UNB Saint John: 20 years proud | UNB
University of New Brunswick est.1785

Global Site Navigation (use tab and down arrow)

100th Anniversary Edition

The Alumni News | Vol. 11, AL1 | Fall 1985

UNB Saint John: 20 years proud

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | 100th Anniversary Edition

First staff: how they beat the odds

What do a horse barn, a liquor store, a lover's lane parking lot, the YMCA and an automotive shop all have in common? 

Give up?  
UNB Saint John. 

No, really this is not a jest. But to find out how they all connect, read on.  

By Jean Cunningham 

Like any other 20-year-old, UNB Saint John experienced birth, infancy and adolescent stages. And like any birth, it was exciting. There was the thrill of creating a university; the challenge of building something from scratch mingled with the fascination of watching it grow. The creation of UNB Saint John in 1964 stirred everyone involved. And like parents remembering their children at infancy, it is with fondness. Considering that many of the world's universities span centuries, this was definitely a unique time.  

Those directly with the birth and early growth had spunk. They needed this vital quality to weather setbacks, solve problems and to forge ahead. Then again, as registrar Barry Beckett pointed out, the majority of those involved were young, most in their early twenties.  

George Stears, now business manager at UNB Saint John, remembers the layout of the original downtown campus clearly. UNB Saint John began with Beaverbrook House, the former UNB law school building. The barn at the back, which then housed stalls and hayloft, was once used to shelter cows and horses. He can remember G. Forbes Elliot, then principal of the campus (who laughingly verified this remark) saying on more than one hot, humid afternoon following its conversion into classrooms: "You can smell the horses today.” 

Mr. Stears commends Dr. Elliot for his administrative ability. "He was a man for our time:' said Mr. Stears. "He had all kinds of contacts in the city. He knew who every contractor was and what skill each had ... Without him at the helm we could never have been able to tackle what we did. He could literally get a building ready over the weekend. As a matter of fact, in those early days, the furniture always came in just two steps ahead of the students.” 

Dr. Beckett also was surprised by Dr. Elliot's capabilities, He arrived from England in 1966. Even though his wife was originally from Sackville, he had never been to New Brunswick,  
let alone Saint John. During his first meeting with Dr. Elliot he inquired about possible apartments available in the city. He and his wife were then driven around Saint John by Dr. Elliot, who proceeded to find an apartment. "I remember being amazed at the hospitality:' said Dr. Beckett.  

It might have been really due to Colin Mackay, then president of UNB, that the Saint John campus got off to a sound start in 1964. He jokingly bet Dr. Elliot a dollar he wouldn't get more than 70 students that first year.  

Perhaps Dr. Mackay never quite realized what odds he was betting against. Saint John was determined to have a university and Dr. Elliot was overjoyed to report that over  
90 students registered the first year. Needless to say, at the first official campus ceremony he pulled in his dollar note from Dr. Mackay.  

Dr. Beckett wasn't the only one to travel across the Atlantic to UNB Saint John. Ian Cameron arrived in 1967 without ever having seen the city or the downtown campus. At the first sight of the science building on Canterbury Street, which, incidentally, had been a liquor store, he was "rather dismayed by the outside appearance of the building. The inside, however, was quite functional.”  

Kenneth Duff did not cross the Atlantic, but he did travel from the United States. During an interview he was given a tour of the library facilities. A meager top floor of an automotive parts shop on Union Street might have daunted another librarian, but not Mr. Duff. The chance to organize a new library was "one of the things that attracted me to the job;” he said. The facility "was kind of discouraging, but it did show promise for future growth.” 

Despite physical limitations, he was given "quite a good budget" to build the library. Some of the books were donated by city residents who wanted to see the university prosper. Gordon Fairweather, federal Human Rights Commissioner, donated many books, he said. John Grube, one of the three original faculty members hired for Saint John in 1964, began the notable science fiction series with his donations. 

Nostalgia sets in when Mr. Duff thinks about those early years. The staff was small, and everyone pitched in to help when something needed to be done. "It is not that this wouldn't happen today, but then there was a special spirit of creating something of value from very little."

The YMCA on Hazen Ave. was one already-established organization that lent its support to this "something from nothing' university. Physical education classes were conducted there, and the payment of tuition automatically gave students Y memberships to use the pool and gymnasium facilities.  

In spite of the fact they were scattered here, there and everywhere in downtown Saint John, most employees were somewhat sad to move. "- even though we were moving to a new campus;' said Mr. Stears. He noted that for the first years it was common to hear faculty and staff say how much they missed the downtown area. "This surprised me a little;' he said. "It must have been the spirit and the charm of it.” 

Read more of 100th anniversary edition