Why are there so many Albertans at UVic?

It’s a situation we’ve all been in. You’re out with some new University of Victoria friends, getting some drinks, and learning about these people you’re really excited to get to know.

“Where are you from?” you ask, taking a drink of Hoyne Dark Matter because you’re an unabashed and unoriginal West Coaster.

“Calgary,” says the first friend.

“Calgary,” says the second friend.

“Edmonton,” says the wildcard third friend.

“Alberta,” says the fourth friend.

“Whereabouts?” you ask.

“Calgary.”

The Albertan flag, most likely extending from someone’s pick-up truck. Photo by Abdallahh via Flickr

It seems you like you can’t shake a stick in Victoria without hitting a red Albertan license plate. Even in the Martlet office, several of our staff and volunteers hail from the Wild Rose province. It’s not a bad thing, but it certainly is confounding.

Why are there so many Albertans at UVic?

I set out to interview some Calgarians, Edmontonians, Taberites, and even a Lethbian, to find out. It was easy enough to find them, but would they talk?

Yes, of course they would — they’re from Alberta, for goodness’ sake.

Why are they here?

The reasons for their trips west seem to be similar for most Albertans. Most had a friend or sibling who went to UVic, and others had holidayed here as a child.

“My family had visited the island the summer before I was in 10th grade and I had always wanted to return. So when my mom found UVic online I was pretty insistent that it was where I was meant to be,” says Emma Jo Conlin, from Calgary.

“I’d been to Vancouver Island once as a child, with my family, and my uncle and his family have pretty much always as far I’ve known lived out here, so it’s been a place I’d been to a couple of times,” says Zack Wheler, also from Calgary.

Others pointed to the quieter, more welcoming atmosphere as a selling point.

“Ever since I was little, I never really found [a] home in Calgary,” says Calgarian Lauren Fenwick. “Really, the island — when I came and visited — was so beautiful and I felt a sense of home and belonging, and people were so warm and so [welcoming].”

“[Victorians] are a perfect collection of hard-working people from across Canada and around the world who are all looking for a more meaningful life,” agreed CJ Baker (the C stands for Calgary, where Baker is from).

“Every day I am amazed at the beauty of this city and I am thankful to call it my home.”

“Whenever you’re having a conversation and someone’s like, ‘Oh, where are you from,’ it’s like ‘Calgary,’ and someone else is like, ‘Oh, shit, me too.’”

University recruitment

While this unified sense of feeling and experience is heart-warming, it may be anything but accidental. As Zane Robison, Associate Director of Student Recruitment in the Department of Student Affairs at UVic, explained, UVic spends a lot of time talking to students in Calgary.

“Obviously we spend the majority of our time in B.C., but when we go to Ontario we’ll go there for one or two weeks, whereas in Calgary specifically we’ll actually spend two weeks there, just in Calgary,” says Robison. “That’ll give you a proportional idea of how we do allocate resources.”

Why Calgary, specifically?

“We’ve historically done very well [in Calgary] so we spend more resources in that area,” Robison explains. “We feel that that would be strategically a good decision, and it has worked out for us.

“I think that word is spreading in places like Calgary, so more students come here, more students are telling their peers about their time here, and that’s helping us,” he says.

A chicken-and-egg situation, then (appropriate for the rural prairie landscapes of Alberta). More Calgarians come to UVic because UVic spends more resources recruiting Calgarians because so many Calgarians come to UVic . . . and so on.

So how many Albertans are there?

Roughly 4 358 students registered at UVic in 2017. According to student recruitment data from that same year, roughly 950 of those students came from South Vancouver Island, 830 came from the Lower Mainland, and about 400 came from Alberta.

Of those Albertans, half came from Calgary. 

So for every ten new UVic students, there’s a good chance that one of them is Albertan and a 50-per-cent chance that person is from Calgary. Honestly, that seems low — but maybe it’s just because Albertans are louder than your average West Coaster that there seems to be more of them.

For context, about two of those ten UVic students come from Southern Vancouver Island.

None of the people I interview recall ever speaking to UVic student recruiters (“I don’t remember seeing anything really,” Wheler says), but, nonetheless, they’re here now.

“There’s a ton of people I know out here,” Fenwick says. “[A] huge amount of people from my graduating class are here. Close to a third? . . . I didn’t expect to know so many people out here but I get on the bus and I’m like, ‘Oh, hey, we graduated together!’”

ON THE ISLAND

“Whenever you’re having a conversation and someone’s like, ‘Oh, where are you from,’ it’s like ‘Calgary,’ and someone else is like, ‘Oh, shit, me too.’” Wheler says. “When I got here there was someone that I went to high school with in my residence building in first year, actually.

“I was like, ‘what the fuck?’” he laughs.

“I know so many people from my junior high who are at UVic now, or people that have dozens of mutual friends with me from back home,” says Conlin. “Sometimes it seems like every new person I meet is from Calgary. I think that we all had this strong urge to leave home but didn’t want to go too far.”

From talking to more Albertans than I’d care to normally, Conlin seems to have stumbled on the biggest factor. Victoria is drastically different in most ways to Calgary — politically, environmentally, and meteorologically — but still close enough to feel familiar.

Aleesha Koersen, a UVic graduate from Taber, has a slightly more cynical take on the reasons for Albertan immigration.

“Rural Albertans looking for a cultural shock choose to move to Victoria because it’s cheaper (only slightly) than moving overseas,” says Koersen. “And you can still get country radio from Seattle.”

Files by Brianna Bock 

and Anna James

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