The unbuilt campus: William West's MacLaurin fountain

Bill West in his office at the Phoenix Theatre, 1985. Images scanned from the Archives Historical Photograph Collection, contact sheet item # 087.0107

by: Lara Wilson, Director of Special Collections and University Archivist

The founding of University of Victoria over 60 years ago was marked by a campus with a distinct modernist art and architectural style. Notable buildings, public art and other features from the early decades are still seen today, including: George Norris sculptural panels on the Mearns Centre for Learning - McPherson Library façade, Elza Mayhew bronze sculptures, Herbert Siebner’s exterior details and interior mural at the Student Union Building, the West Coast modern aesthetic of Alan Hodgson’s MacLaurin Building, and remaining mid-century modernist furniture. Professor Martin Segger - UVic Libraries distinguished alumnus, architectural historian, and past University Art Collections Director - has celebrated the significance of the campus modernist program through the Victoria Modern exhibitions and accompanying catalogues.

"Fountain proposal,” William D. (Bill) West fonds, AR236, accession # 1996-012, file 2.1.3

Clearly, many projects for the modernist campus were realized, however, the University Archives holds a tantalizing document depicting an unbuilt feature designed by William D. (Bill) West: a proposed fountain in the courtyard of the MacLaurin Building (also known as the education arts complex).

“Fountain proposal,” William D. (Bill) West fonds, AR236, accession # 1996-012, file 2.1.1

Bill West was a beloved art teacher and theatre designer. He attended the Vancouver School of Art, and Vancouver Normal School. Beginning in 1951, he taught art at Central Junior High School, Victoria College, and the Vancouver School of Art, and led the Art Department at Oak Bay High School. West also designed sets for theatrical productions for Victoria College and University of Victoria Department of English. He was appointed as a professor in the University of Victoria Department of Theatre in 1973. In addition to his numerous set designs, West helped design the Phoenix Theatre Building. He retired in 1985 and passed away in 2007.

"Fountain proposal,” William D. (Bill) West fonds, AR236, accession # 1996-012, file 2.1.2

 The proposal for the MacLaurin fountain is dated September 1966; it consists of West’s conception of the fountain, a detailed drawing of the installation with description of its parts, and a site plan. The fountain featured concrete pillars and articulated metal elements, and a pump for recirculating water. The circular brick planters visible in West’s proposal are still in the Maclaurin courtyard today. While the fountain was not built, an indication of what might have been can be seen in West’s Alex Calder-inspired three-storey mobile in the stairwell of the Clearihue building. The proposal is a part of West’s archival fonds, AR236, which also includes examples of his many theatre set plans, the design for the University’s flag, and the Chief Dan George Theatre.