Irving Barber quit school in Grade 11 because he liked his car better than high school. Fifty years later, he strains to remember the car, but he can clearly remember the regret of not finishing school and the relief at a second chance.
Barber’s incredible success in business since then has benefited Kwantlen Polytechnic University with a $2.5 million donation, the largest ever received by the university. Barber, 77, went on to graduate from the University of B.C., became the founder of Slocan Forest Products and a multimillionaire.
The endowment will be used to help students who might not be able to succeed at university and who may need the same second chance given to Barber. Barber drove the car for a few years before the Second World War and then joined the air force.
When he arrived back as a veteran, the Canadian government was offering free or subsidized education. At 27 years old, Barber graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry. “So I am very sensitive to those people that, for whatever the reasons, don’t qualify by the current standards,” Barber said. “Kwantlen clearly recognizes this and they want to open their doors to those people that are willing and wanting to get in with less than an A and B standard.”
Kwantlen already has a history of being more accessible than other post-secondary institutions. A 2009 survey showed that almost 58 per cent of B.C. high school grads who enrolled at Kwantlen didn’t meet the admission requirements to attend a traditional university.
The endowment will provide access and support to help students who might not otherwise think about university, said Kwantlen president David Atkinson. “Our student population, the demographics are changing so rapidly that if we don’t provide them with opportunity, then all of us are going to lose in the long run,” Atkinson said.
Barber feels two communities in particular — South Asians and First Nations — are being left behind when it comes to education.
Atkinson said many South Asians in B.C. are from Punjab, an agricultural area, where families don’t expect their children to go to university. The program will also be aimed at older students who have found themselves out of work and needing an education. “It’s that kind of student that I think we have an obligation to provide something for, because otherwise it’s a lost resource,” Atkinson said.
Kwantlen, which has four campuses in Richmond, Surrey and Langley, is named after the Kwantlen First Nation, a Coast Salish people based in Fort Langley.
While Barber has given about $50 million to the University of B.C. for the creation of programs and scholarships, he said Kwantlen is the right location for this endowment. “They are very much aware of the dropouts or the late starters or the people that can’t get a secondary education,” Barber said. “They would provide them with catch-up abilities.”
Barber didn’t start Slocan Forest Products until he was 55 and said he’s always been a late starter, adding that’s probably what keeps him young. As for the car he quit school for, he seems to remember that it was a Ford, but he can’t remember the model. “I left it behind when I joined the air force and I don’t know what happened to it,” he laughed.
The Canadian Press