For more than 60 years, Alfred Pierce was known to generations of students as Alfie. He is a legendary figure in Queen’s history for his association with Queen’s sports teams. He was said to personify the spirit of Queen’s, regularly appearing at Queen's football games, cheering on the players and exciting the crowd. Queen's history with Alfie Pierce, a black man, remains deeply complicated and troubling. Both celebrated and abused, the question of how to best honour his legacy is a lingering issue.
Records show that Alfred Pierce was born in Kingston in 1874, and baptized at St. James' Anglican Church the same year. Son of Albert Pierce, a cook, and Margaret McCaghey (née Monaghan), he attended Gordon Street Public School, at the intersection of what is now University Avenue and Bader Lane, where Ban Righ Hall now stands.
As a boy, Alfie frequented the playing fields around Queen's. When he was 15, he caught the eye of Queen's football captain Guy Curtis, who named him as "team mascot," and thus the young black man became the charm piece or object of amusement for the team of white men.
Mr. Pierce was a talented football and baseball player and was a star of the eastern Ontario lacrosse circuit until his early 40s.
The longer he stayed at Queen's, the more he became a legend. Wearing a tricolour uniform and shako top hat given to him by the university, his marches across the football field in front of stands of cheering students prior to games were a fixture right up until his death, the result of a stroke, in 1951.
Mr. Pierce lived in a room under Richardson Stadium (now the site of Tindall Field), in the summer, and moved to the boiler room of the Jock Harty arena in winter. The university paid him $10 a week for his services as a night watchman and for doing general maintenance.
Conflicting reports exist about how Mr. Pierce was treated when he was not on the football field, up to and including his funeral. In “Deconstructing the Queen’s Spirit,” a 1971 scathing indictment of Queen’s and how it treated Mr. Pierce, Amina Ally describes how he had to share living quarters in the arena, as well as his mascot position, with Boo Hoo the bear (who, after two years, was sent to the zoo because she became vicious). In all the articles written about Alfred Pierce, Ms. Ally notes that none explore the consequences of the bear’s behaviour and Mr. Pierce's personal safety. After his death, his body lay on the gymnasium floor (Jackson Hall) for two hours while the Board of Control stood and watched. His few possessions were sold to Queen’s in order to pay for his funeral.
This contrasts starkly to newspaper accounts of his lying in state in the gym, surrounded by floral tributes, with hundreds of townspeople, students, educators and co-workers coming to pay their last respects. After his funeral at St. James’ he was buried in the Church of England section in Kingston’s Cataraqui Cemetery. The class of Meds’32 paid for his tombstone, inscribed to a “faithful servant of Queen’s.”
His legacy is recognized with the Alfie Pierce Trophy, awarded annually since 1947 to a male and a female student who have made extraordinary contributions to inter-university athletics. Each year, the Afro-Caribe Community Foundation of Kingston raises funds for the Alfie Pierce Award to honour students in the Kingston area who have made a contribution to the African and Caribbean communities in Canada. Students and black community members continue to consider proposals for some sort of standing memorial and tribute to Alfie Pierce.
In the 1970s [1971 and 1976 have both been noted -– Ed.] a campus pub was renamed “Alfie’s.” In her essay Ms. Ally called for Queen’s to take action, “an important and symbolic anti-racist action this institution can commit is to change the name of our campus pub. This kind of action is long overdue and our inaction simply confirms the anti-racist reform policies and statements echoed over many years of lip service.” In 2013 the Alma Mater Society answered this call, returning to the pub’s original name, “The Underground.”
While Alfred Pierce is an indelible part of the Queen’s story, the community continues to wrestle with how best to honour his legacy.
He is buried in the Cataraqui Cemetery.