Thanks for the Memories -- A salute to the Tricolour yearbook
The Tricolour is one of the last university yearbooks published in Canada. However, to generations of grads, their memory books are imbued with what Principal Robert Charles Wallace once called "a garment of romance."
Review redux – A reprint from the Fall 2002 issue of the QAR
It was a case the Scooby-Doo gang might be called upon to solve. On a cold and rainy night in May 2002 -- I'm not sure whether it was cold and rainy, but it adds drama, doesn't it -- the Queen's "Tricolour" offices were broken into by a mysterious band of rebels. Cash, a computer, cameras, and scanning equipment -- estimated to be worth more than $15,000 -- were stolen. Data stored in the stolen computer had been compiled throughout the year for the 2001-2002 edition.
Despite the setback, Kate Walker, Yearbook and Convocation Services manager, was optimistic that the Tricolour staff would be able to meet their June publication deadline. "We have to rebuild a bit," she said, "but we didn't lose any hard copies." According to Walker, the production of the 2001-2002 Tricolour was never in jeopardy.
But the incident got me wondering exactly what would have happened if the yearbook had not been printed. Surely, the world wouldn't have stopped spinning. Or would it...?
At first, I wondered what the fuss was all about. They're just books. Then I remembered my high school yearbooks. My mom calls them my "personal bibles." Those books got thumbed through more often than a Victoria Secrets catalogue in a men's dorm. So I guess I can understand why people would be upset if the Tricolour couldn't be published this year.
The Tricolour is a memory book: it has little sentimental value to non-alumni, but to generations of grads, their Tricolours are imbued with what Principal Robert Charles Wallace once called "a garment of romance."
Thinking about all of this, I realized that next year, my own romance with Queen's will draw to a close. After four years of life at Queen's, like so many who have gone before me, I will be nudged out of the nest and I'll have to fend for myself, whether or not I think I'm up to the challenge.
Don't get me wrong. I don't dread graduation. On the contrary: in many ways, I welcome the chance to spread my wings. Yet at the same time, the excitement I'm feeling is tinged with a bit of uncertainty.
Acknowledging my own reluctance to "grow up," I thought about the thousands of Queen's grads who have gone before me. Did they share my apprehensions? Curious to know, I went to the Queen's archives, where I leafed through the pages of old Tricolour yearbooks.
What I discovered eased my concerns. Sort of. It turns out that graduation and anxiety go together like beer and pizza.
In 1935, the anonymous Science class prophet wrote: "With a mingling of regret, wonder for the future, but still a vagrant sprinkling of relief, Sc’'35 finds its tenure of Queen's slowly going."
As I scanned the photographs of past graduates, I couldn't help but laugh at the irony: next year, my face will be entombed -- like a prehistoric mosquito caught in amber -- in the glossy pages of Tricolour 2003. Observing the fashion and hairstyle trends -- mistakes, in some cases -- of past decades, I couldn't help but wonder what impressions my yearbook will make on someone from the class of 2053.
The Tricolour -- one of the few remaining university yearbooks in Canada -- has a rich history. Back in 1900, Arts, Medicine, and Science each issued their own yearbooks. Faculty rivalries were intense at that time. We "modern" students with our Frosh Week chants ("McDonald's, McDonald's") have nothing on the pre-World War I students.
Writing in 1927, Callum McLennan, BCom'28, observed, "In 1917 it was felt that better results could be obtained by the three faculties cooperating and publishing a combined yearbook." The transition was far from being smooth -- it took them 10 years to get it right -- but the separate faculties were gradually able to put aside their rivalries long enough to produce a combined yearbook.
Also in 1927, the AMS took over the helm of "the Yearbook." In earlier years, the publication had been solely for the graduating class. Relatively little attention was given to campus life or to junior years. The AMS sought to make the Yearbook more reflective of the student body as a whole. In 1928, editor J.L. Mutter, BCom'28, wrote, "Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior year societies have been given more consideration than ever before, and the attempt has been made to include in the volume all features likely to be of general interest."
According to E.T. Sherwood, BA'36, in subsequent years the "Yearbook" was "a record of the year's activities at Queen's, recording all incidents of importance, embodying all that is best and most characteristic of our University, and thus having an interest for all students of Tricolour-1953-coverwhatever year."
In 1928, the editorial board of the Queen's Year Book christened the publication the "Tricolor," spelled with the "American" spelling. In his editorial note, J. L. Mutter addressed the change, saying that the word "Tricolor" had become synonymous with Queen's. The editors thus felt that "no more fitting title could be given to a volume which displays on its pages a pictorial history of these last four years." Wishing to establish a tradition in the manner of the U of T Varsity and McGill's Old McGill, the editors hoped the publication's new name would catch on.
The Tricolor didn't merely document campus activities. Being a history buff, while looking at Tricolors from the early 1940s, I noticed the special section devoted to the war effort. During World War II, the Yearbook served as a summary of campus military activities. It chronicled the University community's unwavering support for the war effort. In 1940, the Tricolor reported that, "More than half the men have joined the Canadian Officers' Training Corps; half the women studied home nursing, and most of the remainder helped with Red Cross work or took the motor mechanics course."
Coincidentally, I noticed that the faces in old Tricolors appear different somehow. At first, I couldn't figure out what that difference was. Then I realized I was comparing the male students to my father-- the way he looks now, at age 52. Young men aren't supposed to look like my father! That's when it hit me: the students in past Tricolors looked older. Their faces reflect the seriousness of the times.
In the 1930s and 1940s, students faced not only the difficulty of paying for their education -- at that time going to University was even more of a privilege than it is now --but also with the Great Depression and World War II. Times were tough. The strain of living in a war-torn world and a fractured economy is reflected in the maturity of their faces.
In other war-related Tricolor details, I noticed a strange anomaly near the end of the 1940s. In 1948, two issues of the Tricolor were published, Tricolor'48 and Tricolor'48 1/2. Why '481/2, I wondered.
A bit of research yielded an answer to that question. It seems that when WWII ended in 1945, there was a record freshman registration of 350 in the Faculty of Applied Science. The majority of these were veterans, along with the usual group of high school students. As a result of the influx of students, lecture and lab spaces were scarce.
Steps were taken to cope with the flood of new students, and the session was completed without complication. Then, exhibiting a spark of ingenuity, many of the Sc'49 men opted to take their courses in the summer, rather than in the winter along with their classmates. After a brief spring recess, 131 students began a summer session, giving birth to Sc'48 1/2. The men completed their degrees in the summer of 1948. Since they were a class apart -- the only "half-class" in Queen's history --Tricolor'48 1/2 is devoted to those unique grads.
There is a modern twist to the story, of course. University officials anticipate a similar population increase in the fall of 2003, when the phasing out of OAC in the Ontario school system results in the arrival on campus of the so-called "Double Cohort." Can we anticipate a Tricolour'06 and a Tricolour'06 1/2 in the near future? Only time will tell.
Reading the older Tricolors, I also noticed that the word "Levana" kept popping up. Whole sections were devoted to it -- academics, athletics, debate -- yet I'd never heard of it. When I found out what the Levana Society was, it reminded me of my favourite childhood book, The Berenstain Bears: No Girls Allowed, by Jan and Stan Berenstain. In the book, Brother Bear and his friends, unable to "deal" with Sister Bear's athletic superiority of Sister Bear, create a boys only club.
However the Levana Society put a spin on the plot: it was a girls only club -- no boys allowed. When I consulted the Queen's encyclopedia (http://advancement.queensu.ca/Encyclopedia), I discovered that the Levana Society, named after the Roman goddess of the rising sun, was founded in 1888 as the official association of women students at Queen's. In the years leading up to 1967, when the society merged with the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society, the Tricolor provides pictorial evidence of gender issues on campus through its documentation of Levana activities.
Just as the Levana Society has disappeared, so too has the "Tricolor." In 1978, the Tricolor officially became the “Tricolour.” Kingston resident Trish Crowe, Arts'79, the 1978 editor, recalls that "nationalistic fervour" was the motivating factor for the change. She said the editorial board decided to add the missing "u" to the title because they thought, "it was wrong to use the American spelling. All of us associated with the Tricolour that year felt that we should be using correct Canadian spelling."
Of course, the editorial board had to push its proposal through the correct channels, but the AMS "big-wigs" eventually agreed with their idea. And thus the Tricolour was born.
Examining the "Campus Life" sections of old Tricolours was an entertaining experience: it was like looking at the past and the present simultaneously. Whether the students were from the class of 2001 or 1924, certain Queen's experiences have remained the same over the years. That in itself is a comfort. The world in which we live may be changing faster than we can adapt to it, but Queen's traditions continue. Frosh initiation, drinking beer on the porches of the ghetto, running late to class (or missing class altogether), have always been hallmarks of Queen's life.
Sure, the hairstyles and fashions have changed (thankfully), but the student experience has not. The limestone buildings on campus look much the same as they did in the 1920s; ivy still covers the walls. Tartan-clad Queen's bands continue to march at fall football games. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though. After all, it's the Queen's mythology that draws students year after year. Queen's timelessness is part of its appeal.
In 1981 -- the year I was born -- the Tricolour editors described springtime in the ghetto, saying that it "conjures up images of beer on balconies, stereos, girl and guy watching, sun worshipping (tan maintenance crew), [and] football and baseball games between cars." Talk about deja vu! The passage was written in 1981, but anyone walking through the ghetto this spring would have seen the same scenes.
Another thing I noticed while looking through old Tricolours was that over the years, the amount of text has decreased. In the early 20th century, the printed word was as important as pictures. Faculty histories and prophecies recounted memorable Queen's moments and offered light-hearted predictions for each member of the graduating class.
The advice of faculty members to graduating students was also documented at the beginning of each volume. In the midst of the Great Depression, W.C. Clark, the Director of Commerce, addressed the graduating class: "Students graduating in 1933 will enter a world wracked and torn by a financial blizzard of unprecedented severity, a world chastened by misfortune, ready to give up the false gods of a jazz age, ripe for rebuilding. It may not be easy to make your initial adjustments to the world, to find a niche where you will be allowed to serve. But once you have found your place, you will have opportunities that no previous generation has enjoyed."
Prophecies were phased out in the late 1930s and early 1940s, a result of changing times and tastes. In the mid-1950s, the class histories disappeared; and in 1960, the faculty letters were discarded. Subsequent Tricolour editions have placed greater emphasis on pictures and less on words. In fact, the 2001 Tricolour resembles a glossy coffee-table book filled with beautiful images.
Despite the Tricolour's handsome new look, I long for the pearls of wisdom found in Tricolours of yesteryear. Belonging to that class of individuals who "lack direction" -- according to my grandmother -- and have yet to finalize their plans after graduation, I welcome the idea of someone telling me that everything is going to be okay.
As an English student entering a job market in which technological proficiency seems to play an ever-increasing role, I find comfort in the words of J. Matheson, the Dean of Arts in 1930: "The Arts Course does not in general train its students for stated professions. It leads to nowhere in particular, but its main glory is that it leads everywhere. ... You are not necessarily setting out with the technique of any profession, but you have the essential background of every profession."
Granted, I have about as much personal connection to the deans or principals who might offer their advice as I do to Martha Stewart. Yet all the same, on some level, Matheson's inspirational words would be a warm reassurance in these uncertain times.
Perhaps the emphasis on pictures is a byproduct of modern society. Bombarded with television, video games, cell phones, pagers, and the Internet -- the legacy of the technological age -- modern students have less time to read and are more visually oriented than students in the 1950s.
Perhaps the trend reflects the University's growing student body. Back in 1933, there were 3,548 registered students at Queen's. Small classes meant that people got to know most -- if not all -- of their classmates.
Last year (2001-2002), there were a total of 18,131 registered students on campus. In 2003, in addition to me, 112 other English majors are due to graduate – knock on wood! I know personally a couple dozen of my classmates, and I have a nodding acquaintance with others. Most are strangers to me.
That's the way it is nowadays. Students are lucky if they get to know a handful of their classmates.
Such a diverse student body means that the Queen's experience is far from being universal. It becomes hard to encapsulate the year in words when it would take hundreds of pages to document all of the year's activities.
As I left the archives, after leafing through all those old Tricolours, I realized how sad it would have been if the publication of Tricolour 2002 had been brought to a halt by that break-in I told you about. The Tricolour, like tams and the Oil Thigh, is a part of Queen's history. It would have been a shame if that history had been interrupted. Then again, if next year's grad pictures mysteriously disappear, I'll probably sigh in relief.
Caroline LeBlanc was the QAR's summer editorial intern in 2002. She is now teaching at a school in Queretaro, Mexico.