Queen's University

Queen's in the '70s . . . the 1870s, that is

Speaking with a writer for the Alumni Review in April 1930, John Strange, BA 1877, LLB 1883, recalled his student days at Queen’s in the 1870s.

The memory of John Strange of Kingston, goes back in Queen's history, and he has a particular interest in the Law School, from which he graduated. Before the time of that Law Faculty, which had been organized by Principal Grant, there had been an earlier one founded by Strange's uncle, Alexander Campbell, BA 1862, later Sir Alexander Campbell, in collaboration with George W. Draper, later county court judge, and J. J. Burrows, a judge in later years. The connection of Sir Alexander Campbell and Judge Draper with the Queen's Law Faculty lasted for several years.

[Medical Quadrangle as it appeared in the 1870s] Medical Quadrangle as it appeared in the 1870s

This earlier Law Faculty was established in 1860 in Strange's childhood. There was at one time a fine portrait of the subsequent Law School, and only a dim, though recognizable, reproduction of it is in existence.

The Law Faculty, as Strange knew it as a student, consisted of a later generation of lawyers—C. M. Britton, later Mr. Justice Britton, who taught Common Law; R. V. Rogers, BA 1861, LLD 1895, a distinguished Kingston lawyer who had earlier been earlier principal of the Kingston Grammar School; John McIntyre, BA 1861, MA 1872, a man of varied erudition, who taught Criminal Law; G. M, Macdonnell, BA 1860, who taught Real Property, and who had other close and lasting affiliations with Queen's; and R. T. Walkem, who taught Equity. This school, with gradually changing personnel, lasted until the mid-1890s, and its graduates were numerous and distinguished; but the late James Gildersleeve, Law 1863, Registrar of Frontenac, who died last year, was the last of the graduates of the earlier school.

Law lecturers could be gruff

John Strange's contemporaries at the Law School included Herbert Mowat, BA 1881, LLB 1886, later Mr. Justice Mowat, who died last year, and the late John Gale, who was for a time associated with Stanley Chown, BA 1889, now police magistrate of Renfrew. The Law students had little if any corporate life, and were normalIy young men articled to barristers of the city. Strange was articled to G. M. Macdonnell. Walkem, one of the Law lecturers, was at times quite gruff. On one occasion he arrived at the University to give his afternoon lecture at the moment when students were debouching from Professor Nicholson's class. Walkem strode in, was struck with the stale atmosphere, and not noticing the diminutive professor behind the rostrum, cried, “It's disgracefully close in here." Then "Nicky's" voice came from his desk with the modulation of the classical scholar, “There, sir, is the particular shade that I am in the habit of elevating." Walkem with another growl strode, slightly abashed, to the window.

Strange also remembers Nicholson as a preacher of renown. He frequently occupied the pulpit of St. Andrew's church, where he would discourse nobly—possibly for three-quarters of an hour. His long prayers were nobly Johnsonian in their pious, but fruitful rotundity.

There was, of course, a Medical Faculty in those days, consisting of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Kingston, which worked in the stone building at the foot of Princess Street and which did not return to' Queen's grounds until 1881. The building they occupied for these years had been originally the head office of the Commercial Bank, later absorbed in the Merchants Bank. It had at that time collonades in front, in a style common among public buildings at that time. While the Medical School was downtown the students came to the University only for their examinations and their degrees, and relations with the Arts men were very slight.

Strange retains a surprisingly accurate memory of his own days as an undergraduate in Arts. When he entered Queen's in 1873 he belonged to what was considered a large year, for it numbered no less than fourteen members. In a college of that size it was natural that all the members of one faculty would know one another fairly well.

The next class—juniors when Strange entered—was in the opinion of that day not only the largest but the most brilliant that had yet come to Queen's.

The senior year at that time included many well-known names. Donald McIntyre, BA 1874, LLD 1913, was its eventual Prince of Wales prizeman; he became K.C., chairman of the Ontario Municipal and Railway Board, was laureated LL.D. by his alma mater) and was a Trustee of the University. His class also included James Craig, BA 1874, who was for many years school inspector at Fergus, M.P. for his county, and who recently died. There was also John Inkerman McCracken, BA 1874, now a retired lawyer in Ottawa. Two other deceased members of this rare year were George Gillies, BA 1874, of the well-known lumber family, and William Gibson, BA 1874, MD 1881, of Belleville.

The next class—juniors when Strange entered—was in the opinion of that day not only the largest but the most brilliant that had yet come to Queen's. Drs. David Mundell, BA 183, MD 1886, and J. Herald, BA 1876, MA 1880, MD 1884, later brilliant servants of the Medical School, were included. Dr. James McArthur, BA 1895, MD 1897, of Ailsa Craig, ON, was among them, a short stalky figure who was a champion at throwing the heavy hammer and at the 100-yards sprint. He became an assiduous physician and died from overwork. Rev. Dr. John Pringle, Ba 1875, DD 1904, veteran minister and missionary, still remains vigorous, and Charles McKillop, BA 1875—not long deceased—John Mordy, Ba 1875, MA 1878, of a family still represented at Kingston, Henry Asselstine, BA 1876, of a family well-known at Queen's, are also on the class-roll. So were Rev. Thomas Glassford, BA 1875, and Tom Cumberland, BA 1875, LLD 1923, now the venerable retired judge of Brandon, MB, who was prizeman of his year. Rev. Dr. H. A. Scott, who recently celebrated his golden-wedding anniversary at Perth, and who also holds an honorary degree from Queen's, was a member of the Class of 1875, as were also the popular R. W. Shannon, BA 1875, MA 1879, retired legislative counsel for Saskatchewan, and the late John B. Dow, BA 1875, of Whitby, ON. Archie McMurchy, BA 1875, MD 1883, had to retire for a few months on account of ill-health, but graduated later. He lives at North Bay, ON. Rev. Alex. Macgillivray, BA 1872, brother of the late Rev. Dr. Malcolm Macgillivray, BA 1872, MA 1874, of Kingston, entered Queen's with this year, but completed his work in Toronto.

The preceeding class

The class immediately preceding Strange's was smaller. Its prizeman was the late John Brown McLaren, BA 1876, MA 1876, who entered intending to go into Theology, but changed his course and moved to the West. He was a brother of Rev. Dr. Ebenezer McLaren, BA 1870, MA 1873, of Vancouver. The late Rev. John Ferguson was a popular member of this year—Arts 1876—and also Patrick Anderson Macdonald, BA 1876, now Master in Chancery at Winnipeg. Andrew Nugent, BA 1876, who died two years ago in Ottawa, was another colleague. So was James G. Stuart, BA 1876, son of the Presbyterian minister at Brantford, ON, a close friend of Strange's—Mrs. Strange had been a Brantford girl. Mr. Stuart died while a minister at Oakville. Rev. Hugh Cameron, who married Miss Rose of Kingston, and was for many years Presbyterian minister at Morrisburg, also was of the class of '75. So was George Claxton, of Inverary, who later studied law in Toronto, but went West, ranching near Calgary, and later returned to Toronto, where he died. Rev. Gilbert Curry Patterson was originally of this year, but he later joined 1877 and died a few years ago in Western Ontario.

And now for Strange's own classmates of 1877. He is modest about them and tells of a rebuke they received from Dr. Williamson on one of their less bright mornings. He told the class that "You would all make good surveyors. You could at least hold the chain!"

[Principal William Snodgrass]William Snodgrass served as Principal in the years 1864 to 1877.

Student life in those days was, as Strange remembers it, a fairly serious and sober affair. Though there were moments by no means entirely monotonous. Such was the occasion when two members of Arts 1877, both subsequently highly respected members of their teaching and clerical professions, paid a visit to Morton's Brewery, at the foot of Gordon Street-near where the Power House now is. They returned to their classes, with evidence of their visit, and the professor in one class hailed them before the Principal for disciplinary action.

Principal Snodgrass was stern in such matters, but the second witness for the prosecution, as it were, was Williamson, the Vice-Principal, who wished to hurt no man. But despite his generous statement that the two men charged had been in his class on the afternoon concerned and that he had observed nothing untoward in their deportment, they were sentenced. Part of the sentence included depriving them of their gowns for the rest of the term. Immediately complaint arose from the student body, and a parade of students down Princess Street and out King protested publicly against the punishment awarded their companions. But such events were rare.

The prizeman of 1877 was the late John R. Lavell, BA 1877, at one time Member of Parliament for North Leeds and Grenville, and later a barrister at Edmonton. The late Rev. James Cumberland, BA 1877, MA 1880—a cousin of Judge Cumberland—beloved Presbyterian minister of Amherst Island, was another colleague. So was Frank Drummond, BA 1877, pioneer of Winnipeg, whose nephew Leonard, son of the Deputy-Receiver-General Drummond, also came to Queen's. Charles MacDowall, BA 1877, was a distinguished teacher in the Upper Ottawa Valley and the late David Philip Clapp was also a successful dominie. There was "little" John Hamilton--called "Paddy"-later a doctor, but known to his contemporaries as a lively and somewhat eccentric Irish-Canadian.

There was also an American, Henry Dyckman, for many years a successful minister in the United States, and whose widow, a daughter of Mr. James Leslie, stiJ] lives in Kingston. The active journalist, soldier, and traveller, General Lewis Shannon—brother of R. W. Shannon, BA 1875, MA 1879—is also a member of 1877. So was "Joe" White, later Rev. Joseph White, rector of St. George's, Toronto. With them were W. H. Irvine, now fruit growing in the Okanagan Valley, at Oyama, BC; Henry Lunan-M.D. of McGill-now a doctor in Campbellton, NB; and the late Rev. Alex. McKillop.

Two members of the year dropped out without graduating. These were Bob Pringle, later Member of Parliament for Cornwall, and Peter O'Brian, a well-known though peripatetic member of an old Prescott county family.

Dr. Snodgrass, of course, was Principal during the time Strange was an undergraduate. The doctor was aloof in his manner and never won the intimacy of his students, who, however, held him in the highest respect not without a loyal affection

In those days the annual athletics competitions formed the major interest in sports, but the students also played football—usually on the Cricket Field. This was the old Canadian football, with a great deal of kicking in it-Association football plus catching. On one occasion Queen's sent a team to Toronto, where they were defeated. Surely in that far past, before Canadian rugby had taken final form and before the Americans had heard of the game, this must have been, the first Intercollegiate football game on the continent. The Queen's players in this game, in the autumn of 1874, included (along with a few others whose names eluded John Strange): John Pringle, John Herald, James MacArthur, J. B. Dow (captain) , Henry Asselstine, R.V.Shannon, Gilbert “Curry” Patterson, Charles McKillop, George Gillies (one of the best), Hugh Scott, P. A. MacDonald, and Tom Cumberland (also an excellent player). Strange was not certain whether Nugent, McMurchy, Frank Drummond, and Lunan, all footballers, were in this particular game.

When the collection was being taken up for the expenses of the trip to Toronto, the Staff were asked for a dollar apiece. But Professor Ferguson was a little better supplied with worldly treasure than were most of his colleagues, and when the paper was to be passed to him the single signature on that sheet was fictitiously marked $5, as a gentle hint. Professor Ferguson, unwitting, in splendid fashion produced the fiver! Those were indeed more spacious days than we are apt to realize.

William Snodgrass was Principal

Dr. Snodgrass, of course, was Principal during the time Strange was an undergraduate. The doctor was aloof in his manner and never won the intimacy of his students, who, however, held him in the highest respect not without a loyal affection; and they realized the tremendous effort he put forth towards building up the College. Indeed his labours during the financial crisis at the close of his period of office hastened his death.

If, on the whole, athletics did not play so large a part in student life then as they did afterwards, debating was maintained at a very high level. On one occasion in particular, Toronto sent a team to Queen's. The leading Toronto speaker was a student of Hon. Edward Blake; and Queen's, which was in those days a strongly Conservative college, became a little tired of hearing what Blake thought about the subject. Queen's won, and her victory was due to the brilliant oratorical and argumentative powers of Alfred Gandier, BA 19884, MA 1887, now Principal of Emmanuel College, Toronto. A contemporary friend who was not a jot behind others in his admiration stated, however, that there was in his address something which he dubbed "sermonic."

Debates on set subjects were common also at meetings of the Alma Mater Society (AMS). On one occasion John McIntyre, who at that time was a young lawyer practising in Kingston, led his supporters to a brilliant victory in favour of Imperial Federation. His first supporter was George Webster, BA 1875, then an undergraduate, later a lawyer at Brockville in the firm of John F. Wood, MP. He subsequently went to the Department of Justice at Ottawa, but died fairly young. He was the debating heavyweight of his generation at Queen's, was extremely popular, and was colloquially known as "Daniel" Webster. The third member of that team was R. W. Shannon, BA 1875, MA 1879, now in Regina.

Opposing them in this debate was a team led by Tom Alexander, who with John McIntyre alone compared with Webster in debate. Alexander was a Kingstonian, a brother-in-law of Lady Hendrie, and after two years at Queen's entered the Department of Inland Revenue. At the time of this debate he was stationed in Kingston. He afterward went to Windsor and became Collector of Customs at London, where he died.
Supporting Alexander in this contest were John Ferguson, BA 1876, M<Div 1879, and George Claxton, BA 1876, both able debaters. Another of the able speakers at that time was John Herald, who was a spellbinder when he was in good form. He became in time not only a beloved practitioner but a stalwart of the Medical School and a prominent local politician.

The AMS debates were by no means confined to set and political subjects. In those days the students' society had a much greater influence on the policy of the Trustees than it did in after years, and John Strange remembers a particularly acrimonious discussion about the College coat of arms, although the point at issue has escaped his memory. To a limited extent party politics entered the AMS elections, and when there was a movement to defeat John McIntyre—some of the Grits, thinking he had been too long in power in the AMS—the Tories rallied to his defence. There was one particularly close election when R. V. Rogers was defeated by McIntyre by only 10 votes. This however was not a political division as Rogers was also a Conservative.

National elections nearly affected Queen's

The Dominion election on the Canadian Pacific scandals nearly brought punishment on Queen's. Sir John A. Macdonald came back to Kingston for re-election, and as he had been a valued friend of the University and was brother-in-law to Vice-Principal Williamson, he had a strong following in the College and among the Staff. There was, however, a minority of opinion led by Professor Mowat, a recent convert to Liberalism, who henceforth supported the political fortunes of his brother, Sir Oliver Mowat.

Open voting prevailed in 1874, and it was known that the majority of the Staff had stuck to their friend, Sir John A. Political feeling was very strong, and a leading member of the City Council, who was a Liberal, in revenge carried a motion calling upon the University to pay taxes, from which they had previously been relieved. Fortunately, the motion was later rescinded. But with all this seriousness and close connection with affairs of state, student life had its amenities and its own perennial conceits. The passion for hairlessness, which has swept over the modern masculine world had not developed at that time, and a man to prove his manliness wore a beard, or in smarter fashion, side-whiskers.

By the time an undergraduate received his degree he was supposed not only to have acquired wisdom but also the maturity to sprout his whiskers in the mode of the day. John Strange's own photograph on graduation shows him with side-whiskers and monocle, specially grown and worn for the occasion. It was feared, however, that one or two members of the class might not be able to make the grade in their personal appearance. There were doubts about Hugh Cameron and Patrick Anderson Macdonald-"Andy," as he was called. Hugh Cameron one afternoon rubbed his hirsute sprouts and prophesied, "Oh, I shall be all right, but I don't know about Andy." The remark spread through the class. One wonders whether the venerable Master in Chancery of Manitoba—as Andy now is—remembers these personal frivolities of his student days.

Reprinted from the April 1930 edition of the Alumni Review.

Online-only contentOnline-only article
2010-08-18
Copyright © Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000
Last updated at 3:57 pm EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
iTunes is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.