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The Magazine Of Queen's University

2017 Issue 4: How we learn

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A new life

A new life

[photo of Douglas Shane and his dog]
Courtesy of Douglas Shane

Douglas Shane and his dog Shanti on the road north.

In the spring of 1970 I was studying English and philosophy at the University of Delaware when the upheaval around the Vietnam War and the deaths of students at Kent State convinced my Canadian wife and me that it was time to leave the States. It took no more than two weeks to convert our VW bus to a home-on-wheels, box up our possessions, see that the papers for our pets - an Alaskan malamute and a tiger cat - were in order, and hold a yard sale.

We'll know it's home when we find it.

We entered Canada at a remote customs station south of Winnipeg, where it took only minutes for me to be granted landed immigrant status. We thought we wanted to settle in British Columbia, in the hip environs of Vancouver or the beckoning woodlands of rural B.C., and, after a brief stopover with family, we headed west. But those places weren't all that we had hoped for - too urban, too developed, or too remote - so we began three months of wandering eastward through the provinces, believing that "we'll know it's home when we find it."

By the third month we were in Ontario and decided to take a break by visiting Kingston, a place I had fond memories of from a family vacation 12 years earlier. Sitting on a bench along the waterfront, I saw a page of a newspaper blowing toward me and intercepted it. Picking it up, I noticed it was from the classifieds and said, "Maybe there's a place for rent." And there was: a farmhouse on the lake! I found a pay phone, called the number, got directions, found our wondrous new home, and signed the lease that evening. I later learned that the stately old farmhouse had been built by United Empire Loyalists who, like myself, had fled a war-torn place. And there was an unanticipated bonus. Upon hearing that I had been at a university in the States, our landlord suggested that I visit the Queen's campus.

"How did you hear about Queen's University?" a woman in the registrar's office inquired. "From my new landlord," I replied. She seemed unimpressed and somewhat annoyed. I did not know then that Queen's was one of Canada's top-ranked schools. Nor did I know that the quality of the education offered would be far superior to anything I had experienced before. Indeed, the academic year-long length of study for each course at Queen's was like a sumptuous feast, allowing for both breadth and depth.

[1972 yearbook photo of Douglas Shane]
Douglas Shane, 1972 Tricolor yearbook

And the professors were top-notch. In the English department alone, George Whalley, a national treasure, breathed insight into the Romantic poets; the gentle and deeply intelligent Susan Dick turned her classes on to D.H. Lawrence and Kurt Vonnegut; the impish George Clark brought Beowulf and Chaucer to raucous life. And the quality of my experience in the Department of Biology brought me close to changing majors.

Also, there was a quality in the friendships I made at Queen's - friendships that lasted for decades. I have seldom since found the joy of engagement that seemed so normal in those idyllic days. And as I got to know the merchants and other residents, Kingston, too, began to feel like home.

After graduation, "Good enough!" was a familiar rejoinder heard from prospective employers when my alma mater was mentioned. Years later, back in the States, I've always fondly remembered Queen's and Canada, both of which opened their doors to me. And I will be forever grateful.

A measure of the welcoming I found at Queen's was extended to Shanti, my Alaskan malamute. Many professors permitted him to lie next to me or under seminar tables. For some, Shanti became a sort of campus mascot, so much so that years later, after we had moved to Ottawa, a car passing on the street in front of our townhouse screeched to a stop, backed up, and the driver inquired, "Isn't that Shanti from Queen's?"


Douglas Shane, Arts'72, is a writer living in Vermont.

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 4-2017]