Recovering the Early History of Canadian Criminology: Criminology at the University of British Columbia, 1951-1959

By Parkinson, Gary | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, October 2008 | Go to article overview
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Recovering the Early History of Canadian Criminology: Criminology at the University of British Columbia, 1951-1959


Parkinson, Gary, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


Existing accounts of the history of criminology in Canada, as reported in introductory textbooks and The Canadian Encyclopedia (Criminology 1988: 540), claim that the country's first criminology program was initiated by Denis Szabo at the Universite de Montreal in 1960. This is inaccurate. In September of 1951, the University of British Columbia initiated a criminology program within its Department of Social Sciences. Two years later, the program offered a B.A., an M.A., and a postgraduate diploma in criminology. In 1954, criminology became a division with its own head within the broader department, in effect becoming a department in all but name. In 1955, the university approached the federal government to assist in funding a school of criminology. Many universities had taught criminology within a sociology program and, indeed, UBC had done so as early as 1945, but much more than this began in 1951. It was another decade before Denis Szabo (1963) of the Universite de Montreal declared the arrival of a "new discipline" and a "new profession." The UBC program was the first such program in Canada. Considering that criminology was just being recognized as an independent discipline and that programs had only recently appeared in the United States (see Short and Hughes 2007), (2) this was an innovative step. Although the program had a short life, it had a major impact both locally and nationally. What is equally notable is that the university, through its academic program, became involved in one of the most innovative prisons in Canada, the Haney Correctional Institution.

In the 1950s, the citizens of British Columbia were made aware that something novel was taking place at the university. The Vancouver Province reported on 13 March 1954 that UBC had appointed three people to "guide Canada's first full-fledged criminology course." A month later, on 13 April, it claimed that the "University of B.C. is the first in Canada to meet the challenge of training workers in the correctional field." The new prison was to be unique. The Vancouver Province reported, on 31 August 1957, that "British Columbia is as advanced as any part of Canada in this direction. Next month marks the opening of the Haney Correctional Institution, one of the most progressive of its kind in North America." A 27 August 1957 headline in the Province claimed "B.C. Starts Prison Revolution." The New York Times, 8 September 1957, reported that "an experiment in progressive prison administration will be tried ... [at the] Haney Correctional Institution, said to be one of the most advanced of its kind on the continent."

Drawing on archival research, correspondence with many of those involved, and a reading of the few things written about the programs, this article tells the tale of the founding of Canada's first criminology program and provides an explanation for some of the factors that led to its establishment and to its subsequent demise in the spring of 1959. It looks as well at some of the effects of the program on the development of criminology and criminal justice in Canada.

Context and framework

The initiation of the criminology program at UBC in 1951 must be understood in the context of changes then taking place in Canada's university system as a whole, within individual universities, and within specific disciplines, departments, and specializations. There is a growing literature on the history of university departments and programs in Canada (e.g., Hiller 1982; Shore 1987; Holmes-Hayes 2003; Whittaker and Ames 2006; Tremblay 2006) and in the United States (e.g., Morn 1995; Short and Hughes 2007), and these offer ways to understand developments at UBC. These studies focus on the following cluster of themes: What internal and external forces led to the development of the department? How did internal politics shape the program and its location within the university? What were the intellectual roots of the founders (e.g., Shore 1987; Holmes-Hayes 2000; Hiller 1982; Stark 1994; Nurse 2006)?

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