Queen's University

To Queen’s from France 50 years later, "merci beaucoup"

In June 1959, I had the good fortune to receive a one-year scholarship awarded by Queen’s, with my travel to Canada paid for by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (At the time, this scholarship was awarded each year to a French student; I wonder if it still exists. [* Editor’s note: Queen’s currently has exchanges with 18 undergraduate and graduate universities and polytechniques in France; 11 of them are schools of business, the field Max chose for his year in Kingston.] It would be quite an adventure! Looking for Kingston in the Larousse dictionary, I first found Kingston, Jamaica -- certainly warmer, but probably not as stimulating intellectually, I thought. (By the way, the Kingston Trio was a real hit on both sides of the Atlantic in those days.)

I sailed from Le Havre in early September on the Italian liner Homeric, pleasurably sharing a third-class cabin with three other French exchange students, one of them a good friend and fellow graduate of Paris’s Ecole Sciences Politiques, bound for Saskatoon. On the train from Montreal to Kingston, I met some guys with Queen’s jackets in what seemed to me bizarre colours, printed with such numbers as 1960 or ’62. They were the first surprise ...but not my last.

Upon arrival on campus, I was instructed to report at the brand new (third) men’s residence, Leonard Hall (nicknamed “AlcoHall”) to meet the Don, a young professor named Reg Clark, just married to Oris, a young and charming brunette who made us all a little bit jealous of Reg. Both were very kind to me. We became close friends and still were when Prof. Clark passed away in 2003.

Thanks to Reg, I got a sunny room with a beautiful view of Lake Ontario. It was adorned with a Van Dongen painting made available by the Art Department and the then-new art gallery. 

Now began the hectic Registration Week, during which I first met Professor L.G. MacPherson, head of the School of Commerce, which I had chosen to attend (it seemed to me that Queen’s was then under Scottish leadership, with W.A. Mackintosh as Principal and Vice-Chancellor) and then the Registrar, the severe and famous Miss Jean Royce, who died a few years ago.

Everything was new and amazing to me: free telephone, the greased pole climb (I was only a spectator), CFRC radio station, football games with exciting majorettes, campus clubs, entertainments, the Alma Mater Society, the Queen’s Journal, formal dances (with a dramatic girls/boys ratio!), and Douglas Library open at night with free access to books. Another novelty was toasting the Queen with a glass of tomato juice in Leonard’s great dining hall, since liquor was really restricted if not forbidden.

I was in charge of tutoring French 01, and the assigned readings of popular but excellent contemporary authors like Simenon and Pagnol were very challenging for a French student raised in the classic tradition.

Jean Paradis from Montreal and I took charge of the French Club and had the idea of projecting French films (graciously provided by the French Consulate in Montreal), among them Les grandes manoeuvres starring Gérard Philippe and Michèle Morgan. However, to get fellow students to attend, we featured Brigitte Bardot in our advertising, though she appeared for no more than one or two minutes. You can imagine the frustration, if not the rage, of the disappointed male spectators!

And there are other memories, as when I was kindly invited by Pete Masson, whose room was next to mine, to spend Christmas with his family in Windsor, and when I travelled to Montreal and discovered the French Canadians in Jean Paradis’ family ... another world! I recall having lots of friends for tennis (I joined the team) and for skiing.

The social and economic environment was really new for me 50 years ago, but now it is difficult to imagine the gap that then existed between Europe and North America. As Commerce students, we were assigned to visit a downtown Kingston grocery store (Cooke’s), famous for its coffee and cheese and for always attracting many tourists eager to see its historic, last-century charm. I was amazed to discover it looked like the most modern grocery of my hometown, Carpentras, in Provence! I also discovered shopping centres, which did not exist in Europe at that time.

Looking back at Tricolor’60 and rereading the numerous letters I exchanged with my family while at Queen’s, my feelings go beyond nostalgia; I’m convinced that this was one of my key formative years.

In May 1960, I left Kingston for New York City and flew back home on the first Air France transatlantic service on a Boeing 707. It was time for me to join the army for my mandatory service -- two absolutely miserable years. What a change! Now I’ve discovered that most French students who attended North American universities at that time had difficulty re-entering France’s conservative and even mean-minded society. A famous French writer and journalist, Philippe Labro, wrote a beautiful book called L’étudiant étranger (translated and published in English as The Foreign Student) describing this re-entry phenomenon. However, we did play a major role in the modernization of France and, though ageing, we are still pushing ideas and ideals.

[Max with the Queen's French Club]Max, (left) with the Queen's French Club

I came back to Queen’s in the 1970s and ‘80s to visit Reg and Oris Clark, a little disappointed by the numerous new buildings that encroached upon the beautiful campus of my memory. I am not disappointed, though, when I check the internet from time to time and find that Queen’s has become one of the best universities in North America, and for the School of Business, one of the best in the world.

I came back to France with mixed feelings and in fact never recovered from a new Anglo-Saxon weltanshau (world view) which was enhanced later at the University of Pennsylvania.

Again, thank you, Queen’s, and my best regards to Queen’s past, present and future professors and students.

Max Falque
Managing Director, International Center for Research on Environmental Issues
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Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #1
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