Centennial Slumber-A Rambling, Coming of Age Excursion Back to SFU and the CRCA, circa 1967
In 1967, I turned twenty. Apparently, I was at my peak. High on life, as it was quickly, very speedily revealing itself, higher yet, up on Burnaby Mountain, attending Simon Fraser University, then a squalling, leaking concrete baby of two, awaiting the revolution, thinking, on occasion, that it had already arrived.
When I was born, (for the math-challenged, that was 1947,) part of the sophomore wave of entitled boomers, Canada was, then, an octogenarian.
I paid her little heed.
Three years earlier, in a fit of high school flunking out angst, I joined the Canadian Army. I had one overriding adolescent goal, to get posted to Cyprus (where Canadian troops were then stationed,) eat grapes, dally with Cypriot girls, and guzzle wine. It was an ill-conceived plan. It required a capacity to be trained in the grand tradition of Canadian soldiering. Alas, even though I had had some minor experience with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Reserves, I was quite unfit to serve my country in any capacity that required obedience, the ability to habitually get up before noon, or to iron in a straight line.
I was generously granted an honorable release on Remembrance Day, 1964.
I returned to my High School later that November, signed a behavioral contract with Swannie, the VP of Nanaimo Senior Secondary, and promenaded through an overdue completion of my grade twelve rite of passage.
Then, although I have always admitted that I had never considered myself University material, the sight of Olympus, rising over Burnaby so enchanted me, that I could not resist her call.
Of course, she could have been calling someone else. Nevertheless, even with my less than stellar high school credentials, I gained entry to this new untested seat of higher learning.
I started slowly. Academically, that is.
Socially, I gave wing. At University, I jumped into the deep end of the political pool. Within a month, after wide-ranging discussions about the creation of a Student Government, I became the Chief Electoral Officer. If you were inclined to ask me how that came about, I would demure. I mutated from basic training fuck-up (and incipient anti-war opportunist,) into a hound for structure.
Not to be forgotten during my political butterfly period were my residential experiences. For the first two semesters, September 1965 through April 1966, I room and boarded in a private home in East Vancouver, becoming a replacement son of sorts, the family having been tragically reduced in January by the catastrophic Hope-Princeton Slide.
As much as I came to love perogy and homemade parsnip wine, I departed that sinecure for a summer of hometown employment, returning in the Autumn of ‘66 to a shared basement suite on the Burnaby side at the base of Burnaby Mountain.
What I gained in proximity, I lost in livability, in community, in something I had yet to name.
That Fall, the student newspaper, the Peak, in its September 7th edition, made the first reference to a student housing shortage. More importantly, a grander vision was being unrolled, a “University Village.”
A Co-op housing solution was poised to make a play.
I was still oblivious.
On September 14th, the very next week, The Peak had fuller coverage. Howard Adelman, co-op housing guru consultant from points east, had been brought out. He said in his report that:
|“At today’s prices, the capital estimate of $7.5 million can be made for the project costs of erecting 1,500 units. This would require the raising of $900,000 eventually in equity.”
Big Ideas were about.
I was still relatively oblivious. And, by some measure, a buffoon.
In October, I was slammed in a Peak editorial.
|“Education representative Bill Engleson often tries to subtly criticize the council by proposing idiotic motions. He should realize other council members quite often miss his delicate sense of humor and that he is not only wasting his time but theirs also.”
I offer this as a distraction, an undeniable portrait of me. Context, if you will. While I was being legitimately besmirched, housing for students was becoming a national issue.
Time moved on.
In the February 1st Peak, there was a brief announcement. Co-op housing consultant Howard Adelman was again on the job.
I was still a buffoon with, perhaps, some saving graces. During this period, I sat on a committee of Students and Faculty which shortly convinced the University Senate to permit the first ever student representation in Canada.
I was proving to be both a serious fellow and a vexing jester.
In the March 1st edition of the by now almost venerable Peak, there was a small reference that the council had approved a request from the Campus Residence Cooperative Association for $50.
Whatever was going on in the background, there was a measure of support for some form of cooperative living. Though big ideas were still in play, reality was also at work. Work usually trumps Play. The communards had whittled down their notions. Monies, including CMHC funds, were applied for. A staging house was rented in New Westminster from the Weir family. This alternative community would be the site of a dyed-in-the-wool experiment, a womb for the CRCA, the Campus Residence Cooperative Association.
|How to fully capture the impact, the palpable excitement, the journey of SFU and the imminent creation of the CRCA in 1967 has been a daunting challenge. There was a fountainhead of moments, a wellspring of issues, ideas, hormones, drugs, arrests, motions, resignations, firings, the whole kit and caboodle of change.
It was also Canada’s Centenary.
Aside from the lunacy of my twentieth year, I did contribute some lasting effort. My proudest moment was moving the motion at the April 5, 1967 Council meeting, seconded by Donn Korbin:
|“that a plaque be installed in the cement on the Mall to read ‘Freedom Square’ in constant memory of the rallies which took place in this square in the defence of Academic Freedom.”.
The motion carried. Lyn Bowman was placed in charge of the Freedom Square Project. The Plaque was installed
|UBC engineering students stole the plaque shortly after its installation in 1968. It went on to reside in a UBC fraternity house for many years and eventually served as a TV stand for the UBC alumnus who returned it to SFU in 1990. It then disappeared a second time. Subsequently the Student Society discovered that the plaque had been stuffed into a storage space under a staircase in Convocation Mall for at least 10 years.
Gremlins were afoot.
The front cover of the July 5th 1967 edition of the Peak saluted Canada with Happy 100th Canada!
The University had been open less than two years. As important as the Centennial was, the central story in that issue of the Peak was a wide-ranging report, written by Lyn Bowman, boldly entitled THE CAMPUS SCENE, all on the progress of the Campus Residence Cooperative Association.
Though the grand scheme to erect 1500 units on Burnaby Mountain was still faintly percolating, expectations had been slashed.
|“Two attempts have already been made to obtain a larger tract of land on the side of Burnaby Mountain on which to construct a Co-op Village to house a thousand students or more. Erickson and Massey, the University architects, have already been retained to design such a complex. Such a development is contemplated as a reality within three years. In the meantime, more houses will be bought and set into operation around the city.”
Earlier in the article, the following tells the picturesque, down to earth tale of what had been accomplished:
|“About five weeks ago, the purchase of the houses at 607 and 609 Queens Avenue in New Westminster was finalized. Since then renovations on the houses have been proceeding and are now almost completed. The value of renovation has been $12,800. The houses opened July 1 for twenty people in each in single, double, and triple rooms. Appliances provided in each house consist of a washer, dryer two refrigerators, a freezer, and a six-burner stove. All furniture, including, desks, chest of drawers and beds are provided. Anyone, however who wishes to bring his own furniture is welcome to do so. The houses are about eighty years old and are constructed in the late Victorian style of high ceilings and stained glass windows They are three storeys high and each contains eleven bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two half-bathrooms. Many rooms also have private sinks installed. They have met the approval and even praise, of building, electrical, fire and health inspectors.”
That Centennial September, I moved into the CRCA. I would live there for most of the following sixteen years.
In August, 2017, the CRCA will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary.
Did it grow? No.
Did it disappear? No.
Hundreds lived there over the decades for as much time as they needed. It continues as a small unintentional Centennial project that still represents the best of Canada, the sharing, the resourcefulness, and the love, the sharing of human endeavour.