B.C. College of Arts, Ltd.

Founded 1933, closed 1935.

The building in 1936

1933 Pre-Prospectus

The B.C. College of Arts, Ltd., was founded in 1933 by Frederick H. Varley and J.W.G. (Jock) Macdonald. The two men had been teaching for some time at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts under Director Charles H. Scott.

1933 Prospectus - cover

1933 Prospectus

Difficulties with the school budget at the beginning of the Depression in the early 1930s caused Scott to substantially reduce the salaries of all of the teachers in the school, while reducing his own salary much less. Varley and Macdonald took the opportunity to quit their jobs and form the privately funded B.C. College of Arts. According to the 1933 Prospectus, the College was to be located at 1166 West Georgia Street, which was then occupied by the Georgia Badminton Club. However, the College opened and operated in the former premises of an automobile showroom at 1233-39 West Georgia Street in Vancouver.

The building shortly before demolition 1996. Gary Sim photos.

It was an excellent location, on the north side of the street, just a block west of the newly-opened Vancouver Art Gallery at 1145 West Georgia. The building had three levels - the main floor with an entrance off Georgia Street, a small second floor with balconies overlooking the main floor, and a large concrete basement with high ceilings, where cars were serviced. The second floor was for staff only.

The main floor had a kitchen, washrooms, offices, and meeting rooms, as well as a large open room that served as the school's main studio. There were large two-storey high windows across the entire north wall of the studio, providing excellent natural lighting that was augmented by a number of wired-glass skylights in the roof over.

The College's Prospectus for the first year of operation, 1933-34, introduced the guiding concepts for its creation in an article titled Today & Tomorrow:
     "Realizing the vast opportunities which must inevitably grow from such an active centre as Vancouver, powerfully influenced by the Occident and Orient, we conceived the idea of a College of Art, which would have as its aim the awakening and development of art expression recognized not only in British Columbia, but throughout the Dominion, and to make contact with the Orient through the exchange of exhibitions of work. Also, if possible, when we are fully established, to procure the assistance of artists of the Orient to teach us new phases of expression.
     Knowing that a private enterprise has little chance of fighting through to recognition, we decided that the College should be incorporated into a company and known as "The British Columbia College of Arts Limited" in order "to create and carry on art colleges or schools in British Columbia and elsewhere for the teaching and promotion of art in all its branches" . . . "to buy, sell and deal in works of art of all kinds and to provide expert advice of all kinds for customers and others."
     We are confident that this can be made practical by the work of an enthusiastic staff and students, combined with the assistance of an appreciative public.
     Our main building is admirably situated opposite the Vancouver Art Gallery at 1166 Georgia Street."

The College's Prospectus for the 1934-35 school year was fully illustrated with photographs of student work from the first year's classes. The photographs were taken by one of the students, Alec Dalgleish.

The second year prospectus provided the following information in another article of the same title:
     "The British Columbia College of Arts was incorporated into a company on July 20th, 1933 - a period with the tide of business at low ebb.
     To launch an institution and successfully navigate it through the shoals and narrows of such a period and prepare it for open waters surely calls forth the supreme test of the necessity and strength of that institution attempting such a venture.
     The British Columbia College of Arts immediately was recognized and accepted as an institution, possessing its own vitality and power of progression. In six months time the student enrollment increased from eleven to two hundred and seventy-eight.
     We wish to express our indebtedness and grateful appreciation to the patrons of the College for their staunch support and belief in our aims. Because of them and the splendid work of our staff the college has been able to prove itself fully established within the short period of one year.
     With the added support of an appreciative public, we hope to sail ahead, extending our work, so fulfilling the purpose of the College as originally conceived. That purpose is to create out of the culmination of Occidental and Oriental forces on this coast, an Institution having international recognition and possessing international influence.
     The College received many distinguished visitors during the year, among whom were His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Bessborough; W.G. Constable, Director of the National Gallery, England; H.O. McCurry, assistant director of the National Gallery, Ottawa."

Photo scanned from 1934-35 Prospectus; Gary Sim photo 1996

Art Directors of the College were Varley, Macdonald, and Harry Tauber. Assistants were Beatrice Lennie, Vera O. Weatherbie, and Margaret A. Williams. The Registrar was E. Elizabeth Goranson.

The teaching methods used to help create the "culmination of Occidental and Oriental forces" included music, incense, seances, costume balls, theatre plays, and dance. The split of Varley and Macdonald from the VSDAA, and their hiring of VSDAA graduates as Assistant Instructors, had caused an unfortunate rift in the Vancouver art community, forcing many to take sides with one art school or the other.

First year courses were Imaginative Drawing and Composition; Painting - Still Life; Drawing - Still Life; Expressive Arts; Theatre Arts; Design; Commercial Advertising; Colour theory; Lettering; and Modelling. Second and Third Year courses were Figure Drawing; Figure Painting; Portraiture; Figure Composition; Mural Decoration; Architecture; Theatre Arts; Industrial Design; Commercial Advertising; Modelling; Wood Carving; Weaving; and Illumination.

The first year courses were compulsory, and the student was encouraged to "specialize in subjects best fitted for their individual expression" in second and third years.

The school had a progressive schedule of public events, including day and evening art classes; Saturday morning classes for children; special classes in stagecraft and in Art and Metaphysics; and free public lectures every Saturday night. There was also a Student's Club, and two badminton courts were available for after-hours use in the auditorium.

The College closed for financial reasons after only two years in operation, at the end of the Spring 1935 term.

Some of the College's students formed the 34 Group.


1935 April 9 - 19 Childrens' Drawings Vancouver Art Gallery


Pre-Prospectus for 1933-34 School year

Prospectus for 1933-34 School year
      Copies on file at National Gallery of Canada Library, Vancouver Art Gallery Library

Illustrated Prospectus for 1934-35 school year
      Copies on file at National Gallery of Canada Library, Vancouver Art Gallery Library

JOCK MACDONALD - Retrospective Exhibition
      1970 exhibition catalogue; National Gallery of Canada
      Illustrated colour and black & white; 84 pages; no ISBN
      J.W.G. Macdonald, biography by R. Ann Pollock
      Includes some information about B.C. College of Arts

VANCOUVER: ART AND ARTISTS 1931 - 1983; various authors
      1983, ISBN 0-920095-00-3, 440 pages; Vancouver Art Gallery
      Published in conjunction with relocation of VAG to Court House building
      List of works; artists' biographies; credits; no index (refer to Sim Publishing index)
      Includes references and photographs of B.C. College of Arts

Ann Hillier McMenomin fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives
      Contents: 21 cm of textual records and 29 photographs
      McMenomin attended the BCCA for the two years it was in operation.

Alec Dalgleish fonds, private collection.
      The editor was able to review some of the material in this collection, which included the two BCCA Prospectii, original photographic negatives and prints that were taken for the 2nd year Prospectus including photographs not used in that issue, and numeorus original posters by Dalgleish created for class work and to advertise College events. The collection currently resides in a private residence in Port Alberni, B.C. where it is not available for reference. There is no finding aid.


"During the past month Mr. and Mrs. Vancouver, riding on street cars, have seen some of the work of pupils of the B.C. College of Art, for one of the outside posters and several of those inside have been designed by some of these young students."
      From "In The Domain of Art" by Reta W. Myers
      Vancouver Province, February 10 1934

"For the whole month of July student artists will revel in the marvellous scenery to be found in Garibaldi Meadows. F.H Varley, R.C.A., and J.W.G. Macdonald, directors of the B.C. College of Art, will take their pupils up 5,000 feet into this country which they declare has marvellous possibilities from an artist's point of view. ... "
      From "In The Domain of Art" by Reta W. Myers
      Vancouver Province, May 5 1934

"With the recent tragic death of Alec Dalgleish, British Columbia has lost one of its most promising artists. ... "
      From "(tribute to Alec Dalgleish)" by J.W.G. Macdonald
      Vancouver Province, July 7 1934