Sharing 65 years of memories
Alex Davidson came to Queen’s in the fall of 1945, the first member of his family to attend university. “I just had it in my mind I wanted to go to university,” he says. He had encouragement from two of his former teachers at Fort William Collegiate, Miss Tilden and Miss McDonald. Both Queen’s graduates, they saw his potential and steered him towards their alma mater. (He also applied to Western, but “Queen’s answered first.”)
Coming up with the tuition -- $700 – was a daunting task for Alex that first year. His father was a prospector, and the family wasn’t rich, Alex had saved $200 from his job at an aircraft factory, where he had worked summers since the age of 15, except for his WWII years. Because he was a veteran, the government paid part of his tuition, and then his father surprised Alex by presenting him with $250 he had saved little by little to send his son to university. Miss McDonald had a friend in Kingston who took in boarders, so Alex had a place on Brock Street to live. He also lined up some part-time work – stacking books in Douglas Library and bussing tables in Wallace Hall.
At Queen’s, Alex studied geology. An outdoorsman like his father, he was drawn to studying “lots of rocks,” he laughs, but he also took courses in other areas. He particularly remembers his economics course with Dr. Frank Knox. On his first exam, he wrote out a lengthy answer, then realized, to his horror, that he had misread the question. Nearly out of time, “I scratched it out, and wrote three sentences.” Handing back exams in January, Dr. Knox called Alex’s name first. Certain that he had failed the exam, Alex says, “I thought perhaps he was calling names from the bottom up.” But Alex had received the top mark. “Brief and to the point,” Knox told the class. “That’s what I like to see.”
After his graduation in 1948, Alex went on to do an MA in geography at U of T, then began his career in natural resources, first for the government of Saskatchewan, and then, in Ottawa, for the federal government. He made a name for himself as a sensible policy-maker and a good steward of Canada’s natural resources. He helped to negotiate the first Great Lakes Agreement, launched the Canada Land Inventory, oversaw the establishment of the Canadian Heritage River system and marine conservation areas, and led the establishment of dozens of national parks and national historic parks. In 2008, Alex was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada for his life’s work: promoting nature conservation.
Alex and his wife, Joan raised four sons: Chuck, John, Ron, and James, all of whom followed their dad to Queen’s, as did six of their 13 grandchildren. Chuck, Artsci’78, and Ron, Law’82, joined their dad back at Queen’s for Homecoming last October, 65 years after his graduation. As the first of his family to attend university, Alex wanted to celebrate his Queen’s experience and share his memories with his sons. Alex, Chuck, and Ron attended the Homecoming football game, joined the celebratory alumni half-time parade, and cheered the Gaels on to victory.