The First Homecoming

[Sci'41 on parade at Richardson Stadium]
Sci'41 on parade at Richardson Stadium

As the 20th century dawned and North America plunged into an industrial and urbanized world, colleges and universities found that their graduates were becoming a scattered and wandering group. At Queen’s, graduates were heading for Canada’s big cities and dispersing to the frontier of Canadian development. Scarcely a single Canadian mining camp did not, for instance, contain a bevy of Queen’s mining engineers. So, the question became: how was their alma mater to maintain a bond of loyalty as they moved further and further away?

American universities struck on the idea of tying alumni loyalty to an annual “homecoming,” an event packed with nostalgia and usually centred on football. These events also offered an opportunity for alumni to connect with the latest generation of undergraduates.

Much the same happened in Kingston, where Queen’s annual home-turf battle with the Varsity Blues (from the University of Toronto) brought alumni back to their old campus. At first, these reunions were ad hoc in nature. In October 1924, the Queen’s Journal reported that an 8-2 victory over the Blues offered a “time for the renewal of old friendships, the recalling of old memories and madness, and the visitation of the old scenes and relics of bye gone” for Queen’s “wandering sons and daughters.”

The first reunion in 1926 attracted 870 alumni drawn from the classes of 1874 to 1926. Although technically scheduled for the entire week, most of the alumni attended only the weekend events. This included the football game that was held on Saturday, November 13 between Queen's and the University of Toronto, which Queen's won 3-1. It was at this first official alumni reunion that the Alumni Association was formed, thanks to a unanimous vote by those graduates in attendance.

[Homecoming program, 1989]
Homecoming program, 1989

The Alumni Association was formed with the intention of binding the existing Queen’s 6,000 graduates into a lifelong association with their alma mater. The association would have a network of coast-to-coast branches, but its epicentre would be this annual, fall reunion in Kingston (and including a football game). The association adopted the so-called “Dix Plan” for structuring its reunions – classes would be recalled every five years and joined by those celebrating their 25th, 50th and 60th anniversary of graduation.

Over the next decades, the reunion grew in complexity into a Friday-to-Sunday merry-go-round of events that included teas, deans’ receptions, the Principal’s Ceilidh, a Saturday-morning parade down Union Street, archival displays, dinners, faculty talks and a Sunday-morning church service. 

The occasion was known as "Reunion Weekend" until students adopted the term "Homecoming" in the 1950s. Classes are invited back to campus every five years to celebrate their reunions, and as the Queen's Review often noted, Homecoming became an intergenerational affair, with parents and grandparents visiting their offspring now attending Queen’s.

Learn more about Homecoming...