A Brief History of Simon Fraser University

When heading to University, is it common to look up your schools’ background and history? Asking for a friend.

To be honest, the thought never crossed my mind. Maybe it crossed yours, though, and that’s why you’re here! Enjoy this short history of Simon Fraser University, and find some extended cool facts here.

Let’s begin with the man who the school is named after: Simon Fraser. He was a loyalist, explorer, and fur trader back in the day. In 1808, he even made a huge river crossing that would later ensure it was named after him; the Fraser river is located in British Columbia (of course) and is the longest in the province! His family coat of arms also makes up the basis of SFU’s coat of arms, so there’s a link there as well! The official school colours are red and blue, in case you were wondering.

Later, in 1963, a man named Dr. J.B Macdonald came out with a report called “Higher Education in British Columbia and a Plan For the Future,” which outlined the need for a new university to be built in the lower mainland. This report was taken seriously because only two months later, the building of a new university received formal assent in the British Columbia legislature; the dream of SFU began. There was a lot of talk about where the exact location of the university would be, and recommendations were being brought forward. Eventually, the newly appointed chancellor, Dr. Gordon M. Shrum, suggested that the university be built on top of the 1200 ft. Burnaby Mountain. The location was approved, and a design contest was held to see who the architectural brains behind the building would be.

A Vancouver firm—Ericksson/Massey—won the competition to design the campus, and the remaining four competitors were allowed to design a minimum of one building each. Altogether, the SFU campus has won many awards for its campus building designs! It’s pretty cool to know that Arthur Ericksson drew inspiration from amazing buildings and places such as the Acropolis in Athens as well as certain landscapes in Italy. The buildings are definitely European-inspired and created with lots of detail in mind!

Simon Fraser University officially opened its doors to two thousand five hundred students on September 9, 1965. A fun fact about the school’s name is that it was originally supposed to be called Fraser University, but there was some speculation that “FU” wouldn’t look great on things like sports jerseys and merch (I think we all know why). At the time, SFU was the first university in Canada to offer athletic scholarships, which is very cool. They paved the way for other universities to do the same, which allows for students to obtain funding for their education based on their athletic abilities.

Since then, Simon Fraser has been a well-sought-out filming location, with popular movies such as Agent Cody Banks with Hilary Duff and The Day the Earth Stood Still remake with Keanu Reeves. If you’re looking for an activity before you start university, try watching (or re-watching) these and see if you can spot SFU buildings.

Following the Burnaby campus, the SFU Vancouver campus was opened in 1980, followed by the Surrey campus in 2002. There are some unique focuses to each campus; the Vancouver campus is known for its School for Contemporary Art studios and the Surrey campus is known for their cohort programs! The Surrey campus is also known for its design. Bing Thom was the architect who designed the campus, but he unfortunately died before the official building process even began. Surrey campus emphasizes sustainability and technology, so if this is your campus take a look around and try to take in the way the building ties to nature and has open spaces!

Currently, there are reportedly 25,425 students enrolled at Simon Fraser University! In case you were wondering, that’s 22,925 more students attending the University than the initial opening in 1965. It’s amazing to see how the school has grown; maybe you’ll be the 25,426th student!

Published on September 1, 2021

About Emelie Seah

Emelie is a second-year student studying History and Business at Western University. When she’s not studying (or procrastinating) you can find her hanging out with family and friends, eating food, or going shopping!