The Cheeze

The Cheeze Factory was an original building of the university; built in 1919, until April 2014 it was the oldest building still standing on campus. It was constructed under the “Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment Program”, a vocational training program for returning World War I veterans, at a cost of $2,000. It was originally named the Dairy Building, and was under the control of the department of Dairy of the school of Agriculture. It was used as the dairy products manufacturing laboratory as a part of the original agriculture research area.

During the Great Depression of the 1930′s many ingenious schemes were employed by the university to save money, such as using cows for lawn care. Two enterprising agriculture graduate students named Norm Ingledew and Wilf Tait began supplementing their meager income by selling some of the product of their laboratory — namely cheese.

This was not your run-of-the-mill common Cheddar, but a gourmet variety known as Kingston cheese (which, incidentally, had been developed by Dr. Sadler — then the head of the Dairy department — during his student days in England). The cheese was sold at Spencers (now known as Sears), and proved so popular that soon the entire Dairy Building was being used for the commercial production of cheese.

This went on from 1932 to 1939, and during that time the Dairy Building became known as the cheese factory. As the years went by, newer facilities were constructed and time took its toll on the old cheese factory. The dilapidated building was used for storage, and research on rabbits and chickens was conducted in it

Meanwhile, the old barns were torn down and new engineering buildings began to appear. The Engineering faculty was slowly migrating to the south end of campus, but their roots were still in the old campus core to the north. By the late 1960′s, only the Civil and Mining core to the north. However, by the late 1960′s, only the Civil and Mining departments were left around the old Engineering Building (now used for computer science), but the Engineering Undergraduate Society was still based out of the Common Room in that building, and Hut M-23 (located across from the Ponderosa building with the last of the old Fort Camp huts). Soon the Forward and CEME buildings were completed, and the last of the engineering departments moved south.

This left the undergraduate society without a home, but they were quick to notice the opportunity which lay in their midst. In the mid-1970′s the university’s Physical Plant was contracted to renovate the old cheese factory to provide a meeting place for the engineers. It was decided to erect a wall dividing the building into east and west halves, giving the west side to the faculty of Applied Science, and allowing the fowl (and foul!) experiments to continue in the east side. The project was jointly funded by the President’s office, the Dean’s office, and the engineering students. It involved installing new wiring, replacing walls, and pouring a new concrete floor. This cost in the neighbourhood of $30,000; and the Cheeze Factory was born (the name is derived from traditionally misspelled references in the weekly nEUSlettre).

In 1980, the EUS, knowing that the last experiment being conducted in the east half of the Cheeze Factory was drawing to its conclusion, began negotiating for that half of the building. In the summer of 1981 permission was received to tear down the dividing wall, and Hut M-23, the EUS’s last link with the north end of campus, became a parking lot.

The engineers now had their work cut out for them. Due to a long tenancy by its feathered occupants, the east half of the building required all new interior surfaces. There was a six inch drop in the concrete floor, there was no heat, the walls were uninsulated, and the wiring was obsolete. It was decided then to embark upon a program of renovations to restore the building to a state where it could be fully utilized as a student facility.

After two years, with volunteer labour, the building had been made quite functional. The concrete slab had been leveled, with a wooden sub floor topped with linoleum installed above it. The obsolete wiring had been redone. An adjacent storage area had been converted into a print shop and editorial room for the weekly nEUSlettre. A sales and storage area for undergraduate retailing (Red Sales) and an undergraduate office had been constructed. However, the building was still without heat, and much finishing, which required a professional touch, was still to be done.

Old Cheeze

The Old Cheeze

In 1983 the Engineering Alumni Division became involved with the project. The Cheeze Factory Heritage Fund was established, and fund-raising efforts began. A joint management board (the Cheeze Board), made up of representatives from the Undergraduate and Alumni organizations, was set in place to disperse the funds raised. Two unemployed students were hired to work on the project full-time, and progress was swift. The walls were finished, heating was installed, a bar was built, skylights were repaired, washrooms were built, a new lighting system was installed, and a sidewalk and patio were constructed. The board put in place a long-range building plan, and improvements continued.

On May 23 of 1985, to celebrate the work completed, and to mark the start of this long term student-alumni project, the Cheeze Factory was officially dedicated as a centre for engineering student and alumni activities. During the dedication, Dr. Neil Risebrough unveiled a plaque bearing the names of donors whose generosity helped restore this heritage structure.

The Cheeze became not only the home of the Undergraduate Society and a well-used student facility, but it was used by Engineering Alumni for meetings and reunions. Students and Alumni, in the preservation of this historic building, were drawn together, and both have gained a greater appreciation for the rich heritage of their faculty and their university.

Unfortunately, the needs of UBC Engineers outgrew the space provided by the Cheeze. The number of engineering students more than doubled. As well, the Cheeze began to show its age, with parts of the building being condemned. In 2007 a group of students took on the task of building a new student centre in the same place as the Cheeze. It was a long process, but finally demolition of the Cheeze took place on April 24th, 2014 to make way for the new Engineering Student Centre (ESC).

The ESC is finally complete and open to all students. The building is located between Kaiser and CEME in a courtyard, it’s address is 2335 Engineering Rd. The Engineering Undergraduate Society Vice and President offices are located on the second floor. The executive can also be contacted anytime at voice@ubcengineers.ca.


Adapted from an article courtesy of Bill Richardson, EECE ’83