UBC: Dorm Life. Totem vs Vanier.

Well folks, here it is: the post about university rez life….the one that I have been putting off for WAY too long! Ironic how I’m going to be rambling on about how great dorm life is…..yet I’m sitting on my bed at home, all warm and cozily. On a completely different note, before I begin, I just want to say: Tetris Battle on Facebook, is super addicting, and you MUST play it! 

So now about UBC res life.


There are two first year residences, Totem Park..and Place Vanier. I currently live in Vanier, and I am super grateful that I do. The dining hall is great, the location is superb, and the houses are all decently nice looking. Some of the old houses at Totem just look really old…and MOST of Vanier’s houses have a more ‘new’ look to them, which I love. Needless to say, the two brand spankin’ new, stellar hotel-like houses are in Totem….some people can even get a private bathroom, if you don’t have a private bathroom, you only share it with ONE other person….and the lounges of these new houses are BEAUTIFUL and DIVINE. Vanier  can’t even compare to those houses.  In reality, the new Totem houses are to die for. Also, at first glance, Vanier looks more ‘organized’…and it’s quite widespread..at first it seems super easy to get lost in Totem…but you would get used to it in a week or so. Totem has connected houses, which means that two houses are connected to each other, which makes it more ‘sociable’…unlike Vanier, where all the houses are ‘separate’ from each other, and some people don’t even know that certain houses even exist (it’s quite sad 😛 ) Back to location…. if you’re in Engineering, Human Kinetics, Land and Food Systems, or Forestry, then Totem would technically be the ‘better’ choice, just in the sense that all those faculty buildings are quite close to Totem. But for Science, Arts, and Commerce, Vanier is definitely better situated than Totem…in a sense, because all the Science buildings are just mainly along University Blvd. which is right by Vanier. And Arts courses CAN be situated in some random places, but the majority tend to be around Buchanan. The SUB (Student Union Building), the two major libraries (Irving and Koerner), the Bookstore, Triple O’s, the Village…these are all WAY closer to Vanier(south Vanier) than Totem. How much closer? Well from south Vanier none of those are over a 7 minute walk, except the village, that might take about 10 minutes or so, north Vanier, just add 2 minutes. In saying that, I understand that it’s not all that helpful, considering the fact that you ‘technically’ can’t CHOOSE which residence you want when you fill out the residence application form…although, here’s a tip….try emailing housing and specifying which residence you want, it worked for me, and it worked for a bunch of my friends, I guess a lot of people don’t really bother going that extra step, due to the fact that they probably don’t know. And besides, once you find out which residence you’re in(which obviously isn’t until  the summer), you can always try to switch with someone, there are always people trying to switch from Totem to Vanier/Vanier to Totem.


I personally prefer Vanier over Totem — but sometimes the food is better at Totem, and sometimes Vanier (selection-wise). There have been times when I walk into the Vanier dining hall and think ‘Wow….everything here is kinda blaahh….I don’t want ANY of this food…’ –same goes when I’ve walked into Totem’s dining hall as well! (Sometimes it’s just the fact that I expect something great/a certain type of food…and then none of what I want is there..kind of a bummer…but we gotta eat  SOMETHING!). The Vanier Food Services staff are SUPER friendly and kind(from my experience). The Vanier dining hall is a lot bigger, and has more of a ‘restaurant’ feel, especially for dinner, when the lights are all dimmed, it’s ambient. And plus all my friends from Totem LOVED coming over to Vanier to eat. Totem’s dining hall on the other hand, it’s more like a ‘diner’, but they actually re-did the Totem dining hall a couple years ago, so it’s technically ‘newer’. But regardless of size, Totem DOES have the whole outdoor eating area going for them, whereas Vanier doesn’t. The food that they serve at Totem can sometimes be repetitive(more so than Vanier)..don’t get me wrong, they DO switch up the food at both places, but they can only make so many different types of food, right? I’m not sure exactly what each of Totem’s booths are called but—-Vanier has ‘Fusions’ – which is the ‘Italian’ place…where they serve pizza, pasta, quesidillas, and calzones. ‘Stackables’ – which is the wraps and sandwich station – you HAVE to try their smoothies, they’re the BEST! ‘The Ginger Pot’ – this is the Asian station, noodles, fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and all sorts of other dishes, and their portion sizes are HUGE! ‘The Cedar Grill’ – this is like ‘fast food’ … with burgers, chicken strips, fish, fries (they have feature fries daily, consisting of spicy curly fries- sooo good!, tater tots, country style, etc), onion rings, grilled cheese(they make some stellar grilled cheese), and omelettes(with whatever you want in them), and so on. And lastly, ‘Stonehearth’ – they have homestyle food…this is my favourite place no doubt, they just have a lot of variety, from spicy chicken wings and yam fries to roast beef and steak and potatoes….chicken/lamb souvlaki. The Vanier dining hall shuts down at around 7 30 – 8 45 (depending on what day of the week it is)… and I’m not sure about the Totem dining hall hours, BUT they do have their grill which is open until MUCH LATER than Vanier’s. And also, Totem has a soft serve machine (envious). In saying all that….do realize that Vanier people can go eat at Totem, and Totem kids at Vanier. 


Totem DEFINITELY takes it away with the ‘rowdy- partying’ aspect. And I’m not going to lie…it IS pretty true. BUT it does depend on the people. Both Vanier and Totem have tons of partying people…but when you actually look at it…Totem’s parties seem to get out of control more easily, and sometimes..it’s exciting and fire trucks and ambulances show up. If we hear sirens coming close to Vanier, everyone’s first thought, jokingly is : “oh, they must have gotten lost on their way to Totem!” – yeah, you get the idea.(Sometimes Vanier and Totem ‘don’t like each other’— hehe….in a good spirited kind of way. Sports and stuff- we’re rivals-healthy rivalry). But keep in mind, Totem has ‘larger’ parties because they have double the amount of people in each house than Vanier. Vanier’s houses all are about 100 people each…except for Tec and Korea which have around 250 each. And Totem’s houses all have about 250, and Hem’lesem has about 350. So that makes sense, doesn’t it? More people = more chance of being louder. Fire alarms…..this year, they were more frequent in Totem than Vanier, that’s for sure. Keep in mind that fire alarm pulling DOES happen at Vanier too, but just less frequently in Vanier, compared to Totem. But a plus for Totem is the fact that the response of the fire department is faster, one time at Vanier, when the fire alarm went off at our house at around mid early morning, we had to wait for about an hour to get back inside. (WHAT A PAIN!) I have a few friends from Totem that actually find partying annoying when they’re trying to study. So Vanier is a lot more ‘quieter’…when it needs to be quiet. But keep in mind that during finals, they enforce Quiet hours and Silent hours…so loudness IN residence is absolutely intolerable . And during the rest of the year they have quiet hours: Sunday-Thursday 9pm – 7 am, and Friday-Saturday 1 am-7 am. I feel like in a way Totem seems more ‘social’ — there are people everywhere, sometimes in Vanier, people seem non-existent at times. The commonsblock at Totem is bigger, and has better study spaces in my opinion. The study spaces in Totem seem more ‘secluded’ than Vanier’s(the ones here seem more OPEN, and therefore can be a bit distracting).


I absolutely LOVED it! It was the best experience of my life so far! The people in your house, your ‘housemates’, ‘floormates’, and RAs really make or break your experience in rez. We have three RAs (Residence Advisors) in our house, and they are the greatest people ever! RAs are usually second/third year students, so they’ve all for the most part experienced what you’re going to experience, and they’re always there for you to talk to. We were all like a big family in our house, we all looked out for each other, made fun of each other, and sometimes, some of us couldn’t stand each other(in a good way! haha), but hey, we all got along great. I think I had the privilege to live with the greatest people ever!!!  😀 So overall, I think that living on residence is definitely worth it, you get to meet a lot of new people, and there are so many events that the residence associations put on for the residents….which results in meeting even more people! And when you see people studying, it motivates you to study as well- and when you see people partying, why not join in and make the party bigger. We always had little study parties in the house/floor lounges right before exams…that’s another good thing, you’re bound to have a few people in your house/floor that are taking the same courses as you! Most of my floor consisted of Science students, so we almost always studied for a lot of things together, and it was really beneficial. And in all honesty, just surround yourself with people when you first arrive in residence, and you won’t even think about being homesick! 🙂 

So if you have a choice to live on residence in first year(whether it be Totem or Vanier)…I would definitely say LIVE ON RES!! You will not regret it, and the ‘first year experience’ — is something that’s worth it, and cannot be relived!

– Vanier Resident of 2011/2012

20 thoughts on “UBC: Dorm Life. Totem vs Vanier.

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    • Hey Emily, thanks for stopping by!
      I personally had a mini fridge and I loved it. Using the fridge that’s in the floor lounge in residence isn’t always “ideal” because other people can take it, and you never know if someone will mishandle your food items ( I personally have trust issues about leaving food out in public places haha).

  2. Hi !,
    Thanks for the post. I am a prospective spanish student who is going to study a graduate program next year at UBC and I would like to know your advice =). I personally don’t take myself very serious and I plan party quite often, but I am 21 by now, so I don’t know if i would be “too” old to fit in with freshmens in Vanier or Totem. I also would like to know if there is another residence with kitchens (I love coocking) and bedroms (like walter gage or fairview) but with a good ambiance and with party. There are suite-style residences with lots of new people or those are more for upper-year students?. I mean, I don’t want to get bored in a residence where everyone just study…

  3. Hi! Im a prospective 1st year studying sciences nxt year.. I would LOVE to live in HMSM or QLXN, but Im not really sure about emailing housing.. Do you know how often they accommodate those requests (they probably get a lot of them eh)..

    Also, since I would be studying sciences, which residence would be closest? Vanier/Totem.. or which houses within the residences

    • Hey there! From what I’ve heard from my own friends, they’ve been accommodated with their requests for the most part, so I say go ahead and email housing if you really want to live there, you don’t know unless you try, so it’s worth a shot since you really don’t have much to lose — but wait until like at least April to do so.

      In regards to which residence/which houses, honestly, it’s not a huge deal where you live, so what if there are slight ‘inconveniences’ like having to walk an extra few minutes(fresh air is always good!) 😛 I feel like I’ve already covered what I’d say in response to your question, in the post, so I’d probably sound really redundant doing so haha – but in short, Vanier is definitely closer than Totem. 😛 And in regards to specific houses…in Vanier, Tweedsmuir, Sherwood Lett, Okanagan, Robson, and Kootenay, and maybe even Cariboo although it’s a bit more tucked in… are the more “central”/south side houses which are relatively closer to the science buildings. And as for Totem.. Salish and Haida are the two houses that are farthest away since they’re on the south-ish side of Totem.

  4. Hey there! I’m just an anxious prospective 1st year, wondering how dorm life works. You were really helpful in your rambling so thank you! 🙂 I’m just curious as to when you emailed housing to specifying which residence you wanted and if you just emailed the Student Housing & Hospitality Services Main Office? I’m going into Engineering (hopefully!) & plan on getting into one of the new Totem houses. :))

    • Hellloo! glad to hear I could be of help!
      most people I know, emailed housing with the specific dorm requests, AFTER the deadline was over I believe the application for my year was due May 1st, and people emailed them in like late May/June/early July. To be safe though, I’d email them right after you’ve sent your application in for housing(just before the deadline). and correct you are with emailing the main office:

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  6. Hey! I was wondering what your opinion was on roomates? Is it a good experience or is the risk too great?
    Also with a roomate, would it be better to room with someone you know or leave it up to chance (I want to meet new people but I’m afraid if I don’t go with someone I know, the only people who don’t put in friends preference would be losers haha)

    • Helloo! 😀
      I roomed with a close friend and I loved it. We met lots of people together and had a pretty good bunch of friends. Some people room with their friends and sadly things don’t work out between them, while others get along just fine. Although I feel as though that’s more of an issue among girls, whereas guys don’t tend to really care too much 😛
      I also know of many friends that don’t pick each other as roommates, mainly because they don’t really have any preference for it. In first year, from the people I knew that had roommates, I’d say about only 10% of the people with roommates “picked” their roommates – the others were all randomly matched up. Almost all of the randomly matched roommates I knew of, got along fine – the majority of them became really good friends with each other(considering they’ll be one of the first people that you meet in residence/you’re kind of “forced” to try to get along with them), then there were the super rare ones that were still kind of at the “acquaintance-friend” border-level. UBC for the most part does a pretty good job with matching up roommates, so don’t worry about getting paired up with someone that you won’t necessarily like. You could say there’s a “risk” for everything, but it depends how you go about it – it can be a lot of fun to room with someone that you already know and go through your (first) year of university together, but it’s also great to have a brand new face in your life and get to know them and go on from there as well. Also, if you’re living on residence, you’ll have no problem with meeting new people, as long as you’re willing to socialize! 😀

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  8. I’m a bit anxious for a reply here but is it possible to switch assigned rooms with someone (based on mutual agreement etc.) ?

    • there are two different kinds of room switches. Their are room reassignments where housing reassigns you a room depending on rooms which are available for $50. Or there are switches where two people can switch rooms if they both agree to it. In that case you both have to sign something and I think its only $15 (I was able to do that this year)

    • each other. You fingers of both hands should touch the bases of thumbs. This is padm asana. This asana keeps the spine and head erect and body stable. Its regular praiccte removes all the diseases of

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  10. Hey you! Well … housing applications are due in a few days and I’d really love to live in either of the new two building of totem park. You said to put in the extra efforts and e-mail housing.. should I do this like now? or later on, during summer? Thanks for the lovely post it was greatly appreciated 🙂 and oh, goodluck with your finals! x Summer


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