University of Victoria executive staff members and lead Congress 2013 organizers Jim Dunsdon and Suzanne Dane sit in one of the many golf carts that will be used to transport thousands of delegates arriving this week for Congress 2013

UVic preps for flood of professors

University of Victoria hosts Congress, Canada’s largest academic conference, for first week of June

Organizing a major conference is no easy feat – just ask Jim Dunsdon.

For nearly four years he’s been working as vice-chair of Congress 2013, a eight-day event at the University of Victoria that will draw some 6,600 humanities and social sciences professors and researchers from across Canada.

Dunsdon’s job is to plan and co-ordinate the logistics side of Congress, ensuring everything from getting the 225 rooms on campus booked and prepped with audio-video equipment to organizing transportation for delegates to get back and forth from the airport, ferry, hotels and UVic, from June 1 to 8.

“It’s been a lot of work, it’s been challenging, but it’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “Once we established a bit of context – we’re going to have 10,000 people on campus, but we usually have 20,000 people on campus September to May – it helped make it easier to plan.”

It’s not quite the same as student intake though. Take, for example, the monumental food and beverage task that lays ahead.

Some 25,000 cups of coffee need be made and poured over the course of the conference. Catering will go through 630 litres of coffee cream, 543 kilograms of cheese, 386 kg of sandwich meat and 5,200 portions of yogurt as part of 757 separate catering orders to keep delegates fed.

“The food services team needs to get 6,000 cups of coffee to 225 rooms across 22 buildings at 7:30 in the morning and keep it hot,” said Suzanne Dane, Congress project manager for UVic “It’s not an easy undertaking.”

To prepare, last year the university revamped its entire catering program.

“We have brand new menus, a brand new pricing strategy, better ingredients. It all combined to really raise the level of service and quality on campus,” Dunsdon said.

“And we did that with one eye on the fact that we knew it was going to be a significant test for our campus. We had to make a big jump to make sure we could meet the expectations of (Congress) attendees.”

This is the first time since 1990 that UVic has hosted Congress, which will bring together researchers and academics for a week of 1,800 meetings and symposiums at UVic.

But alongside the scholarship, the university is working to draw the Greater Victoria community to the campus through a big party with daily concerts, food booths, a beer garden and “Big Thinking” speakers.

“We are bringing the community to campus and recreating the Inner Harbour experience using petty cabs, flower carriages and a lot of local performers,” Dane said.

“We want to make people aware what Congress has to offer and it isn’t necessarily just an academic event.”

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences awarded UVic the 2013 Congress in 2008 through a competitive process. It took UVic a year just to complete the bid package.

“The federation was extremely impressed with the community support. The chamber (of commerce), mayors, Tourism Victoria showed that strongly support Congress and are eager to be involved,” Dane said.

UVic is aiming to make Congress a zero waste event. Attendees will receive reusable plastic water bottles, all plates and cutlery will be compostable and 35 stations will be set up around campus for food waste.

“The UVic community wants to do a wonderful job hosting this event and make it very special for the delegates and the local community. We want everything to go smoothly,” Dunsdon said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work to get to this point, but it’s kind of only just begun.”

–with reporting from Edward Hill

Congress free events at UVic

-A fashion show of nursing uniforms through the ages, Friday, 5 p.m., McPherson Library.

-WorldFEST festival Sunday, with dancers, foods and a children’s play area.

-Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie Wednesday 7:30 p.m.; Daniel Lapp, Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

-See a full lineup of UVic events from May 31 to June 8 at



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