(For part one of this blog see here)
Day Six: Thursday, September 16
In the afternoon, we get our sectioning envelopes back with classes that have now been assigned by some mysterious process unknown to us. I’m a little disappointed as I have classes pretty much every day of the week, and my last class, History 121, won’t finish till 2:30 on Friday. I’m told that one can request a section change and I knock on a couple of doors in History, ultimately ending up chatting with the pipe puffing Professor William McCready, undergraduate coordinator in History, who patiently explains why sections are evenly balanced and that a move is not likely unless I find someone who wants to switch. Apparently, the timetabling is not done for my convenience! It will turn out that I will love my section and my History instructor, the late Professor Stewart Webster; I’ll also end up doing a couple of courses with the same Professor McCready in future years, the resident medievalist. Conclusion: the timetable thing was nothing to get stressed about.
In the evening we are all taken off to Lake Ontario Park where there is a mini midway with rides and miniature golf. At the miniature golf line I first make the acquaintance of a student from New Brunswick named Lyse Doucet. 39 years later, in 2015, I will be reading a citation for Lyse at Convocation as she gets an honorary degree as one of Canada’s most high profile and courageous international journalists. One simply does not know who is going to end up doing what at that point, and who will continue to figure prominently in one’s life.
Day Seven: Friday, September 17
Registration. We’ve heard fearsome tales of this. We take our sectioning envelopes, and our cheque books, and pass through a kind of Rube Goldberg human machine in the Jock Harty Arena (then a few years old, torn down in 2008) from station to station. By the time we get to the end of this assembly line we are registered, have paid our fees, and know exactly where we need to be on Monday for class. The whole system has worked quite flawlessly, the design of a famously eccentric Queen’s math professor, Ralph Clench. And indeed, the History department has assigned those of us in History 121 some advance reading on the subject of intellectual history, so I have homework to do for Tuesday’s first history class.
A snapshot from the 1976 TriColour Yearbook.
Evening fun is a boat cruise, then called, the ‘booze cruise’ in those less vigilant days. I don’t drink at this stage and have no objection to alcohol, but will admit to having felt a bit awkward being the only one who doesn’t imbibe. I had earlier decided to take the alternative Friday entertainment, a concert by the David Bromberg band (a blues group still around 40 years later!). But at the last, when it’s clear I’m the only one doing so, I switch back to the boat cruise. Listening to Dave will have to wait a few years.
There are also meetings of faculty societies and we are introduced to ASUS. People run for their year society. On a whim, I run for treasurer of Arts ’80 and discover a few days later that I have been elected. Apart from a couple of years of involvement in the History department student council, later on, this will be my sole experience of student government.
Day Eight: Saturday, September 18
I finally update my family at home on how I’m doing. Phone calls are expensive in those days and they will be minimal. Some serious homesickness is setting in as I’ve now been here for a week. But there is a football game against Bishop’s (an institution I’d never heard of but will end up teaching at for a year, exactly a decade later), and in the evening there is a dance in Leonard Cafeteria featuring a past-its-prime Canadian band called Edward Bear.
A snapshot from the 1976 Tricolour Yearbook
Day Nine: Sunday, September 19
This is clearly intended as a calming day. The idea is to get us out of ‘fun’ mode and into ‘academic’ mode. Back then there was a charming tradition called ‘Frosh-Prof dinners’ where faculty members would invite a Gael group to their house for an informal meal. We get pizza at the home of an anatomy prof named Dr. Mackinnon. I never saw him subsequently but remember the meal and the back yard and have met many people over the years who were taught by him (Dr. Mackinnon sadly died a few years ago).
After our dinner, we are all marched over to either the Bews or the Bartlett gym. We sit on old bleachers and our dean, a man called Dr. Duncan Sinclair, who wears a turtleneck sweater, speaks to us about life at Queen’s and academics. One line sticks with me: “there are only students at Queen’s; some of us are on the other side of the desk, but we are all students”. Later in life, as a dean and then principal, I will frequently quote this (I have related this account to Dr. Sinclair, an award winning, Medical Hall of Fame physiologist as I’ve gotten to know him quite well in the past few years, and he is one of the many elder statesmen of Queen’s whose voice still carries great weight on campus). I will not see Dr. Sinclair again till he hoods me at my Convocation in June 1980.
It’s back to the residence and a reasonably early night, though it’s a pretty noisy hallway with lots of stereos blasting. Dave Bellamy, a Sci ’79 student across the hall, plays Supertramp’s ‘School’ frequently and loudly. I will retaliate in due course, when my record player arrives, with a lot of Carly Simon and K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
Day Ten: Monday, September 20
Finally, the first day of class is here. My alarm clock goes off. The first song I hear on my first day of class is George Baker’s Paloma Blanca, a schmaltz top 40 hit from the summer of ’76. (To this day it is not clear to me why I remember this fact.)
After lovely weather during frosh week, it is pouring outside. I find Kingston Hall and my first class, English 110. Good news! My new pal Gayle from my frosh group is in this class. So are three people I don’t know yet but who will each become good friends. David Elmy is from Belleville, has a single room (and a TV!) in Gordon House. We will lose touch in the 90s but have reconnected—he is now a successful businessman in Vancouver, having won the medal in English in our year. Kate Revington is from London, Ontario and she will be in my Philosophy and Classics sections also. Also an English Major, she is now the University Secretary at Guelph. And, there is Glenn Stairs, from Trenton, son of a minister and now a Kingston social worker and one of the smartest people I will meet in my four years. I am still in touch with all three.
The prof is a 5’ 6” slight bundle of energy called Professor W. Craig Ferguson (“Mr. Ferguson” he prefers to be called, regarding “Professor” as superfluous and “Dr.” as an affectation). He wears a gown like professors from a Hollywood version of academia. I am not unfamiliar with universities given my academic family, but I am not prepared for this. He seems a bit of a disciplinarian (note: Glenn Stairs, mentioned above, and I, now take Craig, now retired for some years, out for lunch from time to time.) The class ends with our first essay assigned: on the Wife of Bath’s tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Fortunately my Grade 12 class read some of Chaucer the previous year.
It’s pouring outside as I leave Kingston Hall. I head over to Ellis Hall for my first classical literature class. Prof Richard Bernabei is a polar opposite to Prof Ferguson. In shirtsleeves with no tie or jacket, and chain smoking through the fifty minutes (yes, this was allowed, and students could smoke too), he tells us about the books we will need and how fantastic the plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are. “You will never read better plays in any language”. “Including Shakespeare?” Someone murmurs. “Yes, including Shakespeare!” Prof Bernabei is a character in his own right, a keen follower of JFK conspiracy theories, and someone, we are unaware at the time, battling some inner demons that will, sadly, kill him prematurely before I graduate. I think of him often to this day.
After this class, I go to the bookstore in Clark Hall. I pick up my textbooks, spending a whopping $110.00 on them. (My tuition that year, by the way, was $600.00). It’s still wet, so I head back to the residence and my room, make a cup of tea, put on some music and reflect on the first ten days of life at Queen’s. Roommate Randy, a Science major, is having his day out in Bio, Chem and Math so we don’t see a lot of each other till the evening.
A snapshot from the 1976 Tricolour Yearbook
Still ahead are Politics 110 with Prof George Perlin (who looks to most of us like Lenin), and on Tuesday I will have my first Philosophy Class with Prof Albert Fell and my first History 121 with Prof Webster. I stayed in almost constant touch with Prof Webster over many years, up till his death in the early 2000s. I run into Prof Fell (along with Prof Perlin, the source of my lowest grades in first year) a great deal these days and have always regretted not taking his Philosophy of History course later in my degree—as someone who works in Historiography I’d have found it very useful.
At this point I am ten days into “my future at Queen’s.” I know nothing of how the academic year will go, or indeed even if I will still be here a year hence as home seems a long way away. (All that’s behind me by January; the marks are generally okay, I’ve made a circle of friends, and now 18, then the drinking age, I can socialize a bit more at events like floor parties.) And, no, I have no idea that I will eventually teach here as postdoc in the mid 80s, much less come back a third time, as Principal.
So, to anyone in first year having doubts or fretting, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Give it time. Talk to your dons and friends. Make this year, and your time at Queen’s, your own. You’ve no idea how your future at Queen’s will work out or where these roads you are exploring in your early weeks here will lead.