Sixteen-thousand trees for 16,000 signatures.
That’s the legacy the University of Northern British Columbia began to plant this week as convocations kicked off around the north, with a ceremony taking place in Fort St. John Friday afternoon.
The local Class of 2015, alongside dignitaries and family members, planted a Schubert cherry tree in the lawn in front of the campus in Fort St. John. A ceremonial tree is being planted at each of the school’s campuses, and thousands of other seedlings are planned for research forests and other properties across the north.
The trees are being planted to recognize some 16,000 people who signed a petition in the late 1980s that called on the province to create a university for northern communities. With each signature came a $5 membership fee, which supported the Interior University Society, the organization that later went on to successfully lobby the government to establish the school.
“I was working at the North Peace Credit Union and I was collecting those $5 and putting that money into the account set aside for that,” resident Pamela Den Ouden recalled following the ceremony.
” People were very excited about the idea of having a university here.”
Not only did Den Ouden collect the money, she made a contribution herself.
And it’s one that’s paid off.
Following the creation of the UNBC Act and the subsequent opening of the university in 1990, Den Ouden was able to finish her undergraduate degree through distance education via UNBC. She would later go on to earn an interdisciplinary Master’s degree in English and History in 2004 by taking classes at UNBC.
That allowed Den Ouden to teach English, history, and women’s studies for seven years at UNBC in Fort St. John. Today, she’s the school’s coordinator of international education.
University spokesman Matt Wood said there were just 70 students in the first class when the university opened its doors. Today, there are more than 4,000 students.
“For northerners, it was easy to sign this petition,” he said.
“This was an investment in the future.”
Den Ouden sees a grand future for UNBC over the next 25 years, playing a continued role in building community in Fort St. John.
“We know Fort St. John is set for a lot of growth,” she said.
“A lot of new people are coming in. Youngsters coming up through the school system will have the opportunity to go here to UNBC.
“People who are in the north, they know the kind of lifestyle we have here. If you can train them here, they’ll stay here,” Den Ouden said.
A total of nine students will celebrate their graduation at a convocation planned at the North Peace Cultural Centre later tonight.