Candlelighting Ceremony

[Dr Katherine Wynne-Edwards presents speech to incumbent female students]

Dr Katherine Wynne-Edwards presents speech to incumbent female students. Courtesy of Kristina Uffe.

This welcoming ceremony for first-year women students dates from 1889, just 11 years after women were first admitted to degree programs at Queen's. The first ceremony is said to have taken place in one of the rooms under the tower in Theological Hall.

Traditionally, each first-year student at the ceremony was matched with an upper-year woman. Both would carry a candle and the upper-year student would symbolically welcome the junior student to the university by lighting her candle from her own.

The ceremony also included speeches from a prominent female guest, usually from outside the University, and from prominent women within the University, including the Dean of Women. A standard text of welcome was also read at every Candlelighting Ceremony.

As the number of women at Queen's grew rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, the pairing of senior and junior students came to an end. First-year students lit their candles instead from faculty representatives who walked through the hall with candles lit from a central flame.

About the same time, some other customs that bore the stamp of the 1950s emerged. For example, each candle was tied with a coloured ribbon and the women were told that the colour indicated which faculty her future husband would come from; a red ribbon meant she would marry a man in Arts, yellow meant an engineer, and so on.

They were also told that the number of drips of wax on their candle foretold how many children they would have. These customs survived well into the 1980s before protests from students and some women faculty brought them to an end.

In more recent years, the ceremony lost much of its old formality - still featuring a guest speaker and a standard text of welcome, but also including more spontaneous performances by students. The ceremony was originally organized by the Levana Society which represented women's interests on campus from 1888 until it joined the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society in 1967. It is unclear when the ceremony was discontinued, however the last mention of the event appears in a 2003 Queen's Gazette .