Move in day is always a special time. It’s manifestly a huge day for new students and their parents, with a lot of goodbyes, hugs, some tears and a lot of hellos. It’s a big day for dons and residence staff, and for orientation leaders many of whom volunteer on move in even though the faculty part of the week doesn’t begin until Wednesday. Alumni even enjoy watching it and thinking back to their own arrival.
That’s always the case for me. On move in day I am usually to be seen along with my wife Julie wandering the residence halls and stairways randomly greeting new students and their families. And I always visit my old floor and room in Brockington House.
This year is special for me personally, as I mark 40 years since the day I first set foot on this campus. Things were different then. There was no Internet, and no elaborate campus tours. All I knew of Queen’s I had derived from a small blue booklet all applicants were sent, “Your Future at Queen’s.” I had applied to two other Ontario schools, but I was certainly keenest on Queen’s having heard of it for many years at a private school I had previously attended.
I was, of course, thrilled to get in (I recall the day), and to get a second letter a few days later with a small but welcome scholarship. I enjoyed the summer, working at a local company that sold discount soft drinks, hanging out at local beaches and lakes with my high school friends, and getting ready for my university adventure. In August I spent a month in Europe, partly with my paternal grandparents in London, partly backpacking around.
I came back to Winnipeg at the very beginning of September and had a week to pack and say my goodbyes. On my last night, I went to two parties, one for a classmate who was getting married, and a smaller one thrown by a few of my closest friends. They had some going away presents for me including a small kettle, a couple of mugs, and small desk plaque that I still have reading ‘mafia headquarters’.
Here’s a day-by-day account of my introduction to Queen’s as I recall it 40 years on.
Day One: Saturday, September 11
I get dropped at Winnipeg airport and embark on a plane to Toronto along with two or three other students from Winnipeg all heading for Queen’s. At Pearson we all collect our bags and hop in a large car headed for Kingston. I am the second last to be dropped off, on the Collingwood Street side of Gordon-Brockington Hall. It is well past dark at this point. I am greeted at the door by a tall second-year engineer who happens to be on my floor, 3rd Brockington and helps me in with my suitcases (I’d sent a trunk ahead; it has the address sticker on it to this day). That young man is Charlie Lund, Sci ’79, son of two Queen’s alumni from Alberta and now himself one of our most loyal and active Calgary alumni. I am just getting settled when a fellow floormate, Michael Campbell, Sci ’79 pops his head in and introduces himself. Mike will end up as one of my closest friends over the next three years and he and I will share an apartment on Alfred Street in third year with two other engineers.
It’s late, and I’m tired, so I save exploring for the following day. At this point I’ve still seen nothing of Queen’s campus. Oh, and I’m in a double room, but there’s as yet no roommate. Could it be I don’t have one?
Day Two: Sunday, September 12
I grab some breakfast at Leonard cafeteria, which normally isn’t open on Sunday’s but is this weekend. I recall my first view of the then-Leonard Field, the lake, Morris Hall and McNeill House. It’s a bit like Dorothy opening the door of her house on to a view of Oz. What is this place and why am I here? A first bit of apprehension hits – have I made the right choice in coming? There are no computer cards for meals; we have standard issue cardboard cards, which get holes punched in them as we queue up.
Later that morning I meet my roommate – yes, I have one. R.J. (Randy) McCullough is from Parham, Ontario, which he describes as ‘forty miles north of here’. The Parham farm kid and the 17-year-old from a large prairie city…how’s this going to work? (It worked just fine and Randy and I keep in touch from time to time).
My instructions say to head over to Jeffery Hall to find out the number of my ‘Gael’ group – I’m in 109. I later wander over to what is now Nixon Field where I meet my Gael group leaders, Marion, Greg (who knows my roommate) and Karen (now Dr. Karen Smith, Associate Dean of Continuing Professional Development for Queen’s School of Medicine). And of course I meet my fellow frosh. I do not recall all of them and much less their surnames though we are all asked to say where we are from: Frank is an aspiring meds student (and now a very successful cardiac surgeon). Elsie is from Delhi, Ontario. Lee is from Larder Lake. There is a girl from Ancaster who will later be in my philosophy class. And, there is Gayle Stoness, from Seeley’s Bay, a future Queen’s career administrator (and briefly at McMaster with her psychiatrist husband at the same time in the early 2000s) who 40 years later remains a close friend.
I head back to the residence for dinner where they have designated tables to meet floormates. One of the first people to introduce himself is Bob Pritchard (Sci ’80) whose roommate is Bob Spies, also Sci ’80 – they will be known on the floor as ‘the Bobs’. It turns out that I have the room to myself again tonight – Randy’s gone home to Parham for the evening. There is a Brockington House meeting in the common room where we meet the dons and the wardens (or senior dons – yes, they were actually called wardens). The wardens are John and Jane Johnston, he a young lawyer and she a nurse. I have seen them many times since my return to Queen’s in 2009 and in my more homesick moments in my first term – and there are a few – they will be great listeners.
Day Three: Monday, September 13
This is the first full day of frosh activity. We get a bit of a tour of campus. We are treated to a movie called The Academic Cloister, by a budding student filmmaker named Michael McMillan (who will go on with several of his friends to found the incredibly successful Atlantis Films). And, we are handed something called a ‘sectioning envelope’ with a class timetable. We get a library tour of Douglas. The entrance then is at the second level, and a security guard checks backpacks going out of the building, not in, to make sure that books have been properly checked out. There are two major reading rooms up top. There is first, the Reserve Reading room with lovely oaken paneling and stained glass (now known as the Harry Potter Room, but at that point J.K. Rowling is 11 years old and Harry and Voldemort are two decades from conception). And across the hall, in garish early 70s purple fabric, the so called ‘Purple Passion Pit.’
Day Four: Tuesday, September 14
We are left to our own devices in the morning to visit academic departments and look into courses we might wish to take. I’m still dithering between English and History. Marion, the arts student among our Gaels, proffers advice on sections to take (and ones to avoid). I pick History 121 (intellectual history, the course recommended for potential history majors); English 110; a classics course (Intro to Classical Literature); Philosophy 117; and Politics 110. I try to pick sections in such a way that I will have Friday off. I’m not sure why, since going home is not a factor, but it seems others are trying to avoid Friday classes so I do the same.
In the afternoon we hand our sectioning envelopes, duly filled out with preferred timetables, to our Gaels. I’m pretty sure we all go and have dinner at Karen’s house at 81 Division St., which is still standing to this day.
Day Five: Wednesday, September 15
It’s Wednesday and I will admit that day is a bit of a blank. I have a bit of a sense that our Gaels are struggling to find things to keep us occupied. The modern arrangement for Orientation which has a residence half and a faculty half is a great improvement; I could have done with a bit more acculturation to residence life and my floormates (and feel a bit of a fish out of water, and an underage one at that, for most of my first term in residence).
…stay tuned for Part Two, coming next week, where I recount my first trip to Lake Ontario Park, my experience with registration and the first day of class.