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.

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.

Just before the grandstand of the old stadium at the University of British Columbia was torn down in 1968, a collection of old scrapbooks of uncertain origin was rescued from a storage room. Fortunately, instead of being thrown in the trash, they were recognized as valuable historical artifacts and sent to the Library. The scrapbooks eventually became part of the collections of the University Archives.

Based on the book plates and bindings, it appears that many of these bound volumes were made by G.A. Roedde Ltd. – which represents another link to Vancouver’s history, as Roedde was the city’s first bookbinder. Their contents document the origins and early history of UBC, from 1890 to 1941: mostly newspaper clippings from Vancouver-area newspapers, regarding University issues, student activities, and special events. Some scrapbooks also include photographs, souvenir programmes, and other memorabilia.

Newspapers represented by the clippings in the scrapbooks include the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the Daily News-Advertiser, the Vancouver Daily World, the Vancouver Star, and the New Westminster Columbian. They include both articles and letters-to-the-editor, so they document both the history of UBC and the evolution of public opinion about the University.

The volumes were originally scanned in 2006 as black-and-white PDF images. In 2013, work-study student Shyla Seller was assigned to re-scan the volumes at higher resolution and in colour. Those not yet completed are marked as [BW].

The scrapbooks were compiled by several individuals over the years. Volume #1 was compiled by F.C. Wade, an early supporter of the University. Volume #3, which due to its unusual formatting has not been digitized, was presumably either compiled by UBC President Frank Wesbrook or presented to him at some point.

For many years the origins of the other scrapbooks were unknown. However, during the 2013 re-scanning project Shyla discovered a reference to William Tansley as being the compiler of many of them. An article pasted in page 90 of Volume #22 identifies him as “Custodian of the Clippings”. Tansley was originally the University custodian and groundskeeper, and later curator of the University Museum, the predecessor of the UBC Museum of Anthropology. Based on that article, and from the handwriting in the scrapbooks, it appears that he was responsible for at least Volumes #19-26, and continued to maintain and compile them until his retirement in 1941. An additional volume, numbered 27, was not among the scrapbooks discovered in the old stadium. Originally included among the Tansley papers in the University Archives, it was recently identified as being part of the collection and is now available in digital form for the first time.

Volume numbers, dates, and other title information included in the list are mostly based on the inscriptions on the covers of the original books.

(This is the first in an occasional series of introductory guides to UBC Archives’ collections and services)

The core of the holdings of the University of British Columbia Archives are textual records. Produced by organizations or individuals in the course of their activities, they document the history of the University and its community. These records and manuscripts are acquired by the Archives from the University and its constituent offices (faculties, schools, departments, and institutes); independent student, alumni, and employee organizations; and prominent faculty and alumni.

With a few exceptions, these materials have not been digitized. Access to them is provided through inventories.  Researchers peruse these inventories, and when they find something likely to be of interest, they cite the fonds/collection title and box number for retrieval. The records may then be examined in the RBSC/Archives reading room. Photocopying and scanning services are provided for a nominal fee.

Access to institutional records (that is, records created or maintained by University offices) is governed by Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) legislation. Requests for institutional records are subject to review, and may need to be vetted by the University’s Access and Privacy Manager.  Completion of a Research Agreement is also required required.  Non-institutional records and private archives remain open, subject to donor-imposed limitations.

Time spent waiting for retrieval of archival materials can be reduced by calling or e-mailing the Archives in advance. This gives our staff time to pull the requested material from storage and have it ready upon the researcher’s arrival.

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