UVic Torch -- Autumn 2008
Autumn 2008,
Volume 29, Number 2

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By Mike McNeney

New essays chronicle the post-war years of Victoria College.

Edward harvey, a former victoria college student, isn’t about to romanticize his school years. He’ll point out that today’s Canadian campuses—where more women graduate than men and racial diversity has replaced a sea of white faces—are an improvement over the post-World War II times of his youth, where the closest thing to student financial aid had to be co-signed at a bank.

But at the same time, Harvey sensed something special about his generation’s time at Victoria College, a period of unprecedented social and economic change. That feeling has been borne out with the autumn release of The Lansdowne Era: Victoria College, 1946–1963 (McGill-Queen’s University Press), a wide-ranging collection of candid essays by former students and instructors. Harvey, who teaches at the University of Toronto and runs a busy consulting firm, conceived the project in 2006 after the death of his close friend, Peter Smith, the retired professor and unofficial UVic historian. The book soon gained the formal support of the University of Victoria and President David Turpin.

“I had an intuitive feeling that the Lansdowne era was dynamic. But seeing it in cold, hard facts is another thing,” says Harvey, who entered Victoria College in 1959. “As I got into it more, it became very clear—this was a remarkable period. It really set the stage for (UVic) becoming what it has now become.”

Overcrowded with the legions of soldiers who had returned from the Second World War, Victoria College moved from cramped quarters in Craigdarroch Castle to the more spacious surroundings of the Lansdowne Road campus on Nov. 15, 1946. The college shared the campus with the Provincial Normal School for teacher education before the two merged in 1956. Until UVic was established in 1963, most students completed the college’s two-year programs before completing their degrees at UBC.

The Baby Boom, the Cold War, rapid economic growth and resulting demand for education—not to mention rock and roll, Elvis Presley and the rise of youth culture—frame the stories told by The Lansdowne Era’s 27 contributors. They include BC Chief Justice Lance Finch, former federal cabinet minister David Anderson, internationally-renowned scholar and teacher Ann Saddlemyer, and Martin Segger, director of the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, which traces the start of its collection back to the efforts of former Victoria College principal Harry Hickman.

“They really stepped up to the plate and did fine pieces of work,” says Harvey, the “quarterback” of his team of contributors. “There’s a degree of candor and insight…a blend of voices and points of view that give the book strength.”

At the heart the project is its tribute to Peter Smith. Proceeds from the book will support student financial aid in the name of the former Greek and Roman Studies professor and author of A Multitude of the Wise: UVic Remembered.

Harvey’s friendship with Smith began in 1961, when Smith was teaching Classics at Victoria College. “I’d like to think he’d like (The Lansdowne Era),” says Harvey. “I think we would have had a really good conversation about it over a glass of wine at his house.” There’s a pause before he continues. “Peter was a real giver: he gave to the university, to the community, to his students. I mean, he got me a passing grade in Greek. Talk about miracles. I do have my strengths but that wasn’t one of them.”

The Lansdowne Era: Victoria College, 1946–1963 is available from the UVic Bookstore (uvicbookstore.ca) and from Victoria booksellers.

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