Barbara Brink

It was on a Brink family trip to Toronto in the mid-1970s that the idea for Science World was hatched. Barbara’s husband, Russell, had recently been appointed project manager for Vancouver’s Granville Island redevelopment and was researching how public markets functioned in other cities around the world. While he worked, Barbara tried to keep their two young sons—who, she says, were “bouncing on the bed” all day long—entertained. The front desk clerk at their hotel recommended she take them to the Ontario Science Centre.

“So, off we went,” says Brink. “I was quite taken aback by how much the kids loved it. It was wonderful to see them so excited about subjects that, for my gender and generation, were so poorly taught.”

Back in Vancouver, she joined the Junior League and started investigating projects for the volunteer-minded group to get involved in. Top of her list was a purpose-built science centre for the city, modelled on what she had seen in Toronto.

In 1977, Brink convened a conference. She invited 10 science centre directors from across North America, as well as social planning educators, government representatives, Vancouver Foundation staff, and potential funders to participate in the planning. Soon, a non-profit society—the Arts, Sciences and Technology Centre (ASTC)—was born. By 1982 it had a permanent (if cramped) home at 600 Granville Street. (Today, the site houses a condo tower and Keg restaurant.)

Finding the Right New Home

Brink knew that to become a leading educational and scientific institution, they needed more space. From the earliest days of planning for Expo 86 she had her eyes on what would become the Expo Centre. She had pitched that building, before Expo even began, as one that could be repurposed expressly for children afterward. Initially, the province didn’t bite. But the day after Expo ended, Brink went back to the government and proposed taking over what had been the fair’s preview centre.

“They said, ‘If you really want the building, you'd better develop a solid business plan.’” So, working with a team of heavy-hitters in the corporate community, she developed just such a plan and, after difficult negotiations, got approval to take over the space. Even at 50,000 square feet, though, the space still wasn’t big enough for a world-class institution. Undaunted, Brink collaborated with architect and developer Stanley Kwok, secured the 50,000-square-foot building next door, and began the process of converting Expo Centre.

“That,” she says, “was the easy part.” The hard part was getting the money—$12 million in public sector funding and another $7.1 million in private financing—to make the space come to life. “All this,” notes Brink, “during a recession, which wasn't fun.”

Just the Beginning

Brink served as Chair and CEO of Science World from 1985 until 1989. She then went on to serve the province in a variety of capacities, including Vice-Chair of the Vancouver General Hospital Foundation, General Campaign Chair of the United Way of the Lower Mainland and Director of the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation. In 2004, she received the Order of British Columbia.

For Brink, the timing for Science World’s arrival on BC’s landscape—the recession notwithstanding—was perfect. “We will always be a resource-based province, but what everybody understood back then was that a lot of things were going to become mechanized, and there would be a need to have a steady stream of employees who were well versed in science and technology.”

Thirty years on, the legacy that Brink has built continues to flourish—in both big and small ways. She tells the story of coming out of a car wash recently and seeing a six-year-old girl bouncing up and down at the end of the line in excitement. “I rolled down the window and she said, ‘My mommy says you must work at Science World,’” Brink says, explaining that her licence plate is SCI WLD. “I said to the little girl, ‘As a matter of fact, I do.’ Well, she jumped up and hung on my car door and said, ‘You’re soooo lucky!’ And I thought, ‘That just made it all worthwhile.’”

As Science World at TELUS World of Science celebrates our 30th anniversary, we are connecting with people who have made an impact on our physical space and in the community of science enthusiasts and supporters in British Columbia. We present here a selection of their stories, and hope that their words will inspire you to continue to help us ignite wonder and empower dreams for the next generation of STEAM leaders and the people of British Columbia. If you have a story to share about how Science World has impacted your life in a meaningful way, please share it with us online on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.


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