Okanagan Alum Linked to 1922 Great Trek

Brenda Tournier and Harold Etter are working on a UBC Okanagan online display of UBC historical memorabilia - photo by Bud Mortenson
Brenda Tournier and Harold Etter are working on a UBC Okanagan online display of UBC historical memorabilia – photo by Bud Mortenson

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 12 | Dec. 6, 2007

Region’s UBC Grads Embrace Kelowna Campus

By Bud Mortenson

We’re through with tents and hovels,
We’re done with shingle stain,
That’s why we ask you to join us
And carry our campaign.

Agriculture student Harold C. Etter composed this four-line marching song in 1922 to buoy the spirits of his fellow UBC students on the long trek from the university’s downtown Vancouver Fairview campus to Point Grey. His words, given voice by many, echoed along the historic Great Trek that ultimately helped lead to the creation of the Point Grey campus.

Fast forward 85 years.

This summer, the songwriter’s son – also named Harold – was exploring UBC history for a UBC centenary online exhibit he’s working on. Combing through archives of UBC journals, Etter was suprised to discover in a 1982 edition of the UBC Alumni Chronicle the words to the song composed by his father.

“I didn’t even know about it until I was doing this research,” says Etter, who earned a PhD in botany from UBC in 1966 and went on to a career in plant physiology research and consulting. Now retired and living in Summerland, B.C., he’s an active member of the UBC Alumni Association’s Okanagan chapter and is gathering material for their centenary webpage.

“It’s been great to reconnect with UBC through the development of UBC Okanagan,” says Etter. “Being in an alumni group is all about connections — I think most people understand the connections we make between the university and the community. But we don’t think so much about connections through time.

“UBC has seen so much history,” he says, amazed not so much that his father’s part in the Great Trek was recorded but that he stumbled across the information after so many decades.

“The centenary certainly gives us a chance to take some time to reconnect with our university’s past,” says Etter. “Now we want to include UBC Okanagan graduates in that history and to start a new legacy here.”

To that end, the Okanagan alumni chapter — representing about 8,000 UBC alumni in B.C.’s Thompson-Okanagan region — has created a contest inviting students to share their vision of UBC Okanagan’s place in the university’s first century. Offering a snowboard, ski passes and a mountain bike as prizes, the contest asks, “What does UBC’s 100-year anniversary mean to UBC Okanagan, to our campus, and to you?”

“We’re asking students to tie the great heritage of UBC to the newness of UBC Okanagan,” says Brenda Tournier, manager of alumni and community relations at UBC Okanagan. “How students express their ideas is wide open — written submissions, DVDs, pieces of art, whatever medium they want to use. Maybe even a song.”

Other centenary projects in the Okanagan include an interactive online map of the region, filled with information about UBC alumni in each community.

“You’ll be able to scroll over the Thompson-Okanagan region and see how many alumni from each program, from which years, live in each community,” says Tournier.

“The 1908 University Act says the university is created for the province of British Columbia,” she says. “With the opening of the Okanagan campus, it becomes even more of a province-wide institution. We want to help UBC alumni here make the link between Point Grey, where their memories and ties are, to this campus where they can make a huge contribution. And we want UBC Okanagan graduates to feel a connection with that great UBC legacy.”

The historical collection Harold Etter is gathering is part of that effort. Newspaper clippings, sweaters, pictures and other mememtoes from alumni in the region will be reproduced on the web, to share the past with present and future UBC alumni.

“We’re creating traditions for the Okanagan during the centenary celebration,” Tournier says. “Now is the time for creating legacy and tradition — as much as it is for honouring them.”

The UBC Okanagan Centenary website is at www.ubc.ca/okanagan/alumnirelations/centenary.html. Anyone with information or memorabilia to contribute to the online display project should contact Tournier at brenda.tournier@ubc.ca.