Brett McGillivray

When geography fieldtrips became international adventures

Geographer Brett McGillivray originated and led international field schools that presented hands-on learning experiences across Europe and Asia.

McGillivray began at the then Capilano College in 1972. He enjoyed the spirit of the place so much that he devoted his 36-year academic teaching career to teaching and expanding the University’s geography program. “When I started, the head offices were at West Vancouver High School and we taught at church halls and annexes throughout the community,” he said. “They were wonderful years. Classes were small and very interactive.” Early on he saw the need for field trips, taking the College’s interactive philosophy to a new level through real world experiences for staff and students alike. McGillivray developed and ran CapU’s first European field school, teaching geography and anthropology during a 1975 trek across West Germany, Austria, Italy and Greece. He says the hardest part was to convince Lower Mainland universities to recognize the six-credit course so students would have their hard work recognized when transferring to third-year bachelor courses. “I still have many friends from the ’75 field trip,” he said. “People don’t forget these early years.”
In 1995, he led a nine-credit Asia field school through China, Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong. Soon after, McGillivray travelled Canada researching and writing the textbooks his name is associated with: The Geography of British Columbia: People and Landscapes in Transition (first published 2000) and Canada: A Nation of Regions (2006). Both have gone through numerous editions, with the fourth edition of Geography of British Columbia coming out in 2019.
The books come from the perspective of “an evangelical geographer” aiming to cut academic jargon and inspire a sense of wonder about Canada. McGillivray lives on the Sunshine Coast and, although he retired from Capilano University in 2008, he continues to lecture at the University’s Sechelt campus as well as making guest presentations at universities across the Lower Mainland. The 74-year-old keeps in shape playing hockey and is currently building his seventh house.
Written by: Matthew Wild