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Shrum, Gordon.

Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, c1986, 158pp, cloth, $1955, ISBN 0-7748-0230-8. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Grace Shaw

Volume 15 Number 1
1987 January

Gordon Shrum is unquestionably one of British Columbia's great men. His autobiography, as told to Peter Stursberg and edited by Clive Cocking, is a window on British Columbian (and to a lesser extent Canadian) life over the last century. Scientific, educational, military, and political stars peopled Shrum's world and live in his book.

Growing up in rural Ontario, Shrum developed the work-oriented, persistent, problem-solving character that would serve him all his life. Socially and intellectually stimulated at the University of Toronto, he liquefied helium and discovered the origin of the auroral green line in the Northern Lights. World War I took him to the stagnant, muddy trenches of France, where, unlike many compatriots, he survived Vimy and the bloody bog of Passchendaele.

For the next thirty-six years, this shrewd and energetic man helped to put the University of British Columbia on the map. Wearing many hats simultaneously, he held an extensive portfolio of posts: dean of graduate studies, director of the extension department, head of the physics department, chairman of the British Columbia Energy Board, chairman of the British Columbia Research Council, president of the Vancouver Institute, commanding officer of the COTC; a dizzying array. President Norman MacKenzie called him his chief expediter, a role he continued with W.A.C. Bennett, where he was often a committee of one. Masterminding the building of the Peace and Columbia River hydroelectric power projects was just another challenge.

When Bennett wanted an instant university, the choice of creator was obvious. Simon Fraser University profited from the extensive UBC experience of its chancellor, organizer, and builder: student accommodation, convenient parking, structural flexibility without losing design quality, and immediate athletic and cultural facilities. In contrast with the conservative and traditional UBC, Shrum's innovative measures included a trimester system (the first in Canada), athletic and cultural scholarships, a new kinesiology program, and mature student entry. Ontario complained that Simon Fraser got more press than its five new universities combined.

At age seventy-nine, Shrum put the museum and planetarium complex on its feet financially. At eighty, Shrum no longer wanted two jobs, so resigning as museum director, he took on the Robson Square Courthouse project. His last great venture was the beginning of Canada Place, the trade and convention centre integrated with the Canada Pavilion. His accomplishments after age sixty-five were phenomenal.

Very interesting for British Columbia academia (or culturally and politically aware long-term residents) is the constant appearance in the book of public figures and events. The pleasure of recognition and shared experience occurs frequently.

Gordon Shrum was truly a remarkable man and the book does him justice. For all the fun and foibles, enjoy reading it. In Shrum's own words, "Life is made up of experiences, and the more experiences you have, the more you live."

Grace Shaw, Vancouver C.C., Vancouver B.C.
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