Sopron Division of Forestry

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Sopron Division of Forestry

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In 1735 an academy of mining was established in northern Hungary in Selmec, in what is now Slovakia – courses in forestry were added in 1809. After the end of the First World War and the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Czechoslovakia gained its independence – the new country included the town of Selmec. As the School of Mining and Forestry was primarily a Hungarian institution, it was moved – first to Budapest, then in March 1919 to Sopron near the Austrian border.
After the Second World War, Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Union. In October 1956, a rebellion took place and Hungarian citizens, including students in Sopron, attempted to drive Soviet occupying forces out of the country. The Soviets crushed the uprising in November 1956. About 250 forestry students, professors, and their families fled Sopron across the border to Austria. Kalman Roller, dean of the Sopron Faculty of Forestry, did everything he could to keep his group of refugees together. When it became apparent that they would not be able to return to Hungary, Dean Roller sent letters to twenty countries asking for refuge. While several countries expressed interest, Canada’s response was the most promising. The Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia offered to “adopt” the Sopron forestry programme. UBC guaranteed it would remain separate – the Sopron Division of Forestry – until all current students graduated. Classes would be given by Sopron faculty in Hungarian, gradually phasing in English courses given by UBC professors. After several lengthy debates, many Sopron students and faculty decided to accept the offer from UBC. In January 1957, 14 faculty members and 200 students with their families left for Canada. After short stops in St. John and Abbotsford, the group settled temporarily in Powell River, taking time to study English and adjust to their new home.
The first academic year began at UBC in September 1957. There was initially a difficult period of adjustment. The language was the main barrier between the Sopron people and the rest of the University administration and students. However, both sides had enough goodwill to resolve any misunderstandings and other issues. A good working relationship between Dean Roller, UBC Forestry Dean George Allen, and UBC President Norman MacKenzie were also essential during this period. By May 1961, the last class had graduated from the Sopron Division, making the total number of graduates 141. Since arriving at UBC, Sopron Division faculty and alumni have profoundly impacted the forestry profession and the forest industry in British Columbia and across Canada.


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