The Second Law Building

Status in 1951: The need for a new building to house the law faculty became apparent. Although student needs could (barely) be met by the assembled army shacks, the conditions in which the growing law library was housed was a matter of some concern. The library was quickly developing into a valuable resource yet was housed in huts that, according to army estimates, had only a twenty-minute life expectancy in the event of fire.

Dean George Curtis fell into the habit of making inspections of the buildings late each night as a precaution. Persuading the cash-strapped university to invest in a new building for a new faculty was, however, a difficult matter. After a “period of advocacy” that laid heavy emphasis on the danger of losing a unique collection of 20,000 or more hard-to-replace books, the university gave its approval to an expenditure of $325,000 to erect a law building.

The new building was designed to be simple and workable. Its exterior lines were clean and modern.

 Curtis described the interior as follows: 

"[t]he Main Reading Room was the centre-piece. Its deep windows gave a view which must be unrivalled—the harbour entrance in the foreground, the mountains rising behind one after the other to the distant horizon. The north light—the “artist’s light”—was what we wanted for a reading room, and was balanced by high narrow windows around the other walls. The walls were lined with books—space, on a tight budget, was at a premium—and as well [they were] in batteries of chest-high shelves arranged between tables and chairs. The floor shelves served as furniture to “break up” the floor area, and yet were not so high to cut off light from the windows. For General Assemblies and the like the free-standing floor shelves could be moved and chairs put in their place. Altogether it was an economical, efficient and pleasant facility ... On each side of the Main Reading Room, were two lesser sized rooms, also north facing with deep windows. They served as lecture rooms in the mornings and late afternoons. For the rest of the time, being lined with books, they were reading rooms. A third room of similar size reached back to the southeast. The head of a Cambridge college once commented to the law dean that he thought the new law building to be “an admirable design for a petrol station” until he entered the
main reading room. Thereupon the visitor’s impression was entirely transformed. He judged it to be a “magnificent Hall, one the best I have ever seen”.

E. A. Lucas, who had been a great fan of the early law huts, paid the highest complement he could think of to the new, purpose-built law school (“now largely butchered” by subsequent construction according to Curtis). It was, he said, “a splendid dream . . . come true. The new Law Building is a glorified beautified hut!”

Others thought equally highly of the 1951 law faculty building although, unlike the unnamed Cambridge visitor or Mr. Lucas, they did not feel compelled to draw such disparaging comparisons.

Diana Priestly recalls the “big central reading room” as “a beautiful room with huge windows looked out to the sea. We could see the steamers coming back and forth from Victoria and the mountains beyond that, a beautiful room”.

Madam Justice Southin described “the first real new Law School” as “a very nice building for us . . . it was very nice”.

For more information, see: W. Wesley Pue, Law School: The Story of Legal Education in British Columbia (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law, 1995). [Call Number: KE289 .P83 1995 (LC)]