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50 little-known facts about 50-year-old Simon Fraser University
January 30, 2016. 5:00 pm • Section: B.C.
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As Simon Fraser University continues to celebrate its 50th year, we’ve collected an assortment of facts, figures
and firsts to capture its colourful history and evolution from upstart to groundbreaking institution.
1. When the provincial government set up draft legislation to establish a new university in B.C., the proposed name was
Fraser University. In 1963, the minister responsible, Les Peterson, changed the name to Simon Fraser University — likely
because he didn’t like the idea of those first two initials on a varsity jacket. (SFU was nicknamed the “instant university”
because construction started in November 1963 and it welcomed its first 2,628 students in September 1965.)
President Patrick McTaggart-Cowan hangs out with students on the
steps on opening day in 1965.
2. SFU’s mountaintop location inspired architect Arthur Erickson to look to the Acropolis in Athens and the hill towns of
Italy for ideas. He designed terraced buildings to remain in harmony with the contours of the landscape.
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3. A signature Erickson touch was the reflecting pond in the Academic Quadrangle. When staff cleaned out the pond in 2008
— relocating about 400 resident fish to a holding tank during the process — they found two pairs of glasses, three hockey
pucks, a hearing aid, a “really boring” diary, two cellphones, a five-pin bowling ball, some liquor bottles and a sodden copy of
the Thomas Hardy novel Tess Of The D’Urbervilles with an inscription that read: “She should have kicked him in the
strawberries.”
4. In 1969, after snowfall cracked panes of glass in Convocation Mall, the entire roof was replaced with reinforced glass at
a cost of $70,000.
Less than two weeks before SFU was set to open in 1965, heavy rainfall
caused huge puddles around campus, making it difficult for students
such as, from left, Donna Howat, Carol McCullough and Terry
Einarson, to navigate. (Bill Cunningham, PNG files)
5. SFU’s ceremonial mace weighs about 10.5 kilograms. It was commissioned by university architects Erickson and
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Geoffrey Massey and designed by Haida artist Bill Reid. In fall 2014, Helen Wussow, former dean of Lifelong Learning,
became the first woman in SFU’s history to carry the mace during convocation ceremonies.
6. Artists invited to perform at SFU for non-credit workshops have ranged from urban theorist Buckminster Fuller to jazz
pianist Oscar Peterson.
7. In March 1966, SFU students voted overwhelmingly against fraternities in a special campus referendum. The freaks
didn’t want no Greeks. Their decision has been upheld to this day. (Some students belong to fraternities but those groups
aren’t recognized by the SFU student society.)
8. In 1965, SFU became the first university in Canada to offer athletic scholarships.
9. The new university quickly became a hotbed of student radicalism. In 1966, two SFU faculty members, Mordecai
Bremberg and Paul Ivory, were active with the Vancouver Committee to Aid War Objectors, which provided American draft
dodgers with shelter and other help during the Vietnam War. In 1967, five teaching assistants were fired for holding a
demonstration at Templeton Secondary in Vancouver. The dean of arts resigned in protest over the firings and 2,000 students
and faculty held a rally. The firings were reversed.
10. SFU’s first student protest in 1966 was over the construction of a Shell service station on campus. A “Shift Shell” rally
brought out about 1,000 students.
Research for this feature was graciously provided by some of the contributors
to the upcoming book Remembering SFU: On The Occasion Of Its 50th Birthday. The book will be available online
and at SFU’s campus bookstores on Feb. 22.
11. In 1968, student council members sought to rename the school Louis Riel University, calling explorer Simon Fraser “a
member of the vanguard of pirates, thieves and carpet-baggers which ​
dispossessed and usurped the native Indians of Canada
from their rightful heritage.” The referendum motion failed.
12. Nearly 180 students occupied four floors of the administration building in November 1968 to protest that students
transferring to SFU from B.C. colleges weren’t receiving credit for all their college courses. University brass eventually called
in the police. The occupation and standoff coincided with rehearsals for a student production of Shakespeare’s war tragedy
Coriolanus in the nearby theatre. John Juliani — then a 28-year-old theatre instructor at SFU who would go on to become a
B.C. theatre legend — thought it would be cool to blast the sounds of gunfire from an amplifier atop the theatre during the reallife standoff while his cast came outside in makeup and bizarre costumes to watch as police gathered in the mall to take back
the building. The police commissioner on the scene chose to ignore the stunt but the student occupiers were arrested.
13. When the university first opened, women made up 37 per cent of the student body. Of the faculty staff of 126, 16 were
women. In summer 1968, a group of women asked the administration for a room to set up a daycare. When their request was
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denied, the women set one up anyway, volunteering to watch each other’s children.
14. By fall 2014, 13,000 of SFU’s 25,000 undergrads were women and the faculty staff was made up of 330 women and
634 men.
Women made up 37 per cent of the student body when SFU opened, and
now make up the majority. (PNG files)
15. When SFU opened, there were no women’s intercollegiate athletic programs. By 1968, there were four women’s
varsity teams (basketball, track, field hockey and swimming) but they received minimal funding.
16. In 1970, SFU became the first university in Canada to implement computerized registration.
17. In 1968, SFU became the first university in ​
Canada to create an ​
e xecutive MBA.
18. SFU was the first Canadian university to appoint a female president. Dr. Pauline Jewett took on the role in 1974. Jewett
was a former MP under Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson who quit the party when the War Measures Act was invoked.
A year after leaving SFU in 1978, she returned to Parliament as a New Democrat MP.
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SFU’s first female president, Pauline Jewett, is escorted on her first day
to her new office by piper/professor Bill Dickson of the economics
department in September 1974. (George Diack, PNG files)
19. A group of students founded SFU’s pipe band in 1966. One of only four pipe bands located outside of the United
Kingdom that have won a World Pipe Band Championship, the band’s achievements include opening for rocker Rod Stewart
at concerts in 1989 and 1991.
20. In August 1971, another clash of Shakespeare and loud noises took place at SFU when sci-fi thriller The Groundstar
Conspiracy, starring George Peppard, was shot on campus — explosions and all — at the same time that the more sedate
World Shakespeare Congress was held.
21. In 1977, Patrick Stewart (who went on to play Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard) and Ben
Kingsley (who went to win an Oscar for his performance in Gandhi) were among the actors from England’s Royal
Shakespeare Company who came to SFU as part of an artist-in-residence program. They held workshops and performed a
series of Shakespearean plays that attracted more than 1,900 fans.
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The Royal Shakespeare Company — including (left to right) Richard
Pasco, Sheila Allen, Patrick Stewart and Ben Kingsley — did a residency
at SFU in 1977. (Simon Fraser University Archives, School for the
Contemporary Arts)
22. SFU maintains the Vancouver Punk Collection, which includes artifacts, digitized renderings of about 1,200 posters,
100 CDs, LPs and 45s and a genealogy of the Vancouver punk bands of the 1970s and ’80s, tracing their excesses and their
support of the environment and women’s rights and their opposition to racism.
23. SFU is a favourite location for filmmakers. Its concrete halls have hosted — among others — Keanu Reeves in The
Day the Earth Stood Still, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in Spy Game, Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff in Agent Cody Banks,
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Sixth Day, Michelle Pfeiffer in Personal Effects and Tim Robbins and Ryan Phillippe in
Antitrust.
24. Conspiracy and sci-fi seem to be a good fit for SFU. TV series filmed on the mountain include Fringe, Battlestar Galactica,
Stargate SG-1, Millennium and, naturally, The X-Files.
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The Simon Fraser University campus as dressed up for the hit show
Battlestar Galactica. (Source: frak-that.com)
Locations for the FOX television sci-fi hit Fringe were shot on the SFU
campus.
25. You could call SFU geography professor Paul Kingsbury the ghost-hunter hunter. Last fall, Kingsbury embarked on a
four-year research study aimed at finding out what drives paranormal researchers to go looking for Bigfoot, ghosts or UFOs.
“There’s been a sort of paranormal turn in popular culture,” he said, “It’s no longer crackpot to talk about paranormal
experiences.”
The truth is out there: SFU professor Paul Kingsbury with the 300-page
MUFON handbook for investigating claims about unidentified flying
objects. (Submitted)
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26. SFU has produced some of Canada’s best known filmmakers, including director-writer Sandy Wilson, who turned her
Okanagan teen years into the breakout 1985 hit My American Cousin.
27. Rapper and CBC Radio host Shad, a.k.a. Shadrach Kabango, was working on his master’s degree in liberal studies at
SFU in 2011 when he beat out fellow Canadian rap artist Drake for a Juno Award.
28. David Usher, lead singer of Moist, graduated from SFU in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He formed
the platinum-selling band the same year.
29. SFU’s football team has been competing since 1965. The team’s best known alum is Lui Passaglia, who during his time
at SFU from 1972 through ’75 was an NAIA District I all-star twice, playing quarterback, wide receiver and kicker. He holds
SFU Clan records for most points in a game, in a season and in a career. Passaglia went on to a legendary career with the
CFL’s B.C. Lions from 1976 to 2000, was named a CFL All-Star four times, and was a three-time Grey Cup champion.
Graduating seniors from the 1968 football team: Jim Jardine (11), Chris
Beaton (77), Dave Cutler (36), Rob McLaren (84), Paul Dumas (87), Ted
Warkentin (80) and Gary Robinson (50). Absent when this picture was
taken were Bob Smith and Doug Sheffield. (Ross Kenward, PNG files)
Lui Passaglia carries SFU’s ceremonial mace.
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30. In 1982, SFU grad Terre Nash won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short for If You Love This Planet.
31. Alan Franey, director of the Vancouver International Film Festival, got his taste for movies as a film student at SFU.
32. SFU Film School alumni and twin brothers Graham and Nelson Talbot won a Doritos’ Super Bowl contest with their
commercial “When Pigs Fly,” which was aired during Super Bowl 2015.
33. James Phillips, who would go on to a career as a writer for such Canadian TV shows as Cold Squad and Arctic Air,
launched his entertainment career in 1995 with a stint as SFU’s mascot — a big, fuzzy gorilla. Phillips’s first gig in the gorilla
suit was on the sidelines at the hotly contested Shrum Bowl, where passions over the football game against rival UBC spilled
over into the stands. Phillips and the guy playing UBC’s Thunderbird mascot ended up being swarmed by opposing fans and
had to be pulled out of a dogpile by security. Phillips was later inspired by that experience to make the 2004 feature
documentary Behind The Mascot.
34. SFU’s star athletes include wrestler Daniel ​
Igali, who left his Nigerian national team during the 1994 Commonwealth
Games in Victoria for a new life at SFU and went on to win gold for Canada at the 2000 Olympics; wrestler Carol Huynh,
who won gold at the 2008 Olympics; and basketball player Jay Triano, who became the first Canadian to ever be named an
NBA head coach.
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SFU alumnus Carol Huynh won bronze in freestyle wrestling at the
Olympic Games in London in August 2012. (CP files)
35. By 1977, more than 10 per cent of players in the CFL were from SFU, the most out of ​
Canada’s 50 ​
other ​
universities.
They include Sidney native son Glen ​
Suitor, whose 11 years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders began in 1984.
36. Simon Fraser University was approved in 2009 as the first non-U.S. member of the National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA), the world’s largest college sports organization.
37. In 2003, SFU engineering professor John Bird developed sonar technology imaging that allows researchers to view the
ocean floor in three dimensions.
38. SFU’s best known athlete is Canadian hero Terry Fox, who was an SFU kinesiology student and junior varsity basketball
team member in 1976. By March 1977, he was diagnosed with the cancer that would claim his right leg. Fox returned to SFU
and in the 1977-’78 season, while competing in wheelchair basketball, he became the manager of the junior varsity team. In
April 1980, Fox began his Marathon of Hope, an attempt to run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer
research. Fox was forced to end his run near Thunder Bay, Ont., after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres, when his cancer
returned. Fox died June 28, 1981, and runs have been held in Canada in his name and around the world ever since, raising
more than $650 million.
Terry Fox was a student athlete at SFU before his epic Marathon of
Hope following his cancer diagnosis. (SFU Athletics)
39. SFU is home to the only Canadian expert on human decomposition. Sgt. Diane Cockle graduated from SFU with a PhD
in anthropology in 2013, working full time as forensic investigator for the RCMP while she did her research. As part of her
dissertation, Cockle developed a new way to classify decomposition in Canada. The country’s climate and humidity, plants
and animals lead to unique ways of rotting. “We decompose quite differently in Canada, in ways that haven’t happened
before,” she told The Province.
40. Far from Australia’s outback, an SFU prof pioneered research into kangaroo mobility. Mad Donelan of the SFU
locomotion laboratory found that kangaroos rely on their outsized tails for locomotion. According to his findings, published in
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2014, kangaroos move with a “pentapedal” gait, planting their tails on the ground in combination with their front and hind legs.
“Kangaroos have harnessed a limb originally evolved for swinging from trees to serve this role as functional fifth leg,” said
Donelan, an associate professor in the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology. The research helps with work on
prosthetics for people recovering from strokes or spinal cord injury.
41. Best known sociology grad? Margaret Trudeau (née Sinclair) graduated in 1969 with a BA in sociology and went on to
become an author, photographer and public speaker. She also married one prime minister and gave birth to another. Her
sister, Rosalind Sinclair, was crowned the inaugural Miss SFU in 1965-66.
Margaret Trudeau in her high school yearbook.
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Miss SFU, Rosalind Sinclair, the aunt of Canada’s current prime
minister. (SFU Archives)
42. Paul Watson, one of the original Greenpeace founders who split off to form the more radical Sea Shepherd Society, was
drawn into activism in the 1960s while studying at SFU.
43. Three of B.C.’s former premiers are SFU grads: Gordon Campbell, Ujjal Dosanjh and Glen Clark.
44. Christy Clark didn’t graduate from SFU but had a short stint as president of SFU’s student society in 1989 after winning
by just six votes. She lasted two months in office before the opposition-dominated student forum overturned her win, saying
her slate had broken some election rules. She lost a byelection later that year and left SFU soon after.
45. The university has grown beyond Burnaby Mountain over the decades, establishing the downtown Vancouver Harbour
Centre campus in a refurbished department store in 1989. That campus has since expanded to include the nearby Segal
School of Business, the Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the Contemporary Arts Department in SFU Woodward’s. All in all,
SFU has done well out of re-purposed old department stores. Surrey’s SFU campus, designed by well-known Vancouver
architect Bing Thom, opened in 2002.
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SFU established its first off-mountain campus at Harbour Centre in
downtown Vancouver in 1989. It’s pictured here on a beautiful
December day in 2001. (Colin Price, PNG files)
46. Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada’s top comprehensive universities. SFU has topped
Maclean’s annual rankings of top comprehensive universities in Canada 11 times over the past 24 years, including in 2015 and
from 2008 through 2012. (Comprehensive universities are defined as having a significant degree of research activity and a wide
range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees.)
47. SFU’s first pub didn’t open until 1973. (Beer cost 45 cents, coffee was a quarter.) Before that, temporary pubs were set
up in the East Mall cafeteria and South Court lounge. The current pub in the Maggie Benston centre opened in 1996.
48. SFU has more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries.
Designed by Arthur Erickson, SFU’s “brutal concrete architecture” and
sometimes gloomy mountain weather has spawned an urban legend that
its students have an unusually high suicide rate. Not at all true. (PNG
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files)
49. In a recent Forbes interview, Hollywood director Steward Hendler, whose upcoming film Halo was partly shot at SFU,
described the campus as having “incredible, brutal concrete architecture. It actually has the highest suicide rate of any campus
in Canada because it is so bleak, but that worked in our favour because it really feels like something from outer space.” In fact,
the alleged high suicide rate is an urban legend that has been around — and been proven false — since the early 1980s.
50. The beautiful green boulder in the ​
reflecting pond in the ​
Academic Quadrangle garden is actually six tons of ​
Lillooet jade
discovered near Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon before the university opened. It is the university’s ​
founding stone.
— Sources: The Peak, SFU Archives, SFU.ca, Radical Campus: Making Simon Fraser University
Tags:
Arthur Erickson,
Simon Fraser University
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Jean-Paul Faubert · Vancouver, British Columbia
"She lasted two months in office before the opposition-dominated student forum
overturned her win, saying her slate had broken some election rules."
Christy and her party were fined for breaking the rules and felt she was above paying
the fine. That made her a student in bad standing which cost her her presidency. It had
nothing to do with "the opposition-dominated student forum" That is a fiction created by
her PR people. She gave it up over a $50 fine.
Like · Reply ·
3 · 16 hrs
Tracey Harston · Supervisor- BC Life Claims Services at Pacific Blue Cross
Oh how I remember the CC days at SFU and SFSS! It was all the talk at my home
during that time, right Robert Clift and Paul M?
Like · Reply ·
2 · 13 hrs
Dwight Jones
As a charter student, I had a great time and wasted a few years in physics.
Like · Reply · 1 hr
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