Epilogue: Edwardian Escapades

Epilogue: Edwardian Escapades McGill University

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Home > McGill News > 2001 > Summer 2001 > Epilogue: Edwardian Escapades
Edwardian Escapades

This spring's convocations were sedate and dignified affairs, but a hundred years ago, the University's graduation ceremony was apparently disrupted in spectacular fashion according to the following memoir by Arthur W. Lochead, BA'01, which appeared in the McGill News. Students of the Edwardian era were notorious for their pranks, inter-faculty fistfights and the occasional raid on neighbouring Laval University (then located at St. Denis and St. Catherine Streets), so although we have no independent corroboration, it may well be gospel truth. After all, when it was published in the News in 1949, Arthur Lochead had made a career as a minister of the church.

In the good old days, convocation was held in Windsor Hall on Dominion Square as there was no place in the University large enough for such a gathering. After the spring examinations in Arts were finished and students were waiting about town for the formal declaration of results in Molson Hall, the Arts men of 1901 went one evening to sing before the Principal's residence. As Dr. Peterson did not come out to express his appreciation of our visit, someone placed a cordwood stick against the electric button of his doorbell, and we went eastward to Mr. Sterling's beautiful residence at the corner of University Street to serenade Professor Charles Moyse and Mr. Paul Lafleur, both of the Department of English. They came out and graciously thanked us for our songs and good wishes. Thom McPherson called out in falsetto, "Let us all through, Charlie," and Charlie replied, "I'll do the best I can for you."

Photo Sir William Macdonald: not amused?
PHOTO: McGill Archives

Thence we went in the same spirit of goodwill to pay our respects to our eccentric greek professor, Frank Carter. The only immediate reply to our greetings was the violent barking of a fox terrier. After the noise without and within had continued for some minutes and "Frankie" had been invited again and again to come out, he opened the door three inches wide and called out, "The dog speaks for both of us."

That was not considered an altogether suitable reply, so the noise of the terrier and of the students increased. The door then opened more widely and the professor shouted, "If you don't go away, I'll telephone for the police!" That naturally changed our goodwill into a desire for reprisals. Convocation would be held a week or so later, and it was decided that we would rag Frankie and create some diversion for the admiring relatives and friends of the graduating classes.

On the morning of Convocation Day, Windsor Hall was set in good order for the conferring of degrees. One of the 1901 Arts men went to the hall at noon, screwed a hook under the centre of the table on the platform, and hung thereon an alarm clock timed to go off at half past two o'clock. Another student went to market and bought a sizable rooster. Others engaged a dear old grey-bearded man with a wheezy, one-legged hand organ that missed every third note, to come to the main gallery that afternoon at half past two.

The Principal, governors, professors and patrons filed in and solemnly took their appointed seats on the platform. Doctor Clark Murray had concluded his prayer and the Principal had no sooner begun to speak when the clock beneath the table broke forth in loud alarm, and as no one seemed to know just where it was, it was allowed to run its full course.

Then from the gallery the hand organ ground out two or three stanzas of "The British Grenadiers" before the musician was conducted to the street. Just then Pius Scott appeared in the Press Gallery over the platform and threw down amongst the austere, bearded and begowned members of convocation the aforesaid rooster which flew, flopped, screamed and ran hither and thither in consternation. In the meantime, Professor Frank Carter was reminded of his discourtesy by frequent shouts of "The dog speaks for both of us" and "If you don't go home I'll telephone for the police!"

Some of those on the platform seemed thoroughly to enjoy the fun, but not so did a very generous patron of McGill. To the students it was a happy relaxation after seven months hard work, but their escapade cost McGill dearly. It is said (I had it almost from the horse's mouth) that Sir William Macdonald had come to convocation that afternoon with a gymnasium in his pocket to present to the University, and that in the midst of the hubbub he leaned over and said to Governor Fleet, "Is it for these young rowdies you want me to give a gymnasium? I'll never do it!"

Soon after that memorable day Sir William established Macdonald College at Ste. Anne de Bellevue and contributed generously to Guelph Agricultural College, and McGill had to wait for almost half a century for her gymnasium.

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