Enjoy museums, gardens, sports and more at beautiful campus overlooking the Strait of Georgia.
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Regular visitors know that one of this city’s crown jewels is the Museum of Anthropology, located on the University of British Columbia campus, 20 minutes southwest of downtown. You can while away an entire morning exploring the museum’s jaw-dropping collection of traditional and contemporary First Nations art and its equally magnificent setting.
That done, visitors typically hop back into their cars and cross the Granville Street Bridge to return to the city proper — unaware, perhaps, that there are dozens of other things to see and do at UBC.
Whether you’re into sports, art, architecture, gardening or something else, there’s an afternoon “curriculum” to suit you.
Read on to find six different ways to extend a visit to the university, depending on your interests. Think of it as a chance to go back to school — just for a day — to learn something new.
If the Museum of Anthropology was your starting point, you’ve already experienced one of the masterworks of Canadian architect and urban planner Arthur Erickson. Inspired by First Nations post-and-beam construction, it’s a light-filled glass-and-concrete vessel for art that may change the way you feel about (often-maligned) Brutalist architecture.
A number of other notable buildings on campus are also worth a visit. For starters, there’s a second Erickson building: the postmodern Koerner Library, designed to look like an open book. Brock Commons Tallwood House, an 18-story student residence, is one of the tallest buildings in the world with a timber structure. And a new (2015) student union building, called The Nest, pushed sustainable design principles far enough to earn LEED Platinum certification — the highest rating for energy- and resource-efficient design.
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The Nest, with its airy 5-story atrium, multiple food outlets and cozy nooks for studying makes an excellent pit stop/refueling station for travelers.
Gardening enthusiasts may want to plan a visit for spring or summer, when campus flora are in full bloom.
The 100-year-old UBC Botanical Garden is a good place to begin. Among its 50,000 plants is an impressive collection of maple trees from around the world and more than 400 varieties of rhododendron. Another highlight is the Greenheart TreeWalk, open April through October, a suspended walkway that lets you stroll among the upper limbs of cedars and Douglas firs. It may not be as heart-stopping as the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, but it’s a good alternative, especially for small children. (Admission in peak season to the garden plus TreeWalk is $10-$20, or $44 per family up to six; the garden is open by donation November to mid-March.)
Also on campus are a compact, well-maintained rose garden and the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a traditional Japanese garden complete with tea house, carved lanterns and pond ($4-$7). Both are within a five-minute walk of the Museum of Anthropology.
If plants are your thing, make sure to go online or call ahead to find out which areas might be open or closed; hours change seasonally.
Looking for a workout? UBC sits on a bluff high above the Strait of Georgia, but the campus itself is fairly flat, and criss-crossed with miles of paths and walkways. Naturally, joggers are out in force, and on the weekends, flocks of bicyclists glide along Marine Drive, which edges the bluff.
A network of forested trails also leads down the hillside, if you’re looking for a steep hike, a stair run or an outing to a pebbly beach — parts of which (fair warning) are clothing optional.
Other (fully attired) activities include golfing at the University Golf Club, a pretty course populated with old-growth trees, or public ice skating at Thunderbird Arena ($3.25-$5.75 plus skate rental). UBC Athletics presents a year-round slate of spectator sports — in winter, that means men’s and women’s basketball and hockey.
Book-lovers might want to head straight to UBC Bookstore to pick up a novel (it stocks more than textbooks) and then find a nice spot to curl up and read. The Nest (see above) is one; another is the Ridington Room, inside the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. Some students call it the Harry Potter Room, for its winding staircase and towering wall of painted portraits.
Arts aficionados will find plenty to keep themselves occupied for an afternoon or evening at UBC. The Belkin Art Gallery showcases contemporary art, with an especially strong collection of Canadian avant-garde works of the 1960s and ’70s. The Department of Theatre and Film hosts a busy rotation of plays, musicals, films and other events at the Frederic Wood Theatre and other locations. And the beautiful Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, presents world-class names in music, opera and performance. At time of this writing, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and a number of student productions were slated for spring.
INTRO TO FIRST NATIONS
As you enter UBC from the east, one of the first things you see is an imposing, hand-carved post that tells the origin story of the Musqueam people. The campus is built on ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam, and acknowledgments of that fact can be spotted all over campus — from artworks, to signage, to curriculum and public events. And the Musqueam are just one of many First Nations and indigenous tribes you can learn about on a day trip to the university if you keep your eyes and ears open.
The Longhouse, built in 1993 on the northwest part of campus, serves as a cultural hub for students and others connected to First Nations tribes, the Inuit of Arctic Canada and the Métis (a mixed-race people of First Nations and other descent). The Longhouse’s design was inspired by the architectural traditions of the Northwest Coast, and it houses student services, a computer lab and a great hall where presentations, ceremonies and other events are held, many of them open to the public.
Coming full circle, the Museum of Anthropology has several don’t-miss features for any student of First Nations arts and culture. Its Multiversity galleries display more than 10,000 objects crafted by aboriginal artists — essentially putting the museum’s entire holdings on view in crowded cases and pullout drawers. It’s a staggering display of artistry, past and present (check out the Coast Salish-inspired snowboard called “The Challenger,” designed for the First Nations snowboarding team).
If you’re feeling a little overloaded after all that, head to the Bill Reid Rotunda, which is devoted almost solely to a single sculpture, “The Raven and the First Men,” by Reid, a world-renowned artist of Haida and European ancestry. It’s a depiction of raven discovering humankind in a clamshell, made of yellow cedar and basked in natural light from an overhead window until it almost glows.
Finally, end your visit with a quiet moment or two in the museum’s Great Hall, with its monumental collection of totems and canoes. Out the window, on a clear day, you can see beyond to the forests and mountains that make this city enduringly appealing.
Note: All prices quoted in Canadian dollars; subtract about 20 percent to convert to U.S. dollars.