In 1959, the Council of Victoria College bought the Gordon Head Army Camp for the purpose of using this 120 acres as an ancillary site to the main Lansdowne campus. In 1961, the University Development Board of Victoria College, acting on the recommendation of the College's consulting architect, Robert W. Siddall, invited the San Francisco firm of Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons, Architects and Planners, to provide advice on an orderly development of the properties.
After a six day visit to Victoria in March 1961, William Wurster and Donn Emmons convinced the College Council to move the entire campus to the Gordon Head property. By April 1961, another 141 acres of property were purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company and added to the site.
As campus planners, Wurster Bernardi and Emmons created a readily understandable organizing theme: a circular campus with Liberal Arts disciplines to the north, and Sciences to the south. A ring road was planned to encompass the academic campus, with ancillary services outside the ring, such as student housing, athletics, parking, and the student union building. By January 1962, the first classroom building, the Clearihue Building (now the A Wing) was under construction, as well as part of the ring road.
The broad development plan of Wurster Bernardi and Emmons remained a series of conceptual plan drawings augmented with site visits by Donn Emmons, and was never fully documented as a master plan. They recommended that local architects be used, and established the basic planning principles: designs should be in the style of the day, making no singular ostentatious statement and fitting within the landscape. Emmons was responsible for reviewing building designs to ensure these planning principles were observed.
In 1963, the University of Victoria was born with a new charter, new campus lands, and an active building program. The University experienced a dynamic period of growth until the end of the decade, with former military buildings transformed into campus use, and an additional 780,00 square feet of new construction.
By 1967, the Gordon Head site was slowly developing into the campus that Wurster and Emmons had envisaged. The circle road was complete and was no longer bisected by Finnerty Road. A large quadrangle oriented east to west separated the Arts and Sciences zones, while new academic buildings built around the quad were giving definition to the centre of the campus. Extensive planting was underway in the former Army Camp area. In the more treed area of the Oak Bay part of the campus, arbutus, Douglas fir and Garry oaks provided an informal contrast to the new lawns and trees.
For some, though, the progress was too slow. Dissatisfaction with campus development grew, reflecting the restive mood of the late sixties. In response to these concerns, the Board of Governors appointed the Vancouver firm Erikson Massey Architects as the University's consulting architects for a three year period, 1967-1970. The Erikson Massey report of 1969 became the closest point at which this University had a formally recorded master plan. The report's emphasis on covered walkways linking all facilities, and enclosing the main quadrangle with continuous structures was not acceptable to the Board of Governors. After deliberations, the Board decided to retain the original planning concepts of Wurster Bernardi and Emmons, with minor changes.
In 1972, Donn Emmons resumed periodic visits to the campus. During a visit in February 1973, Emmons was joined by his new partner, Larry Cannon. In 1991, following Emmons' retirement, Larry Cannon of Cannon Design Group was appointed as the Campus Coordinating Architect. Since his appointment, he has continued to work in the tradition of Emmons.
A key to the success of the campus development has been the landscape design. Lawrence Halprin of San Francisco acted as the initial Consulting Landscape Architect; and John Lantzius of Vancouver was engaged as the Executive Landscape Architect. The Landscape Concept, prepared in March 1968 by John Lantzius, articulated the design principles that sought to bind the campus buildings together by a major tree framework with open areas of contoured lawns merging into native forests. In the early 1970s, Don Vaughan of Vancouver, who started with Lantzius in 1964, became the University's Coordinating Campus Landscape Architect. Vaughan continues with this appointment today.
At present, the University lands amount to four hundred and three acres at the Gordon Head site. The planting of over 10,000 trees has transformed the once barren Army Camp into a verdant park-like setting. The Finnerty Gardens are an acclaimed attraction, and the Mystic Vale ecological reserve provides the campus community with the opportunity to enjoy the experience of walking among five hundred year old fir trees. The original landscape concept of John Lantzius continues to provide a "merging together of building and site...to provide a natural and sympathetic background to University life."
Don Lovell, Manager, Campus Planning
Jane Turner, University Archivist