The summer the world came to North Campus

A look back at the 1983 Summer Universiade.


Photograph of the opening ceremony of the Universiade 1983, UAA-1987-106, University of Alberta Archives, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Summer 2023 is the fortieth anniversary of the 1983 World University Games, then known as the Summer Universiade, which were held in various locations across Edmonton from July 1-12, 1983.

The international games for university student-athletes was organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU).

It was the first time Canada hosted the games, and athletes from ninety-four countries came to Edmonton to compete in track and field, basketball, cycling, diving, fencing, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, volleyball and waterpolo. Cultural programming was also a significant component of the games as well as an international scientific conference on university sport.

The University of Alberta hosted tennis, volleyball and basketball competitions and provided residences, training facilities and service for athletes.

In addition to existing facilities, the university built a new field house, a tennis facility at Michener Park and residences in Garneau, now known as Aspen and Maple House.

Faculty worked together to create a multilingual lexicon for Universiade sports and many different departments supported Kaleidoscope ‘83, the cultural arm of Universiade with a number of special exhibitions on North Campus.

A regal visit

The Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana, opened the games on July 1, 1983 during their first visit to Canada as a couple. It was the first Canada Day, having been changed from Dominion Day the year prior. Coincidentally, July 1 was also the Princess of Wales' birthday, which was enthusiastically celebrated by the crowd at the opening ceremony.

The day before, the royals had been on North Campus to pay a visit to the athletes village on their way to the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium where, as a majestic conclusion to the university's 75th anniversary year, the university conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree upon His Royal Highness Prince Charles, now His Majesty King Charles III.

Photograph of a model of the University of Alberta Fieldhouse 1978-1983

Photograph of a model of the University of Alberta Fieldhouse 1978-1983, UAA-1985-109, University of Alberta Archives, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

A fieldhouse for the future

An important part of the university’s contribution to the games was the fieldhouse. While it was officially called the Universiade Pavilion, it soon became known as “the Butterdome.”

A fieldhouse is a building that houses indoor sports and recreational activities. Although named for the games, the need for a fieldhouse at the university was identified years before. The successful joint university-city bid for the Summer Universiade provided the opportunity to fund the facility.

The 64,000 square foot indoor complex was built as a multi-purpose education, recreational and athletic facility. During the games it hosted basketball competitions and was where Canada’s men's basketball team captured Canada’s first and only gold medal in a traditional team sport at the World University Games.

The pavilion has become one of the most distinctive buildings on North Campus, and regularly hosts sporting events, ceremonies, final exams, career fairs, craft shows and community events. It has also contributed to relief efforts for some of the most notable provincial disasters and emergencies in recent history.

In 2016 the Butterdome served as an important distribution centre for temporary financial assistance to Fort McMurray residents affected by the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history. In 2020 the university supported Alberta Health Services in responding to COVID-19 by turning the Butterdome into an early treatment centre and then a reserve hospital.

A lasting legacy

Many other reminders of the games remain, some of which you might encounter every day.

The soaring dove sculpture between the Administration Building and the Students’ Union Building, for example, was donated by the Samson Cree Nation to serve as the flame tower for the games.

While travelling through the Van Vliet Complex you may happen upon plaques, banners and artwork that were created as part of the games.

The Garneau Village, which hosted Canadian and American athletes during the games, has served as student residences ever since and is now known as Aspen and Maple House.

The tennis facility at Michener Park that was built for the games laid the foundation for a tennis program that has seen the U of A emerging as tennis powerhouse and expansion of its tennis facilities.

Every day, U of A students benefit from the lasting impact of the games thanks to the Universiade ‘83 Scholarships, which were made available from an endowment created with the surplus funds from the games. The scholarships are awarded to undergraduate students with first-class standing who have demonstrated excellence in athletics or fine arts.