Over a Century of Forestry in Alumnus Family

Forestry alumnus Charles Backman, BSF 1976, MBA 1986, is currently working on his sixth university degree, despite retiring in August 2020. Charles is also the third generation of a BC forestry family, with a history going back to the early 1900s.

Charles’ grandfather Carl Backman emigrated from Sweden in 1906, and worked in the coastal forest industry. UBC alumnus Gerry Burch, BASc 1948, recalls meeting Carl in 1947. “All falling was done by hand and paid by piece work. Carl’s reputation was that his team earned the highest wages in any camp they worked.”

Carl’s son Bill received a Bachelor of Applied Science (specializing in Forest Engineering) from UBC in 1943. During his time at UBC he was elected President of the AMS, the only forester to ever serve in this role. Bill took a job with Bloedel Steward and Welsh Ltd. after graduation and began a long and successful career.

In 1947 Bill married Elizabeth Anderson, BA 1946, BSW 1947. Charles, their only child, was born in 1953.

Later in his career Bill became Chief Forester of Columbia Cellulose, and in his final year before retirement also served as President of the ABCPF. Bill returned to UBC to obtain an MSc Forestry in 1993, at the age of 74.

Bill’s son Charles considered studying science or engineering at UBC, but, “I guess family influence led me into forestry,” he says. Charles received a BSc in Forestry in 1976 and started working for MacMillan Bloedel, coincidentally at the same camp his father had managed 20 years before.

Later, management training led Charles to return to UBC for an MBA, which he received in 1986. In the late 1980s, as perestroika and glasnosttook hold in the Soviet Union, Charles became interested in the impacts on Russian forestry and international trade. Working with faculty members at the University of Washington, he developed a program of graduate research that would take him to Russia and many other countries.

He received an MA in International Studies in 1990 and a PhD in Forest Resource Management in 1993. He then worked in Austria on a sustainable development project focusing on Siberian forest resources for nearly four years, returning to Vancouver after his father had had a stroke.

After Bill died in 1998, Charles accepted a position in the forestry program at Grande Prairie Regional College, where he remained for the rest of his career. “The program was very practical and hands-on, and as a result most of our students had job offers before the start of their last term,” he says.

The 2004-05 economic downturn led to the program’s closure, so Charles pivoted to his skills in international trade and resource development as an instructor in the Business Administration program. By 2006 he was keen to learn more, so he began a PhD in Strategy and Global Management at the University of Calgary.

In 2017 Charles received his fifth degree, after many years of juggling the obligations of family, college and university. Charles’ mother Elizabeth died in 2016.

During their lifetimes Bill and Elizabeth established the Backman Scholarship in Forest Resource Management and the Elizabeth Backman Scholarship in Natural Resources Conservation. Charles has been proud to contribute to these awards since his parents’ deaths.

Today, Charles is pursuing a Master of Science in Quantitative Finance at the University of London, using online learning. “I wanted a program that would be robust, that would force me to focus,” he says. “This degree allows me to keep learning.”

Charles is proof that learning is both limitless and ageless. And through the two family scholarships, he is supporting other students in following their dreams.

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