The "Sopron Division of Forestry" in Canada
Part 3: 1957-1961 -- Our student years in Vancouver
We said “Good Bye” to our first Canadian home, beautiful Powell River, and moved to Vancouver by 10th of September, to start our school year. There were some, who came directly to Vancouver from their summer employment, but many of them returned to Powell River and moved with the rest of the group. The plan was that we would be housed at Sea Island in an old military camp, adjacent to the airport. Luckily, this plan was soon changed, firstly because of the long distance we had to travel to UBC each day and secondly, because with a set-up similar to Powell River, we would have been separated from the local population. Therefore, we formed smaller groups of 2 to 8 and searched for rental accommodations closer to the University. Some groups rented a whole house. Compared to camp living, the drawback was that we had to cook for ourselves, do the shopping, the laundry, ironing and cleaning chores, etc. We were not used to these duties, which took a lot of time away from studying. On the other hand, we could really experience the Canadian way of life. Because we were late coming to campus, it was not possible to find accommodations in the university dormitories, with a few exceptions.
Because of these and other minor problems, classes did not start until the 28th of September, if I remember correctly. To solve the problems that arose with our arrival on campus, UBC formed two committees: one to organise the classes and procedures for daily functions, and the other to finalise the financial requirements. Both groups had Canadian and Hungarian professors as members and Kálmán Roller participated in both. The official name of our group became “Faculty of Forestry, Sopron Division”. This provided an autonomous existence for the group, almost as if it was an independent faculty. The curriculum, the class schedule, the examination procedures were compiled by a committee of the Sopron Division and were submitted to UBC for approval. The fact that the lectures would be continued in Hungarian was no problem. However, the type of degree to be granted created some concern. It was realised that the curriculum submitted was between that taught at UBC by the Faculty of Forestry granting a B.S.F. degree and the Faculty of Applied Science granting a B.A.Sc. degree in Forest Engineering. As a consequence, the Sopron Division could not grant a Forest Engineering degree. As a compromise, the management at UBC, including the two interested faculties, agreed to include an amendment to the Bachelor of Science in Forestry degree that would be granted by the Sopron Division, that it was “Equivalent to Okleveles Erdömérnök, Graduate Forest Engineer, -- from Sopron University, Hungary”. Otherwise the degree was identical to the one granted by the UBC Faculty of Forestry, except it also stated that it was granted by the Sopron Division.
One other effect of the review by the UBC committee was that the Association of Professional Engineers of British Columbia did not accept our degree for membership in their organisation. This was a big disappointment to many of us, but now, from a distance of many years, we realise that it acted within its rights. What it meant was that those who wanted to be registered in the Association had to write four special exams set by the Association. Later this was reduced to two examinations. It was soon realised that those who did get employment in engineering fields, could accomplish their work with excellence. The Association of Professional Foresters accepted the diploma as equivalent to the Canadian diploma from UBC and granted RPF (Registered Professional Forester) status to those who applied.
There were a number of other problems that had to be sorted out as well. One of them was the organisation of the teaching system and the designation of the staff. The Canadian educational system did not correspond to the Hungarian one, or we should say, to the system used in Sopron. At UBC there were no “chairs” and teachers in “leading positions”, in “adjunct positions” or “assistant to the professor” positions. It was difficult to understand that in the UBC system an Assistant Professor was not an “aid” to the “teaching professor” like in Sopron, but it was the lowest paid professorial position in the system. Here the Associate Professor was the second level below the Professor, but was not necessarily working under him, only receiving a lower level of compensation. Here the “assistant to the professor” positions were usually manned by postgraduate students. Our teaching staff had difficulty in agreeing to their new designations.
Because many of the older professors who came out from Sopron remained in Europe or returned to Hungary from Austria, there was a need to find new staff members. Kálmán Roller already started the search in Austria and continued it in Canada. He found 13 new members, who were willing and able to fill these positions: Apt Ö. (d), Fodor Gy. (d), Gerencsér L. (d), Kaffka P. (d), Koller P. (d), Kovács I., Papp F. (d), Salamon M. (d), Soós J., Szablya J. (d), Szanyi L., Székessy L. (d), Witt L. (d) (these names were not listed in the original article). They were also emigrants, some who worked in the field of forest research, some were forest engineers, mining engineers or teaching staff from other universities. They joined the Sopron Division for a limited time, usually for one or two years. For some of the subjects that he could not find a teacher, the staff from the UBC Faculty of Forestry agreed to provide substitutes.
The offices of the Sopron Division were set up in converted military barracks approximately a half of a kilometre from the Faculty of Forestry building. Space was scarce, two or three people had to share one small room for their offices. This did not make their work any easier as well.
Some subjects from the Sopron curriculum in Hungary were dropped, such as Marxism-Leninism, military training and Russian language studies. This helped to reduce the old nine semester system to eight semesters. Some of the courses had to be revised so that they would be more relevant to Canadian forestry practice. A couple of new subjects had to be introduced as well, such as “Forest fire protection” and the compulsory English language course. We were able to keep the oral examination system from Sopron both for the individual courses and for the final exam for granting a degree.
The 1957/58 class schedule was set up, so that lectures started in the afternoon and sometimes lasted until 11:00 pm. The reasons given by the UBC management was that there were not enough classrooms available and that the schedule submitted by the Sopron Division did not reach them in time to include it in the general planning. These may have been true, but for the students and teaching staff it made life very difficult. Many of us thought that it was done purposefully to indicate that we were not welcome at UBC. We also felt that the Canadians, (the students, teaching staff and other university employees), were keeping their distance from us. They were not very welcoming. It took many years to understand that “non-interference” was the typical Canadian way of life.
In the spring of 1958, the oldest students, the 5th year, received their degrees. At the beginning, very few of them managed to find employment in the forest industry, mainly due to the lack of language skills and not because they were “Hungarian Foresters”. Within a short time though, they all found appropriate work positions.
In the following years our “position” on campus greatly improved. During the second year, 1958/59, our schedule was revised to start the classes in the morning and we could return to an almost “normal” student life. This way we had more time to get involved in sports, to enjoy some evening entertainment and to establish a better relationship with our Canadian student comrades. Many of the misunderstandings were eliminated and we found our new life much easier. Many of us were still affected by the lack of information from Hungary, information about problems that our families may have had to endure. At the end of this school year two “classes” graduated together, the 4th year and the 3rd year students. Unfortunately, this created a new problem in finding employment. Besides the two Hungarian graduating classes, there was a UBC class graduating as well, so there were 70 Sopron and 26 UBC foresters competing for the few jobs available. Canada was in a recession in the late 1950s, which did not improve matters. Maybe this was the reason why so many 3rd year students decided to enrol in postgraduate studies. Why the 3rd year and not the 4th, is still a debated question.
After our first year on campus, the financial problems became more difficult for the Sopron Division. During the summer of 1957, the Liberal government in Ottawa, which welcomed us with open arms and promised financial support for us, was replaced by a Conservative government. The new government refused all financial support for us. UBC pleaded with them on numerous occasions, so they agreed to cover the expenses for the first year and a monthly living allowance of $65 for the students, the teaching staff and their families, until May 1958. If we look at it closely, this was not a major financial aid, because at that time according to Canadian regulations, the $65 was required to be issued to all unemployed immigrants for their first year in Canada. Therefore, the “accommodation” by the Conservatives was not a great obligation. All they did was to declare the students to be “unemployed” persons (which was illegal), and to extend the payments to May 1958.
However, in 1957-58 sixty-five dollars was a considerable amount of money, sufficient for most of us to cover living expenses, food, lodging, and bus fare. Sometimes we could even buy a couple of bottles of beer, if we were diligent. We had to cover the tuition fees ourselves. This was $275 for the first year, the same as for the UBC students in forestry. Those, who could not pay on their own, could obtain an interest-free loan from the government, which had to be paid back after graduation.
Since the new government made no contribution toward the budget of the Sopron Division for the following three years, the President of UBC, the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry and some of the leading members of the administration invited the presidents of prominent forestry companies for a meeting, where the problems were discussed. The meeting was successful. The companies agreed to provide financial help to UBC for the maintenance of the Sopron Division for the remaining three years.
For the last two years (1959/60 and 1960/61), the financial committee gave a directive to Dean Roller to reduce the number of teaching staff, because:
The first and second year subjects were not taught any more
The number of students enrolled were less than half of the original number
More subjects were taught in English and the teacher/student ratio was too high.
This was a very valid directive and to comply with it, the Staff was reduced to approximately one half of the original number for the 1959/60 year, and for the last year it was reduced even more. Many of the staff, particularly the younger ones who left, could find employment at universities (3 in Canada, 2 in the USA and 2 in South America). Many others found employment at scientific research facilities, at forestry companies and with the provincial Forest Service of BC. Two of them, who chose to settle in Vancouver, returned periodically to give lectures, when requested.
The last group of students graduated in May 1961. At the ceremonies where they received their diplomas, the President of UBC and the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry gave special speeches about the success of the Sopron Division. The leadership of the Division responded by thanking the Canadian Government of 1956 and the leadership of UBC for accepting us and making it possible for the students to complete their studies. As a token of our appreciation, a stone plaque was presented to UBC. It was made by an ex-Sopron student, Ödön Apt, and it was placed on the wall of the International House. The plaque shows one hand clasping and supporting another, as the symbol of the aid and acceptance we received at UBC. After the ceremonies the Sopron Division was closed, but the events of the following years indicate that it engraved its name in the history of UBC forever.
During those four years on campus, the students tried to resurrect and practice the traditions of student life that originated in Selmec. The older professors were a great help in achieving this. We organised annual “ribbon presentation” evenings (szallagavató szakestély), graduation balls (valéta bál) and we even “baptised” those “pagan” students, who had not been officially inducted into the community. In the fall of 1958 we arranged a special celebration event at UBC of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the university education in forestry in Hungary. Every year we held a memorial event to remember March 15th, 1848 and on every October 23rd we held a silent procession along the Main Mall at UBC, remembering the Revolution.
Particularly from the second year on, more and more students participated in the various club functions on campus, mainly in sporting events. Some reached starring positions in their chosen fields, such as tennis, table tennis, fencing and volley ball, while two students became members of the UBC soccer team.
During the spring and summer of 1957, three mining engineering students and some students from other universities in Hungary, who immigrated to Canada, joined our group with permission from Dean Roller, together with two students, who were expelled from Sopron in 1952 for political reasons. At the end of that summer, five students decided to return to Hungary. For the actual statistical figures of the enrolled students and those who graduated, see Table 2. (L. Adamovich and O.Sziklai, 1970 and Sopron Alumni UBC. 1986). Each class is listed according to its enrolment year in 1956, following the traditions for our group over the last 50 years. Only a very few of the students who left the group did not continue their studies in other fields. Some of the female students left to get married. Many of the others, worried about financial problems, found alternative employment.
It is interesting to note, that up to 1957, there was only one female graduate from the Faculty of Forestry at UBC, while there were 13 from the Sopron Division in the following four years. This created some concerns in the forest industry, because they had never employed a female forester before. Fortunately, many of them married and chose to concentrate on their family lives. Only four worked as forest engineers, one in a forest research laboratory and two of them in other research fields.