Betty-June Gair gets emotional when she talks about UNBC, and how far it has come since she signed the petition for its creation so long ago.
“When I look up at the hill, it brings tears to my eyes,” she says. “When the university opened and the media did an interview asking me what my wish was - it was to see my grandchildren attend this university.”
Betty-June was involved in UNBC from the start, canvassing to collect signatures for the petition, and helping decide the university’s name as part of a public consultation. She was one of 82 people who chose to call it University of Northern British Columbia
Betty-June Gair with her grandson Josh MacIver and son-in-law Bill MacIver
Betty-June’s son Michael Gair worked on the university’s electrical system during construction, and she visited the site often. Her family can literally say it helped turn the lights on at UNBC.
“I was always going to the university. I was amazed at the concepts, the concourse, the way it was all joined together,” says Betty-June. “My thrill was to see it was about to start. I was there when they lifted the soil, and I was there when they finished it, and there when the Queen officially opened our UNBC.”
Later on, Betty-June helped as a fundraiser for the Northern Medical Programs Trust, an $8.8-million bursary for students in the Northern Medical Program, the Family Nurse Practitioner’s Program and the Masters of Physical Therapy Program. She remembers the excitement in the air at that time, as people checked the dollar amount raised on a large sign in Prince George.
Like many petition signers, Betty-June had family members attend UNBC in the coming years. Her son-in-law Bill MacIver received his master’s degree in counselling, a field of study Bill may not have pursued if UNBC hadn’t existed. Bill, a school principal, would have had to spend two summers in Vancouver, a difficult sacrifice to make for a father with young children. The other alternative was his wife Lori MacIver and children Gairett and Josh moving to the Lower Mainland, which they didn’t consider an option.
“He probably wouldn’t have earned his degree. To leave his children would have been heartbreaking for him,” says Betty-June. “This has been a huge advantage, and this was how I felt, for our people in the North.”
Her grandson Josh is now also a graduate, something Betty-June says she envisioned from the start. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in 2013, and has applied to the Northern Medical Program.
“When I was working on getting this university, I thought it would be much easier for Josh to go here, because it would have been very expensive for him to attend university elsewhere,” says Betty-June. “It was a big savings for the family.”
Betty-June feels that many UNBC alumni wouldn’t have sought degrees if UNBC hadn’t existed, and she feels proud to have played a role in its founding. Sometimes when she’s on campus, Betty-June asks students where they’re from, and a lot of responses are Burns Lake, Smithers, and other Northern communities.
“It gives me a lot of pride, because I ask them ‘If this university weren’t here, would you have gone to university?’ They say no, they’re not geared for the big city,” she says. “It makes me very proud that we served these people. I also have to thank the volunteers that gave so much more time than I did in getting the university started. This bright group of people had a vision so great. Now we can look at the hill with pride and see the hard work that they have done.”
Were you one of the 16,000 who signed the petition? Tell us your story here: http://www.unbc.ca/25/public-campaign-update-form