botany and the Department of Zoology developed courses in Physiology, Genetics, Ecology, Population Dynamics and Parasitology – a full roster of courses.