Science '48 1/2

With the end of the second world war, the federal government’s newly created Department of Veterans Affairs dispensed financial assistance for those eager to get a post-secondary education. Over the next five years, 175,000 veterans took up the offer, many seeking entry to Queen’s. As the economy transitioned from war to peace, the allure of a career in engineering exuded a powerful attraction.

Upon returning from war, many students were placed in an accelerated engineering program (see Engineering and Applied Science, Faculty of) so that they could enter the work force faster. The program was 3.5 years long, so they graduated as the official class of '48 ½. But the transition from wartime to academia was not easy and of the original class of 350, half failed or dropped out before the end.

metallurgy students
Sc’48 ½ metallurgy students: Back row: T.W. Trumper, Stuart E. Martin, Ross Huffman, Derek T. Austin. Front row: William Seniuk, K.H. Heino, Albert Kirkman.

[Sc'48 1/2 civil engineering students]
The Sc’48 ½ civil engineering students. Dean Douglas Ellis is in the front row, fourth from the left.

In the fall of 1945, registration at Queen's jumped to 2,242 students, of whom 1,030 were veterans. By the end of the academic year, the veteran total had grown to 1,962. As there had been little building in the lean years of the 1930s, Queen’s strained to accommodate their numbers. Residence beds were inadequate, especially since many of the vets were married and had young families.

Improvisation was the order of the day, and so the emptying army barracks and Royal Military College dormitories were rented, and a trailer park was allowed to spring up behind the gym on campus. Buildings — the Gordon Hall and Ban Righ residences — were hurriedly expanded and plans initiated for new buildings.

[ Trailer camp on campus]
Trailer camp on campus

The opening of McLaughlin Hall, a home for mechanical engineering, in 1948 reflected the fact that applied science bore the brunt of the post-war surge in enrolment. To accommodate this increase in enrolment, the faculty devised an accelerated BSc program that ran 12 months a year. (During the war, Queen’s medical degrees had been similarly compressed.) At the culmination of first year, the students in this program would move immediately into a summer school for more classes. The pattern would repeat after second year with the effect that these students would have a degree in hand in the fall of their third year at Queen’s. They became known as Science ’48 ½.

Two varieties of engineering students entered Queen’s in 1945. There was the usual influx of four-year students aiming for graduation in 1949. There was also a more eager cohort of 350 ex-military freshmen who were in a hurry to get out into the booming national economy. This latter group were older, often married and were prepared, in the words of Dean Douglas Ellis, to be "serious and hardworking."

[ The Sc'48 ½ chemistry students]
& The Sc'48 ½ chemistry students

This exceptional year of engineers lived up to expectations. They worked extremely hard yet didn’t forsake the rituals of faculty life. They held their own formal, published a special summer edition of the Queen’s Journal and their own Tricolour. They helped to build emerging engineering traditions, sporting gold silk jackets with 48 ½ emblazoned on the sleeve.

Science '48 ½ won praise from their dean, who found them mature, a “moderating voice…concerned with national issues and national needs” and "a particularly fine group." But on graduation day in October 1948, only 142 of the original 350 walked out of Grant Hall with a degree in hand. Some had dropped out; others had fallen back into the normal, less compressed applied science program.

Science '48 ½ was probably one of Queen’s most cohesive classes, and many remained closely connected for all their years. Fifty years later, at their 1998 Homecoming anniversary, the class established the Science '48 ½ Mature Student Entrance Bursary.

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