The History of the Pi Gamma Chapter

Each chapter has its own history of where they came from and how their chapter developed. Our history reminds us of where we have come from and is very important to us. Without knowing where we came from we lose a part of ourselves. For the history of Phi Gamma Delta please visit www.phigam.org.

Assembled by Scott Yaworski
(University of British Columbia 2002)
136th Field Secretary for Phi Gamma Delta

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The Pi Gamma Chapter of the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta began in 1922 as the local fraternity of Alpha Gamma Phi and was chartered in 1929 as the Pi Gamma chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. Through some ups and downs the chapter has existed continuously at UBC until the present day.

The end of the Great War brought an influx of students to the University of British Columbia to the point that enrollment doubled within a year. At this time, the fraternity movement was gaining strength in the United States and the idea of fraternities at UBC began to be discussed. There were groups of students, however, that were anti-fraternity and opposed any effort towards organizing fraternities at the school. In the fall of 1920, the Alma Mater Society decided that a committee should be formed to appraise the fraternity system throughout the US so that the question of fraternities at UBC could finally be answered. The committee returned a favorable report to the fall annual meeting of the AMS in 1921 and the student body and faculty finally approved fraternities.

Soon after this decision a small group of students met to discuss the possibility of coming together in fraternal association. These men had been friends throughout their university days and felt the desire to further tighten their friendship. On the night of January 28, 1922, eight friends met at the home of Jack Arkley to continue discussing the fraternity idea. With Jack Arkley were Blythe Eagles, James Dauphinee, J. Allen Harris, James Herd, John Harkness, Stewart McDougall, and F.M. Wallace. The pros and cons were discussed and finally the question was put to the floor whether or not to form a fraternity. Mel Wallace replied, “I move we have one,” and our present chapter had its official beginnings. The eight founding members called their fraternity Alpha Gamma Phi. Alpha stood for Alma Mater, Gamma for goodwill to all, and Phi for fellowship among ourselves. The only prerequisite for membership was that a prospective brother be a gentleman. Fraternity activities included community singing, snooker and bowling, and evenings out with “les Femmes.”

By the end of the 1922 school year membership grew to fifteen and regular meetings were held at the homes of various members. In 1923, Alpha Gamma Phi became the first fraternity to boast a permanent meeting place, that being in a rented room at a home in the 1200 block of West 11th Avenue. The following year, meetings were moved to a room at 8th Avenue and Oak Street, where larger accommodations allowed room for the rapidly increasing numbers of the fraternity. In 1925, UBC made the move to the new Point Grey campus and Alpha Gamma Phi went with it. They became the first fraternity on campus to live in their own house. This house was situated at 4560 Langara Street and had room for the seventy-five initiated members, but by 1927 another move was necessary and the chapter took up residence at 4725 West 6th Avenue. This house proved to the last for Alpha Gamma Phi and the first for the Pi Gamma Chapter of Phi Gamma Delta.

From its inception, the Alpha Gamma Phi fraternity was built with the anticipation of future affiliation with an international fraternity. The policy was to build well and truly, and to petition only when they would be an asset to a larger organization. While the active chapter grew stronger, the ever-increasing alumni spread throughout the continent and visited college campuses to appraise the various chapters of the different fraternities. From these evaluations, the choice of international fraternities was narrowed to three. In turn, Alpha Gamma Delta received overtures from Phi Gamma Delta and Beta Theta Pi. The move to affiliate with Beta Theta Pi was turned down mainly because of their refusal to initiate any alumni members, now over twenty strong. The local group took the stand that it was all or none. Two graduate Phi Gams, Ralph H. Cake (Oregon ’13) and Charles H. Grinnell (Washington ’19), made several visits to Alpha Gamma Phi and finally persuaded the local group to petition the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta. The active chapter, with the whole-hearted support of the alumni, decided unanimously in favor of petitioning, feeling that the state of perfection to which all members of Alpha Gamma Phi aspired had been reached.

In December 1927, Pearley Ransdell Brissenden was sent as a delegate for Alpha Gamma Phi to the 69th Ekklesia in West Baden, Indiana to present their first request to admittance into Phi Gamma Delta. The situation at UBC was studied over the next two years and surrounding chapters and fraternity officers gave their support to the petitioning group. Another petition was then made at the 71st Ekklesia in Swampscott, Massachusetts and it was decided there, on June 22, 1929, that Alpha Gamma Phi would become the seventieth undergraduate chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. The chapter was installed on Saturday October 5, 1929 at the Hotel Georgia in Vancouver. The chapter was given the Greek letter designation of Pi Gamma – Pi standing for Point and Gamma standing for Grey. This followed the Fraternity custom of naming chapters after their geographical location. Twenty-three undergraduates, twenty-eight alumni, and four faculty members were initiated at this time. The first chapter president was Tommy Berto (UBC ’30). Charles H. Grinnell (Washington ’19), who had done so much to bring Phi Gamma Delta to British Columbia, became the first Purple Legionnaire. The brothers named on our charter are Pearley R. Brissenden, Thomas E. Burgess, Norman Ingledew, Thomas A. L. Leach, Robert R. Munn, John E. Macdonald, Paul E. Paulson, William Robbins, and Alexander G. Smith.

The chapter grew stronger in the immediate years after its installation. The Great Depression set in during the early 1930s, but despite decreased enrollment on campus, a general lack of funds, and no chapter house, Pi Gamma forged ahead. After a number of years without a home, in 1937, a house was rented. The Mothers Club and Graduate Chapter were instrumental in helping renovate, furnish, and finance two houses that the chapter rented in the late thirties. The first was in 1937 and the second was necessary in 1939 due to the increasing size of the chapter.

With the commencement of World War II the chapter found its ranks depleted by the armed forces. Fraternity life at the university was de-emphasized and all excess energies were devoted to part time armed forces training. In 1942 the chapter relinquished its rented house to wartime housing needs and meetings were held in the homes of different brothers. Through the war Pi Gamma managed to keep pace with fraternal activities on the campus. Although the chapter was small in number and low in funds enthusiasm never lagged and spirits never faltered. The end of the war in 1945 saw a dramatic increase in university enrollment. This jump in student numbers was paralleled by a like increase in Pi Gamma’s ranks. In 1947 a pledge class of forty-one members was initiated into the chapter and a strong Phi Gamma Delta was to exist until the late 1960s.

The chapter rented three different houses until 1952 when the chapter moved into its own house at 2130 Wesbrook Crescent, the present site of the Regent College parking lot. The occupation of this house in January 1952 brought to fruition the dreams and labours of many loyal Fijis. It consisted of two three-man bedrooms and dorm accommodation for fourteen. Over the next few years, the undergraduate chapter improved the house as time and money became available. This would be our home for twenty-two years.

The 1950s were some of the strongest years for Pi Gamma. The chapter was active in all aspects of campus life and was continuously growing. In 1953, the pledge class of thirty outnumbered the twenty-seven active members. In 1961, undergraduate membership reached one hundred. The house was renovated and made larger to include more bedrooms and a permanent Chapter room. The future of the chapter looked bright, but numbers began to fall the following year and a slow decline continued until 1973.

Changing lifestyles and attitudes and political discontent were manifested in the symbols and activities of hippie counter-culture. The sentiment towards fraternities changed towards being seen as representative of decadent Establishment. Campus participation, rushing, and pledging declined sharply and our chapter was severely affected by these events. The management of the active chapter became undisciplined, allowing accounts to lapse, active dues to go unpaid, and house maintenance to be neglected. In addition, payments to the mortgage company, to the Endowment Lands for taxes, and to the International Headquarters were all in arrears. Predictably, this all culminated in 1971 with an avalanche of bad news, including a writ of foreclosure from the mortgage company, a notice of tax sales from the Provincial Government, and letters threatening severe sanctions from Headquarters (including the possibility of the revocation of our Charter). The chapter was left with no choice but to sell our house. We were able to lease this house back for two years to temporarily alleviate the housing problem, but the chapter had other larger problems that it still had to deal with.

By 1973, Pi Gamma was able to begin a restoration of the chapter. A small but receptive group of Pi Gammas welcomed two bothers from the University of Western Ontario, Larry Waters (’71) and Greg Stoddard (’71), who used enormous resources of time, energy, and enthusiasm to dive into frenzied activity to get the chapter back on its feet. They held countless meetings and planning sessions and sought to meet goals of reorganizing rush and reorganizing chapter finances and administration. That September, a Rush Committee visited the Sigma Tau chapter at the University of Washington to learn effective rushing techniques and organization. They then wrote a comprehensive Rush manual for the entire chapter and hosted three successful rush functions for the first time in years.

Organization of the chapter began with the reinstitution of weekly meetings. Brother Waters wrote the Chapter Code, a set of principles, goals, and policies upon which the chapter should be based and Brother Stoddard wrote the Chapter Bylaws. Brother Ray Wiseman spent months straightening out the financial books and records, setting a standard that would be followed for years to come. A new Pledge Education Manual was developed and the Brother Ralph Higgins revived the BC Fiji newsletter to help renew lagging graduate support.

The final step was to improve relations with the International Fraternity. Brother Waters regularly communicated with Headquarters and impressed them with the ongoing efforts at Pi Gamma. A compromise was even reached on the debts that had built up over the previous years. The year ended on a high at the 126th Ekklesia where the chapter received the Condon Cup for the most improved chapter in all of Phi Gamma Delta.

Numbers increased slowly over the next years, increasing into the forties by 1978 and establishing a solid foundation on which to continue building. There was, however, a single problem. With all the energy directed towards the strengthening of the chapter there was neglect in terms of scholastics. Four of the ten pledges failed out of school, so the following 1974-75 year began with a much needed revival of the Scholarship Committee.

The leased house that the chapter occupied during this revival phase was sold in 1974 to Regent College and the premises were vacated at the end of April 1975. A housing committee was established that summer and a new house was bought one block away from campus. By 1978, this house no longer suited the needs of the still growing chapter, while another fraternity, Phi Kappa Sigma, was in a downturn. We traded houses with Phi Kappa Sigma and took up our present residence on Agronomy Road. The house had enough room to sleep thirty-eight people and ample communal space.

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In addition to rejoicing in being back on campus, 1975 was the year to celebrate the chapter’s fiftieth anniversary since chartering. The Norris Pig Dinner was attended by 268 brothers, including the Fraternity Archon President, Louis A. “Bud” Mangels (Indiana ’56), and the Archon Treasurer, Robert D. Watt (Washington ’35). The high point of the night was the awarding of fifteen Golden Owls to the founders of our chapter.

Strengthening of the chapter continued and a third place standing was earned for the Condon Cup in 1979-80. Brother Brian Dunster was hired that year by the International Fraternity as the 77th Field Secretary. He held this position for two years, but continued his fraternal dedication by serving as a Section Chief in the east, then as Pi Gamma’s Purple Legionnaire in 1987-88, and later as our Section Chief. During his term as Purple Legionnaire the chapter hit an all-time high of 112 undergraduate members.

Other Pi Gamma brothers have had the privilege of serving the Fraternity at the International level. Brother Ross Dunlop (UBC 1997) was an Undergraduate Councilor on the Archonate from 1995 until 1997. Brother Josh S. Morita (2001) became the 134th Field Secretary in June 2001 and now serves as the Director of Expansion for the International Headquarters. He is joined on staff by Scott M. Yaworski (2002), the 136th Field Secretary. Scott is currently responsible for the chapters of the Fraternity in the Central Plains area of the United States. Christopher L. Elrick (2004) began a two year term as an Undergraduate Councilor on the Archonate at the 2002 Ekklesia.

The strength of the Pi Gamma Chapter continues into the nineties, though there were difficulties. In December 1996, incidents during an off-campus pub-crawl brought the fraternity negative media publicity that included accusations of lewdness and bigotry. The effects were felt by the chapter in the forms of the threat of a revoked charter by International, weak attendance at the following year’s Pig Dinner, and greater challenges felt during recruitment. The chapter did manage to procure a solid pledge class in 1997 and in subsequent years, and has grown to a point of great strength. Pi Gamma was even awarded the Condon Cup in 2000 at the 152nd Ekklesia for most improved chapter. Five brothers made the trip to Texas to receive the award. That same year, an exemption from Phi Gamma Delta’s Alcohol Free Housing initiative was granted to the chapter. This too was a reward, as successful applicants for the exemption must meet certain high standards in a variety of fraternal concerns, including chapter administration, scholarship, and extra-curricular involvement. 2000 also marked the beginning of a new Pi Gamma tradition. The Fiji Islander party was held for the first time and met with huge success. An award for Chapter Proficiency has been earned the last three consecutive years.

The Pi Gamma chapter of Phi Gamma Delta has much to add to its history. We moved into our beautiful new chapter home in 2003, built by donations from hundreds of committed graduate brothers. The size and commitment of the chapter continues to grow. The quality of men that is being produced is so great that Phi Gamma Delta is the strongest and most well rounded fraternity on the UBC campus.