20th Century, Culture, Institutions

Kingston in the 1920s: Queen’s Initiation

Kingston Hall circa 1922. From a pamphlet produced by the Alumnae Association. (click image to go to source)

Kingston Hall circa 1922. From a pamphlet produced by the Alumnae Association. (click image to go to source)

A while back, I remember thinking that you don’t hear much about Kingston in the 1920s. (Well actually, most scholarly interest in Kingston drops off after about the 1860s, but that’s another story.) However, the idea of the 1920s – loosened social mores, flappers, jazz, consumerism, abundance – holds a great deal of cultural caché for us, and it’s hard to not be interested in the kinds of things that might have been going on in your own city.

In this blog series, I’ll find some interesting things that were going on in Kingston in the 1920s and post about them. Finding Kingston news during this period is a tedious process, because it involves rolls and rolls and rolls of microfilm, and just as many hours. So I’ll only be going through an item or two a week. This week I’ve got for you one of my favourite topics that I’ve written about before – Queen’s history, specifically around the beginning of the school year.

From the 6 October 1925 Daily British Whig.

From the 6 October 1925 Daily British Whig.

What we now call Queen’s Frosh Week was rather more spirited in days gone by, and this description is representative of what went on for years, and I imagine even decades before 1925, when the article was published. Note that at this time, the American terms “freshmen” and “sophomore” were still being used, and also note that this article came out in early October, when the school year used to start at Queen’s.

The initiation took place at Richardson Stadium with over 200 first-years. It’s not clear whether women were initiated as well as men, but I doubt they would have taken part in the same kinds of activities. And I don’t think it would have seemed appropriate to talk about women this way at the time:

The sophomores, working on the theory that a freshman must be impressed with a sense of his unimportance, prepared a very extensive programme which was enjoyed by all but the freshmen. The human sacrifices were annointed with oil molasses [sic], eggs and a number of other disagreeable things, but they bore up well under their trials and presented smiling faces at all times.

One activity involved all the first-years’ shoes being put into a pile, which they were then forced to pick through to find their shoes while rotten eggs were thrown at them. However, the frosh were also able to throw eggs back!

There was also the “submarine dive,” a rather dangerous event where you had to slide down some kind of greased incline into a “tub of mud and slime” at the bottom.

Next, the first-years were presented with their tams in a faux ceremony. I have to say the ironic style of writing at this time makes me smile, so I’m quoting:

To wind up the proceedings what was announced to be “the senate of the university” appeared on the scene in a cloud of tobacco smoke. The various noted personages were robed in gowns of office, and their facial adornments were fearful and wonderful. After addresses by some of the dignitaries, the freshmen were called forward and as they bowed the knee before the pro temp chancellor, they were presented with a tam in the Queen’s colors, which they are to wear until further notice.

The writer of this article went to some length to assure readers that there was “a total lack of any animosity” between freshmen and sophomores, suggesting that maybe there actually was, or there had been in the past. Photos of Queen’s initiations during this time show the (male) students enjoying themselves, often shirtless, a bit surprisingly for the time, and covered in muck. However it’s possible a situation had played out with angry parents, or initiation rites gone too far, as sometimes happened at RMC.

Those of you who have taken part in university orientation/initiation events of any kind (I chickened out of mine, and also didn’t want to pay the stupid $100 fee, sorry Queen’s): how does this compare with what you experienced?

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20th Century, Miscellaneous

Thousand Islands Postcard

(my photo)

(my photo)

(my photo)

(my photo)

While away in Stratford last week I picked up this interesting postcard of the Thousand Islands. (I’m always on the hunt for local postcards in antique shops, specifically those that have writing, but postcards are a huge pain to look through. There are usually at least fifty of them and they take forever to go through. If only there was a better way…) It’s a design I’ve never seen before: intended to be romantic, but also a little sinister, if you want to look at it that way. Where is the man rowing so late at night? Why is his back to us? Is he going to knock the woman over the head with the paddle, dump her body in the river, and pretend it was all a horrible accident?! So many possibilities here.

I jest of course, but this postcard is more interesting than most of the ones I’ve seen of the area. The message is interesting too, sent in January 1912 by (presumably) a Queen’s student to his cousin in Cobourg. I’m guessing it’s from a man based on the writing and the tone. It reads:

Dear Coz:-

Well I suppose by this time, at least, Pinser & Ley [?] have skating at the rink, have they? There is good skating here now. The whole bay is frozen over now, but it is too cold to venture out there. We have a Yankee professor lecturer here who is spending his first winter in Canada. He froze his ears yesterday. He was telling me afterwards that they don’t have this sort of weather “way down in Tennessee”. He is from Tenn. Well so long yours truly

R.D. [?]

I love the tiny glimpses into historical people’s lives which postcards sometimes offer. Most of the time they only have very cursory greetings on them, but if the sender went to more effort they can be very fun to read. I remember reading one that instructed the receiver to destroy the card (I can’t remember why), which they obviously didn’t do.

Meanwhile, I wonder if I could find out who this Tennessee lecturer was, or the identity of R.D….

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19th Century, Culture, People

“An 1890 Childhood”

The 1890s – when kids still had tea parties with their dogs. Attributed to James Ballantyne/Library and Archives Canada/PA-131941 (click image to go to source)

Before you ask, no those kids in the picture aren’t from Kingston or the child referred to in this post, they’re children who lived in Ottawa in the 1890s. But it’s a cute photo and has the right vibe for the text of this post, which is why I included it.

The title of this post is the original title of a piece composed by Daisy Chown for the 1973 book I Remember When: Stories of Kingston Folk. I believe members of Rideaucrest Home contributed stories for it, and a lot of them are really interesting, especially if, like me, you enjoy reading about the minutiae of daily life 100+ years ago. The Chown family was basically Kingston royalty, and there are still places around the city named for them (e.g. Chown Hall residence at Queen’s). Daisy Chown was born in 1881, and so was around ninety-two when she recounted her early life on what was originally called Gordon Street, now University Avenue. I’m copying it here word-for-word, except for a few typos which I’ve corrected. It’s a bit of a disjointed narrative, but I think that adds to the charm.

“I remember when we moved from Bagot Street to University Avenue, then called Gordon Street, in November 1887. The sidewalk was two planks wide, laid lengthwise. Later sidewalks were planks, maybe 5 feet wide, laid horizontally. Finally, there were cement walks.

“When I was teaching in Whitby Ontario Ladies College in the 20’s, one of my duties was to take as many as 100 girls walking – we called it a division. The sidewalks were of boards, and often a board came off where one could tumble and break an ankle. The front girls in the line said ‘board off’ to the ones behind them, and the word was passed back until it reached me at the end of the line.

“I started school at Gordon Street School which was on the corner where Ban Righ Hall now stands. It was a four room school which would be called a fire trap now, the staircase to the upper two rooms being in a shed-like addition at the back. The only entrance to the upstair front room was through the back room.

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19th Century, Culture, Institutions, People

Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past, Part Two

This is the second section of Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past (see Part One here), featuring a few more contentious figures than the first section.

Read on for Part Two! Sorry it’s so long, there’s a lot to pack in here. Continue reading

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20th Century, Institutions, People

KFPL’s Home Town, Home Front Project

The 46th (Queen’s) Battery in England, several weeks before heading to the Front. Queen’s Picture Collection V28 Mil-FieldCo-5. Queen’s University Archives. (click image to go to source, where you can see a larger version)

This post has been a long time coming – and I should probably warn you I’ve turned it into a 2000-word saga – but I think I’m finally ready to present my account of the soldier I received for the Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s “Home Town, Home Front” project, which marks the centenary of the First World War. The idea of the project was to send postcards to older homes with the name of a soldier or nursing sister who once lived there. Then, the library provided resources for the current residents of the home to research their subject.

The house I live in is a 1986 bungalow so I obviously wasn’t counting on receiving a postcard. However, a request to the library gave me a name to research, after I specified I’d like someone from the area around Queen’s. (I didn’t care where the person lived in Kingston, but considering how much time I spend at Queen’s working and going to school, it seemed like a good option). After a short wait, the name I received was…

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19th Century, 20th Century, Institutions

Back to School: Queen’s Edition

Fun fact: Arts '10 donated the gate at the Arch St. entrance to Summerhill. You can't miss it because it says

Fun fact: Arts ’10 donated the gate at the Arch St. entrance to Summerhill. You can’t miss it because it says “Arts 1910” in big letters. (click image to go to source)

I generally don’t keep this blog according to any kind of schedule (I just write what I want when I feel like it) but this week I thought I’d put something together for the back-to-school season. I recently bought a trio of KCVI yearbooks (1931-32, 1940-41, 1944-45) but haven’t had a chance to get a good look through them yet. Instead, I’ve gathered together a few interesting items from editions of the Queen’s Journal and I’ll get to the KCVI yearbooks soon.

This post is going to be a bit disjointed because I’ve selected three different items from the Journal mostly at random, but in doing so I’m attempting to highlight a few interesting events and problems Queen’s students would have encountered from the years 1880-1910.

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20th Century, Institutions, People

Wartime at Queen’s and Beyond

Probably members of the 50th (Queen's) Battery at Murney Tower. Canadian Letters and Images Project. (click photo to go to source)

Probably members of the 50th (Queen’s) Battery at Murney Tower. Canadian Letters and Images Project. (click photo to go to source)

The arrow on the above photo is pointing to Gunner Robert Gordon Brown, whose letters home to his family from the point he enlisted in the batteries then recruiting at Queen’s University until after the Armistice open an interesting window onto Queen’s involvement in the First World War. Battery recruitment was just one of the ways Queen’s was contributing to the war effort, so this view is a partial one, but at the same time it is personal and often quite detailed. (Thus, this post is quite long. I’ve tried to whittle things down to the essentials while at the same time maintaining some personality and background, which is not easy to do.)

NB: Unless otherwise indicated, all images and materials quoted in this post are from the Canadian Letters and Images Project. However, it’s an old website and some of the links no longer work, namely the Copyright link. Judging from the policy of the very similar Great War Archive, University of Oxford, my use here should be fine, but as with anything else on this blog, if you feel something should be removed or altered, please do let me know. I run a pretty tight ship on this blog.

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Buildings, Culture

Recent History

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It’s probably obvious by virtue of the fact that I write this blog that I can get a little sentimental about the past. Now that the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is about ready to open, I’m starting to miss the old days when I took dance lessons at the J.K. Tett Centre and went to archaeology camp in the Stella Buck Building. (Who are J.K. Tett and Stella Buck? I’ve always wondered). The whole waterfront here had a distinct vibe that became very familiar to me. I spent many, many hours here over the years.

One cloudy May day six years ago, I brought out my then-new camera and took a few shots of the area. I wish I had taken more. Particularly I wish I had one of the little public-art sculpture, probably dating to the 1970s, which was supposed to represent the ocean or the lake or something. Alas, I’m sure it’s long gone by now.

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20th Century, Culture, Institutions, People

Technicolor’s Kingston Beginnings

100 years ago, some very interesting experiments were taking place within these walls. (my photo)

100 years ago, some very interesting experiments were taking place within these walls. (my photo)

When I was taking FILM 250 in my second year at university, our class learned a little about the history of film at Queen’s. One of the most interesting stories I remember was about a professor named Herbert Kalmus. This name may not be familiar to most people, but it has a very important place in film history: Herbert Kalmus was the co-inventor of Technicolor. Technicolor is mostly associated with films made from the late 1930s onward. Indeed, the Technicolor process achieves some of its greatest effects in films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Red Shoes (1948). However, Technicolor was actually created way back in 1915 thanks in part to some (*cough* off-the-record) research done at Queen’s.

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