A Magical, Exotic place — Memories of McMaster
Mac was much smaller when I started in 1947, with about 1100 students. The war had just ended, and a lot of returning veterans provider a countervailing stability to us cocky youngsters fresh out of high school. Most of the time, that is. A bunch of vets lived in Edwards Annex and they had a reputation of being the Campus Wild Ones, escaping the Officially Dry campus with sorties to Paddy Green’s pub. The Annex was one of several buildings built for the military. Now surplus, they were moved to campus to become a men’s residence; they also served as classrooms, library annex, book store and student centre (“the Rec Hut” where you could buy coffee for a quarter, even sandwiches.)
When I went through the line for beginning students, I couldn’t believe the options available.
Tables had been set up in the gym, attended by reps from all the campus activities that beckoned: Choirs, Operatic Society, Board of Pubs, Military Reserve, Sociology, Politics, Mathematics, Science and more. At the end of the line, I remember meeting Professor James Wreford Watson who (given the program I had enrolled in) told me he’d be my personal Faculty Adviser! Imagine!
All the profs all wore gowns, and male students were advised of a Dress Code: Jacket and tie at all times.
Some classes were small. Only eight or ten of us were enrolled in Dr. Wiles’ Novel Course. He would introduce his lectures by reading a carefully chosen excerpt in his rich, resonant voice, perfectly phrased, and perfectly articulated. I was hooked. I had to immerse myself in that novel!
One of the biggest classes I can recall was in one of the ‘temporary’ buildings with Dr. New’s Medieval History — sometimes SRO with about a hundred students. Dr. New loved his subject, loved his students — and we loved him back.
Then there was the ampitheatre in Hamilton Hall where we listened to Chancellor Gilmour’s lectures on the New Testament. Dr. Gilmour had a dry wit. Once as students started to gather up books and notes for the next class: “Don’t go yet ladies and gentlemen. I have a few pearls to cast before you.”
As a nod to Mac’s Baptist heritage, there was a morning recess for chapel in Con Hall. Most of us infidels headed straight for the rec hut for a smoke and coffee.
While I treasure the ‘liberal education’ received from my academic programs, I must give credit for my development to some of those options mentioned above. Mac’s smallness relative to U. of T., for example, meant that an individual student’s voice counted, and I took full advantage of that.
Right away, I volunteered to put on the traditional frosh talent display in Con Hall which featured — among other acts — music from a jazz combo with football hero Linc Alexander on the big bass. Later Linc was recognized as a hero in many other areas, including being chosen as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
I became one of the regulars on The Silhouette, serving as columnist and Features Editor. The Sil office was in the basement below Con Hall. Tuesday nights, when we put the paper to bed became scenes of organized chaos. I learned about deadlines, fonts and layout. That experience served me well later when I made a film about printing.
Down the hall was the Student Council office which, it announced, was looking for entertainers for coming dances, Because I was already a fan, I suggested that the up-and-coming artists Oscar Peterson and Gisele Lafleche (later aka Gisele MacKenzie) be considered. (The Sil ran a headline: “GISELE HERE IN LAFLECHE.”)
A real highlight for me was when I was asked to produce and direct the Seniors’ entry for the One Act Play competition to be presented in Con Hall. I chose La Farce de maître Pierre Pathelin, from the textbook in my French Survey Course. In spite of the play’s being in French, it managed to win best play and best director awards.
It was not all glory. When I ran for office as Student Council president, I lost. When I signed up for the soccer team I spent all of my time on the bench (for good reason!)
For me, part of the magic was the way we could get to meet — and learn from — fellow students, through casual exchanges at the Rec Hut, sitting in for a hand of bridge, gathering for one of the many club meetings. I could hang out with a group of students who’d trek across campus from the residences to dance at a small restaurant with a juke box that cost a quarter a tune. Ted Weems’ Heartache was au courant, along with Glen Miller’s In the Mood.
It was on such an outing that I met a gorgeous blond named Aloise. I’d had no idea of different math ‘systems’ other than the decimal one until Aloise explained that there could be binary and duodecimal both of which had advantages. Wow!
As the Favourite Things pitch put it I truly “revelled in life on campus!”