KPU Oral History Project

Capturing our memories before they are lost.

The KPU Oral History Project

The history of Kwantlen as a post-secondary educational institution, first as a part of Douglas College (DC) 1970 – 1981, then as a separate college (KC) 1981 – 1995, as a university college (KUC) 1995 – 2008 and finally as a university (KPU) 2008 onwards, has been, at best, minimally addressed. Apart from Tom Thorner’s excellent seminal 21 page “South of the River”: A Review of Kwantlen’s Archives and History (May 2002); a minor flurry of activity around the 25th anniversary of Kwantlen College in 2006 which produced some press releases and a list of key dates; and ongoing efforts to collect and organize materials for the KPU archives, little attention has been paid to the institutional history.

The idea of documenting the oral history of Kwantlen was initially suggested by Tom Thorner in his 2002 report. Once KPURA was formed, his suggestion was reinforced by the SFU Retirees Association (SFURA) which in its middle age, began recording its own history by tapping and taping the memories of its founders. Ultimately these tapes formed the basis for a book, Maurice Gibbons’ (ed.) Remembering SFU On the Occasion of Its 50th Birthday. A review of Remembering SFU described it as “covering the beginnings, the troubles, and the spectacular growth of SFU over its first five decades”.

That description fits the history of Kwantlen equally well. In spite of often intense and sometimes divisive debate over the allocation of scarce resources, good things and positive outcomes happened at Kwantlen. It’s quite a story - from the car trunks of about 70 faculty teaching in some borrowed schools serving hundreds of students in the fall of 1970 to portables and rented, converted warehouses of the 1980’s to over 1 million square feet of permanent buildings on five modern, high-tech campuses in Surrey, Richmond, Cloverdale (Tech),  Langley, and Surrey Centre (Civic) housing 1,400 faculty and staff serving over 20,000 students.

Unfortunately, that history remains virtually unexplored. Holdings in the KPU archives are limited. Much of the paper record has been lost. As we reach the 50th anniversary of post-secondary education south of the Fraser it is important to document that incredible history as fully as possible by emulating SFU tapping and taping the memories of the Kwantlen Founders. With the support of KPU and its retirees' association (KPURA) we have undertaken the enviable task of arranging and conducting about 50 interviews of faculty, staff, administrators, students and Board members who shared the Kwantlen experience from its roots in the activism of its constituent school boards in the 1960’s, through its Douglas era in the 1970s, and its time as a two year college, as a 4 year undergraduate university college, and as a university. To date 22 interviews have been conducted and are available at 
Double click on each version of a transcript to enlarge it.

We are continuing to conduct interviews with some of the key early founders of these various phases. The audio tapes will be transcribed into Word documents and each interviewee will have an opportunity to review the transcript before it is finalized and lodged, only with their written consent, in the KPU archives.

Roger Elmes, Dean Emeritus
Principal Researcher – KPU Oral History Project
Treasurer, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Retirees Association

Alice Macpherson, MA, PhD
Co-Researcher – KPU Oral History Project
Secretary, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Retirees Association