While transcribing Frank Fairchild Wesbrook’s diary entry for 12 October 1916 onto Twitter (@Pres_FFWesbrook), UBC Archives staff were reminded of an important anniversary:

8:15     Vancouver Institute *
Hill Tout in chair.
Lecture Archibald – “Atom

With this rather terse note, starred and underlined in red pencil, UBC’s first president marked the inaugural lecture presented by the Vancouver Institute.

The Institute had been officially established on 25 February of that year.  Its initial aim was to coordinate and bring under one organization the various public lecture series which until then had delivered independently by different groups, often on conflicting schedules.  Many of these, including the Art, Historical and Scientific Association, the Academy of Science, the Architectural Institute of British Columbia, the Vancouver Trades and Labor Council, and the Women’s University Club, quickly affiliated themselves with the Institute.  They represented a wide range of interests within the intellectual and professional community of Vancouver and British Columbia.

The Institute also boasted substantial links to the University.  Wesbrook had been instrumental in its initial organization, and was serving as its first President.  Several UBC faculty members had also been involved with the Institute from its very beginnings, and more than half of the lectures during its first year were scheduled to be delivered by UBC staff.  Finally, lectures were being presented in the newly-completed Assembly Hall at UBC’s Fairview campus at the corner of Tenth Avenue and Willow Streets – after the University moved to its Point Grey campus, the Institute would follow it there.  For that reason the Vancouver Institute would come to be seen as a liaison between “town and gown” – a link between the University and the wider community.

In Wesbrook’s diary entry, “Hill Tout” refered to Charles Hill-Tout, noted educator and amateur anthropologist, who was the Honorary President of the Institute.  That first lecture, sponsored by the Academy of Science, was presented by E.H. Archibald, Assistant Professor in the UBC Department of Chemistry – the first in a long line of Institute speakers drawn from the University.  The title of his lecture was “The Atom of the Chemist”.

No full transcript of Archibald’s talk survives, but Vancouver newspaper clippings preserved in the Archives’ scrapbook collection at least provide something more than Wesbrook’s understated “Fine”.  The next day the Daily News-Advertiser summarized the collective opinion of Charles Hill-Tout and the audience, “that such a scientific lecture as Prof. Archibald had given enlarged immensely the field of knowledge and quickened the imagination…”.

By comparing and contrasting the modern views of the universe based upon scientific facts, with the old theories of philosophy it was shown how slow was the development of knowledge in the past and how rapid it would be when we had the key to nature’s mysteries supplied by a knowledge of natural laws.

A follow-up News-Advertiser article went into more detail about Archibald’s discussion of how the newly-discovered concept of radioactivity allowed scientists to determine the true age of the earth.  Apparently geologists of the day were “troubled” by estimates that our planet was “only” one hundred million years old.  Archibald “gave assurance to the troubled geologists” that the earth’s age was much greater than previously supposed, allowing plenty of time for the formation of sedimentary deposits and other geological changes in the past.

At the end of his lecture, the audience, which filled one of the main lecture rooms in UBC’s Chemistry building, peppered Archibald with more questions:

… whether radium caused the heat of the sun, and if so how long it might be expected to keep hot; whether the doctrine of Christian Science, that there was no such thing as matter, was sound; whether a stone building was really solid or composed of particles moving so fast that they seemed to be solid, like the spokes of a moving wheel; whether radium cured cancer; how the world and the planets got started in the first place.  These and more commonplace questions poured in as fast as they could be answered or avoided, and produced a highly entertaining half-hour.

It is obvious from such accounts that the Vancouver Institute had found an audience.  The rest of the 1916/17 term would feature lectures on such diverse topics as Renaissance architecture, English literature, bacteria (presented by President Wesbrook, a noted bacteriologist), “the high cost of living”, precious metals and banking, and the early settlement of British Columbia, among others.  Citizens from all backgrounds – professionals and workers, academics and laypersons – would certainly find something of interest in the Institute’s programme.  This would remain true for the next one hundred years.

At the core of the study of history are questions about what events and people from the past are important and why they are important.
The Historical significance video and accompanying written materials offer an engaging way to introduce the concept of historical significance by comparing internment events during the First and Second World Wars.

Watch the video
Download the lesson plan (grades 6-8)
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Find out more about the Historical Thinking video series. See more resources in The Thinking Teacher archives.

Frank Fairchild Wesbrook was the first president of the University of British Columbia. Born in Ontario on July 12, 1868, and raised in Winnipeg, Wesbrook graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1887, and the following year received a master’s degree from the same institution. He received his M.D. from McGill University in 1890, and then spent a year at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. In 1892, he was elected John Walker student in pathology at Cambridge. Wesbrook was appointed Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Minnesota in 1895, and in 1906 he became the first full-time Dean of Medicine there. In 1913, he accepted the post of President of the nascent UBC, to which he would devote the rest of his life.

For most of his tenure at UBC, President Wesbrook kept a diary. Eventually filling 23 pocket notebooks, the diary allowed him to track appointments; make shopping and “to-do” lists; take note of activities and noteworthy events; and help him keep track of the people he met.

Wesbrook made a point of introducing himself to people he met at conferences, at social functions, even on trains and ships as he travelled. He knew that he needed public support if he was to build “the people’s University” which would serve “all the needs of all the people”. The name of every person Wesbrook met was noted in his diary for future reference.

Wesbrook’s administrative workload as the head of a new university was heavy. He was also expected to maintain contacts with politicians, businessmen and others of his social class – this meant attending frequent business meetings, cultural events, and luncheon and dinner engagements. When the First World War began he enrolled in an officers’ training course which took up even more time and energy. He was also in high demand as a public speaker. Wesbrook also travelled a great deal, both in his official capacity as University President and, as someone from outside British Columbia, in an effort to get to know the province. In-between he somehow found time to spend with his wife Anne, daughter Helen, and various friends and relatives.

Wesbrook diary page - Sept. 28 1914The Wesbrook diaries serve as primary source material for anyone researching the early history of UBC. They also offer a glimpse into the daily life of one of the most important public figures in early 20th Century British Columbia – a man who held a position which was, as the Minister of Education said in 1913, “the hardest job outside that of the Premier”. To help commemorate both the centennial of UBC’s opening in 1915 and the centenary of the University Library, the University Archives decided to “re-purpose” the diaries as historical social media.

The Twitter feed @Pres_FFWesbrook consists of selected entries from President Wesbrook’s diaries, each dated exactly 100 years previously. For example, the diary entry for September 28, 1914 (left) was entered, 140 characters at a time (the maximum length of a Twitter message), on September 28, 2014. Associated hashtags include #UBCHistory, #UBCCentennial, #UBCArchives, and #UBCLibrary. Non-diary content is posted in square brackets, including explanatory notes, clarifications of names (e.g. “Telegraphed Annie [wife]”), and wherever Wesbrook’s handwriting is unclear (e.g. [?]).

@Pres_FFWesbrook - entry from Wesbrook diaries Sept. 28 1914/2014An inspiration for this approach was @FitzMcCleery, a Twitter account derived from the diaries of Fitzgerald McCleery, who was the first European settler in what is now Vancouver. A typical daily entry from @FitzMcCleery would be “Fine. Sold a lot of oats to the mill company for $240” (October 4, 1865/2014). By contrast, Wesbrook’s daily notebook entries typically fill a whole page with neat but tiny writing, listing his activities, appointments, the people he met, and anything else of interest. Even without including routine notes or indecipherable writings, @Pres_FFWesbrook generates at least three to four tweets daily (see screenshot, right).

Utilizing archival sources such as the Wesbrook diaries as social media content is an excellent means of promoting the upcoming centenaries of the University and the Library. In the long run it also provides the University Archives – and, by extension, UBC Library – with an opportunity to showcase its programmes and collections. Promoting our “brand” through social media such as Twitter also raises public awareness of UBC’s rich history, and attracts both scholars and supporters.

President Wesbrook continued to write in his little notebooks until January 1918. By that time his health was deteriorating rapidly. The chronic infections that plagued him for most of his adult life, combined with his heavy workload and the mental and emotional strain of guiding the birth and development of a university in war-time, led to kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, and blindness. He died on October 20, 1918. The University of British Columbia can be considered Frank Wesbrook’s memorial, but his diaries serve as a reminder of the man behind the birth of our institution.

This session is appropriate for students conducting literature reviews in any discipline.
Topics include
… what is a literature review?
… finding the right databases
… search strategies for databases
… finding scholarly articles, theses and dissertations, books, and more
… resources to help you keep track of your research.
There will be plenty of hands-on time for searching, and assistance from the two presenting librarians.



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