Geography and the Environment

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John Belec

John Belec, PhD

Associate Professor

Geography and the Environment

Abbotsford campus, A407b

Phone: 604-854-4562

email John


My fascination with urban geography began as a child. Endless hours were spent constructing and de-constructing urban landscapes in the basement of my parents' suburban home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

My interest in urban studies followed me through adulthood, and I completed degrees in urban geography at Brock University (BA, Hons, 1978) and Queen's University (MA, 1980; PhD, 1988). My university teaching career began in 1984 at Nippissing University. I moved to UFV in 1992.


  • PhD, Queens University, 1988
  • MA, Queens University, 1980
  • BA (Hons), Brock University, 1978

Teaching Interests

  • GEOG 130: Canada (on-line)
  • GEOG 252: Explanation in Geography: Quantitative Techniques
  • GEOG 344: Urban Development
  • GEOG 421: Borderlands
  • GEOG 440: Advanced Research Topics in Urban Geography

Research Interests

My research specialties are focused in the study of:

  1. Urban housing markets
  2. Urban residential design
  3. Cross-border regions

In 2013-14, I embarked on a third research endeavour which combined elements of the first two: a study of Abbotsford's ethnic enclave known as the Townline neighbourhood.

Urban housing markets

My longest standing research interest is twentieth century housing market development, especially with regard to the role of lending infrastructure. This was initiated in my PhD dissertation (1988), a study of the origins, and urban impact, of Canada’s initial piece of federal housing legislation, the Dominion Housing Act of 1935. In Canada and the United States, the modern mortgage market is generally regarded as having played a key role in the growth and design of post-war suburbs.

My study of Canadian housing policy is set within the broader context of regulation theory. As such, the establishment of the modern residential mortgage is understood to have been central to the intensive regime of capitalist accumulation of the latter twentieth century, that developed in Canada, and other advanced capitalist nations. It is generally argued in the literature that the development of the modern mortgage, was critical to the expansion of home ownership, especially in suburban settings.

My work on this topic has resulted in a number of publications, including collaborations, as listed below:

  • J. Belec,  1984. Origins of State Housing Policy in Canada: The Case of the Central Mortgage Bank in Canada, The Canadian Geographer.  28(4).
  • J. Belec, J. Holmes and T. Rutherford, 1989. The Rise of Fordism and the Transformation of Consumption Norms:  Mass Consumption and Housing in Canada, 1930 in R. Harris and G. Pratt (eds.), Housing Tenure and Social Class (National Swedish Institute for Building Research:  Gälve, Sweden):  187-237.
  • J. Belec, 1997. The Dominion Housing Act, Urban History Review 25 (2): 53-62.
  • J. Belec. 2015. Underwriting Suburbanization: The National Housing Act and the Canadian City. The Canadian Geographer. 59(3): 341-353.
  • J. Belec, R. Harris and G. Rose, 2018. The Federal Role on Early Postwar Suburbanization. Housing Policy Debate. DOI: 1080/10511482.2018.1474124

Urban residential design: Vernacular Modernism and the Canadian Home - An interpretation of the BC Box.

The design of houses and cityscapes was also directly and indirectly impacted by federal housing policy.  Above all else, housing was required to be “safe” from an institutional investment perspective.  In this regard, for example, the Dominion Housing Act was also notable for instituting Canada’s first building code, subsequently adopted across the country. 

Such building codes imposed a homogeneity  to design, which also came to reflect modernist principles. The Levittown “Cape Cod” bungalow, perhaps best known of the post-war vernacular modernist variants, was just one of many North American representations.

Together with my former Honours students, Derrick Swallow, I have been studying the meaning and significance of the BC Box, a dominant form of residential vernacular architecture in British Columbia’s lower mainland. The BC Box, together with its architectural cousin, the Vancouver Special, are regional variants of a post-war North American staple, the massed side-gable. 

Our research begins with an outline of the modern roots of the BC Box evident in the simplicity and standardization of its design and production.   Our work will also examine the interplay between aspects of internal design, especially floor plans, and household dynamics, in the 1970’a and 1980’s.  

Cross-border regions

Study of the Canada-United States border was initiated in 1999, in collaboration with my UCFV colleague, the late Doug Nicol, and Patrick Buckley in the Geography Department at Western Washington University, Bellingham WA.  This collaboration included 1) an international team-taught course (GEOG 421: Borderlands) for graduates and senior undergrads, and 2) research on the border.  The results of this research has appeared in a number of publications and presentations:


  • D. Nicol, J. Belec, and P. Buckley, 2003. Teaching Geography in an International Region: Challenges of the Pacific Northwest Borderland, Journal of Geography  102 ( 2): 47-57.
  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2009. Investigation of Cross Border Environmental Management and Consciousness at the Local Level: Power Plant Development within a Confined International Air Shed. Memoirs of the Muroran Institute of Technology 59: 213-227.
  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2011. Cascadia Reconsidered: Questioning Micro-Scale Cross-Border Integration in the Fraser Lowland. University of the Fraser Valley Research Review  3 (3).
  • P. Buckley, J. Belec and A. Anderson. 2017. Modelling Cross-Border REgions, Place-Making, and Resource Management: A Delphi Analysis, Resources, 6 (3) 32
  • P. Buckley, J. Belec and J. Levy. 2015. Resource Management in Borderlands: Evolution from Competing Interests to Common Aversions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,  12(7):. 7541-7557.
  • J. Belec and P.Buckley. 2014. Democracy and the Space of Energy Flows: The Practice of Bordered Transnationalism in the Pacific Northwest. Journal of Borderlands Studies, 29(3): 291-302.

Conference proceedings

  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2006. Issues of Cross Border Management of the Fraser Lowlands Eco-Region, In Convergence and Divergence in North America: Canada and the United States, Proceedings of the International Association of Canadian Studies 2004 colloquium, eds. Karl Froschauer, Nadine Fabbi, and Susan Pell. Vancouver, Simon Fraser University: 221-234.
  • K. Li, J. Levy, P. Buckley, and J. Belec, 2007. A Multiple-Criteria Group Decision Support System for Risk Reduction and Community Resilience in the Fraser Lowlands Eco-Region, In  Proceedings of the 2007 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man and Cybernetics:  1794-1799.
  • P. Buckley, J. Belec, and J. Levy, 2008. Resource Management In Borderlands: Evolution From Competing Interests To Common Aversions Proceedings of the Border Regions in Transition IX Conference, Victoria, BC and Bellingham, WA.
  • Recent conference presentations:
  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2012. Creative and Effective Solutions to Manage and Enhance Trade and Security across our Borders in the BC-WA Cascade Gateway. Presented at the annual meeting of the Western Division, Canadian Association of Geographers, 8-10 March.
  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2012. International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) Project: A Model for Saving Time and Energy in the U.S.-Canada Gateway. Presented at the annual conference of the Association for Borderlands Studies, Houston Texas, 11-14 March.
  • J. Belec  and P. Buckley, 2011. One Public or Two: Environmental Resource Management along the US-Canada Border. Presented at the Triennial meeting of the Nordic Association of Canadian Studies, Aarhus Denmark, 11-13 August.
  • P. Buckley, R. Jones and J. Belec, 2011. Cross-Border Cooperation and Social Capital Development: A Micro Level Delphi Study in the Cascadian Gateway. Presented to the Association for Borderlands Studies General Meeting at the 53rd Annual Conference of the Western Social Science Association, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 13-16.
  • P. Buckley,  J. Belec and R. Gadwa. 2010. Preliminary Micro Level Cross Border Regional (CBR) Activity: Trade and Transportation   Presented at the Cascadia Critical Geographies Mini-Conference, University of Victoria, October 29 – 30.
  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2010. International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) as a model for Cross-Border Regional Development: a Delphi Study.  Presented at the Border Policy Research Institute Fall Colloquium Series, Western Washington University, October 14.
  • J. Belec and P. Buckley, 2010. International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) Delphi Study Round 1.  Presented to the International Mobility and Trade Corridor Core Meeting at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, Bellingham, WA, September 30.
  • P. Buckley, J. Belec, R. Gadwa and  H. Helstrom, 2010. Preliminary Investigation of Micro Level Cross Border Regional Activity. Presented at the 14th Spring Meeting of the Association of Washington Geographers, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, May 15..
  • P. Buckley and J. Belec, 2010. Precursors to Cross-Border Synaptic Networks in the US-Canada Fraser Lowland. Presented to the Association for Borderlands Studies General Meeting at the 52nd Annual Conference of the Western Social Science Association, Reno, Nevada,  April 14-17.

Housing Abbotsford's South Asian ethnic enclave (Townline)

The Abbotsford CMA is notable in Canada for containing the highest proportion of South Asian population and amongst the highest visible minority population, in the nation.  These measures reflect the prominence of Abbotsford's Indo-Canadian population, which has recently marked its centenary.  This demographic cohort is currently concentrated in the Townline neighbourhood of Abbotsford. 

The degree of concentration is very high; according to recent urban geography analysis, it's one of a handful of "polarized" neighbourhoods in Canada.  (Walks 2010) Townline appears on the surface to be a success story: a vibrant, active, growing and adaptive community of multiple generations.

It is also a neighbourhood with a relatively large number of newcomers. Townline is emblematic of what John Ibbitson has recently described to represent the “new Canada”, as it embodies key trends revealed in the 2011 Census of Canada:

This census makes concrete what we already suspected: that immigrants are growing the new Canada, while the old Canada watches and worries in decline. (Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail, 19 September 2012)

The focus of this study is on the structure and operation of the housing market that exists in Townline.  Availability and affordability of housing are regularly cited to be key to successful newcomer integration in Canadian cities. (Hiebert and Mendez (2008); Hiebert, Mendez and Wyly (2008), Teixeira (2012)). 

In their review of related literature sponsored by Metropolis British Columbia, Teixeira and Pottie-Sherman (2012, 15) identify housing analysis to be important for future research:

What makes one newcomer’s integration more successful than another?                                            

Does housing matter? These are questions of critical significance for the future of British Columbia’s major cities and, indeed, for the country.

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