British Columbia Provincial Football Association: UBC Football
University of British Columbia - Football 

The story of the Thunderbird

Victory Through Honour

In November 1933, the sports department at the Ubyssey staged a contest among students to select a nickname for the university’s sport teams. At the time UBC sports teams were simply known as the “Blue and Gold,” or “Varsity.” After narrowing the suggestions from the student body down to the six best: Corsairs, Grizzlies, Spartans, Thunderbirds, Golden Eagles, and Musqueams, it was put to a vote. However, when the ballots were counted the name “Seagulls,” a write-in candidate, was found to be the winner!

Not amused, the Pep Club and Ubyssey staff took matters into their own hands and on Jan. 31, 1934 after a lengthy and spirited debate, the name “Thunderbird” emerged victorious.

However, it was close to 15 years later that the Kwicksutaineuk people of the B.C. west coast would officially grant permission to UBC to use the Thunderbird name and emblem. The Thunderbird is a high-ranking, mythical, powerful creature, indigenous to the West Coast and under whose protection come brotherhood, peace and goodwill.

This event took place on Oct. 30, 1948, at halftime of the homecoming football game at UBC’s old Varsity Stadium. Over 5,000 fans and students were witness to a ceremony involving the presentation of a 16-foot high Thunderbird totem to the university by well-known carver Ellen Neel of Alert Bay, B.C. and Chief William Scow, who at that time was President of the Native Brotherhood of B.C. and the hereditary chief of the Kwicksutaineuk people. Under old tribal laws and customs, the dedication by Neel and Chief Scow entitled the university and its varsity teams to use the Thunderbird name and symbol legally for the first time, permission and status that are unique honours for any institution or team and now possessed by UBC.

This totem pole was a gift to the Alma Mater Society and stood in front of Brock Hall from 1948 until the 1970’s. It was then moved to the north side of the SUB and unfortunately was inadvertently destroyed in 2000. Thankfully, the university through persistence, passion and partnership over three years, was able to have an exact replica pole carved by Calvin Hunt and Merv Child of Alert Bay. On Oct. 18, 2004, a re-dedication ceremony was held as the totem, referred to as the ‘Victory Through Honour” pole, and representing the unique privilege of having both the possession and the blessing of the Thunderbird, was returned to its rightful place outside of Brock Hall.

In an impressive and august voice, Chief Scow at that 1948 permission-granting ceremony stated, “It is yours now, and if you follow the precepts accepted with it, you cannot fail.”

Canada West Universities Athletic Association