Marching down memory lane

Alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago came from Florida. Queen’s Bands celebrated 100 years of music. The AMS held its first official reunion. And it all happened over Homecoming weekend

Bands alumnus Bob Burnside, Sci ’56 (at left), and his wife Doris (second from right) join fellow “Bandsies” in a rousing Oil Thigh at the Bands’ centennial celebration Friday night.
Bands alumnus Bob Burnside, Sci ’56 (at left), and his wife Doris (second from right) join fellow “Bandsies” in a rousing Oil Thigh at the Bands’ centennial celebration Friday night.
Photo: 
Evelyn Fudge, the oldest living Queen’s graduate, on Saturday night.
Evelyn Fudge, the oldest living Queen’s graduate, on Saturday night.
AMS alumni reunite at Alfie’s.
AMS alumni reunite at Alfie’s.
Photo: 

Seven hours before an overturned car on Aberdeen Street began to burn on Saturday night, Evelyn Fudge, Arts ’34 and the oldest living graduate of Queen’s, sat pleasantly in her wheelchair in Grant Hall.

Members of the classes of 1935, 1940, 1945 and 1950 gathered there with the Tricolour Guard—alumni who were not celebrating an official year party—for a relaxed and classy bash to mark their 70th, 65th, 60th and 55th reunions respectively.

For Fudge, the place to be during her time at Queen’s wasn’t at a party in the student Ghetto.

“The library was the be-all-and-end-all for everybody,” she said, referring to the humanities library once housed at Douglas Library.

Fudge, 93, told the Journal she was honoured to be one of approximately ten women in her year studying at Queen’s.

“The craziest part was that I was raised on a farm, but I always wanted to come to Queen’s,” said Fudge, who studied English, history and French.

“But there’s not a lot of French I understand anymore,” she said with a laugh.

It’s easy for Fudge to name the best part of the three years she spent at Queen’s.

“Meeting the man I eventually married,” Fudge said of her husband, who died ten years ago.

Fudge said University alumni always feel right at home, even if the campus to which they return is three times larger.

“The Queen’s spirit survives all kinds of wonderful things,” Fudge said. “Everybody is so loyal.” While today’s university students are glad to be free from parental control, Jake Watson, Don Matthews and Alex Geddes, all Sci ’50, enjoyed a different kind of independence when they first came to university.

The Second World War was over. They didn’t have to fight anymore. Watson said at the end of the War, the Canadian government presented soldiers who returned from service with three options: continue with higher education, build a house or start a farm.

“I took the choice [to attend university] because money was scarce,” Watson said. “And if I didn’t have the money from the Canadian government, it would have been very tough.”

For Matthews, the freedom university offered was a break from his time training in the R.C.A.F.

“I came out of air force discipline—it was very difficult,” Matthews said. “I came to Queen’s and I couldn’t believe the freedom I had. It was marvellous.”

Watson suddenly interjected.

“You want to talk about freedom? How about after spending three years as a prisoner of war?” he said, referring to his time in Germany after his plane was shot down.

The class of Sci ’50 was a mixture of war veterans and students coming out of high school, Watson said, since their year was the first full year of school after the war’s end.

“The kids coming out of high school were the smartest guys we had ever met,” Watson said.

Geddes said he married his “boyhood sweetheart” before he served as a fighter pilot, and long before he attended Queen’s.

He said the Sci ’50 alumni are trying to change their five-year reunion period to every two years.

“We’re getting on in age, and some members are older and in poor health,” he said.

Hugh Wilson, Sci ’45, agreed that time is running out for these sorts of gatherings.

“I haven’t been back for too many reunions, but [coming to this one was] something I felt I really had to do, because I probably won’t make it out to another,” Wilson said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my four years here.”

He said he was surprised by the “dramatically different” campus layout. When he entered Ontario Hall, which was the physics building during his time at Queen’s, he was startled to find it now housed the fine arts department.

“I kept having to ask where things were, but it’s a great-looking campus,” said Wilson, who came from Florida to attend Saturday’s event.

He has fond memories of the “riotous” pranks his engineering classmates used to pull—“they were often in deep trouble,” he said—but partying on today’s scale was virtually unheard of.

“You have to remember, this was very serious war time,” he said. “[During our first term] it was made very clear to us that if we didn’t get good grades, we should consider the army. It was a different kind of pressure.

“It was a fascinating year, spanning the war.”

For Elspeth (Graham) Penas, Arts ’50, one campus building looms large in her memories.

“We ate all of our meals at Ban Righ,” she said. Penas lived in the former LaSalle Barracks for two years and Gordon Hall for one year while studying French and Spanish. She said she loved all her classes and enjoyed learning from a number of high-quality and quirky professors.

Both Penas and Geddes were struck in hindsight by the unique composition of their post-war year.

“I suppose it was a lot different,” Penas said. “The average age was much older [because of the war veterans].”

Geddes said, “Most of us were veterans, only about 10 per cent weren’t. We had a lot in common. [If one of us was acting up] we didn’t hesitate to tell each other off, in no uncertain terms.”

Penas said she could only recognize the majority of her classmates by their names or by the university-age pictures of themselves they wore around their necks.

“I think [the reunion is] great, the best time I’ve had in years,” said Penas, who still writes letters to her Queen’s roommate.

From the University Avenue sidewalk on Friday night, it sounded like the group in Wallace Hall was having a rollicking good time.

Since the joyous racket emanating from the windows was the sound of bagpipe skirls and call-and-answer cheers, no one should be surprised to hear that this was a Queen’s Bands party.

But it wasn’t just any Bands party. This was their 100th anniversary party, a centennial celebration at Homecoming to complement the official gala held in March.

More than 50 years’ worth of “Bandsies” filled Wallace Hall for the long-awaited party, including Dick Bray, a saxophone player from 1932-36, who could barely hear anything in the noisy room but could still be found in the centre of the festivities.

The reunion boasted a turnout of nearly 300 alumni, even though it was organized only two months ago. But everyone knew this was a special event.

“When I was in the Bands, almost 10 years ago now, even then we were talking about what would happen at the centennial,” said Steve “Elvis” Didunyk, a trumpet player from 1991-95. He conceived the reunion along with Brian Flynn, one of the event’s five alumni organizers who worked with the alumni representative from the current Bands.

“We knew it would be a big deal,” Didunyk said.

“Bandsies” past and present mingled enthusiastically throughout the evening, hugging, reconnecting and gleefully rehashing shared stories. Everyone who spoke to the Journal agreed Bands membership has no expiration date, and friendship among bandmates is never dimmed by the passage of years.

“You never really leave the Bands,” Didunyk said. “It’s all a big family.”

Bill Gowland, an event organizer who played the snare drum from 1983-87 and was a drum major—the student bandleader—for one of those years, agreed.

“You have friends you met at Queen’s who’ll always be your friends, but friends from the Bands are something really special,” he said.

When asked if he could still play, Gowland answered, “Oh hell yeah!” He whipped out a pair of drumsticks from under his army surplus kilt, and later in the evening played along with fellow alumni while B.J. Hardick and Sarah Kennedy—Highland dancers from the late 1990s—and their peers proved they haven’t forgotten the steps to the Highland reels.

Gowland was reminiscing with Dave Wilkins, a piper from 1985 to 1990. The two hadn’t seen each other since—well, “since your baby was born, Bill,” Wilkins said, “[but] it feels like I haven’t missed a beat.”

Gowland and Flynn, a trumpet player and drum major in 1991, agreed the traditions holding the hundred-year-old group together are as strong now as they ever were.

“Tradition is really important [to the Bands]—we’re the biggest ambassadors for the University,” Flynn said.

Hardick said the little things that become part of Bands canon amazed him.

“Today they take as gospel traditions that we started one day because we were bored, like kissing the hat,” he said.

“The Bands have been around for 100 years, but it’s all the same Band, there’s no degrees of separation,” Gowland said. “We had our crazy people then, and they have theirs now.” The “crazy people” are another major part of Bands tradition, as this is certainly a group that knows how to have a good time, as evidenced by the stories and pictures flying back and forth.

“We’ve got representatives here from all the big trips—the Rose Bowl, Boston St. Patrick’s Day parades, New Orleans Mardi Gras parades,” Flynn said.

Didunyk was part of the second Bands contingent that participated in a New Orleans Mardi Gras event.

“It was incredible,” he said. “We marched in a five-hour long parade and had a 27-hour bus ride, and that’s the only place we’ve ever gone where we’ve been out-partied.” In honour of the Bands’ connection with New Orleans, money was collected at the event for Red Cross relief efforts in the beleaguered city. Gowland pledged to match all funds raised.

Kennedy marched in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1998, and she too called the experience “incredible.”

“We were the only non-American band, and there were people shoving beer at us and holding cameras down to take pictures up our skirts,” she said.

She also marched in the parade that closed Maple Leaf Gardens.

“That was amazing,” she said. “I got Lanny McDonald’s autograph!”

Kennedy tried out for the Bands in 1995 with her best friend, bass drummer Becky (Brown) LeSauvage, after the group impressed her with their boundless spirit during a rainy Orientation Week, and after their Gael encouraged them to get involved.

“It was so much fun,” Kennedy said. “I met some of my best friends in the Bands.” She’s still close with LeSauvage, who was also a drum majorette, one of the few women to hold that position.

If John Koopman, Law ’80, could go back to his time as AMS vice-president (operations) in 1978-79, there’s one thing he’d do differently.

“I wrote a letter to [then-Principal] Ronald Watts, telling him to teach a class to stay in touch with students,” he said. “I would never have done that now, tell the principal of the University what to do.”

Koopman joined more than 70 people at Alfie’s on Friday night for the first official AMS reunion during Homecoming.

Since a separate graduate student society—a precursor to the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS)—wasn’t formed until 1982, graduate students, including Koopman, still belonged to the AMS.

“Graduate students had a disproportionate influence [on student governance] because they actually knew what they were doing,” Koopman joked.

As he sat on a plush couch beneath the bar’s dim light, Koopman described how the bar’s décor had changed since he graduated.

“Everything was black, the floors and the walls,” he said. “And then there were orange tables everywhere—you could probably seat about three hundred people. Now what does this place seat? One hundred and fifty?”

He said he found it strange that a pub frequented by students would have a classy, martini-bar atmosphere. When Koopman was told Alfie’s had undergone extensive renovations over the last three years because it was losing money, he sighed in disbelief.

“This place used to have a lineup going out the door and on to the street every night of the week at six o’clock,” Koopman said. “But you got to remember, there weren’t a lot of places to go [off campus] back then.”

A lack of bars off campus provided the impetus for what Koopman called one of his best memories during his time as VP (operations): he was responsible for the opening of what would eventually become the Queen’s Pub (QP).

When Koopman first opened the QP, it was called the McLaughlin Room. It was renamed the Quiet Pub the next year, and he served as its bar manager. The pub was renamed the QP in 1997.

Koopman said his other major accomplishment was starting the Tricolour Express in 1978.

“I found out business was much more fun than law,” he said of his time in the AMS.

But that time coincided with what Koopman called “relatively apathetic years” for student politics. He said the political apathy surrounding his university career was almost a reaction against the highly charged student activism during the Vietnam War.

His AMS executive team—President David Brown, Vice-President (University Affairs) John Cattanach and Koopman—was acclaimed.

“By the time you get to 1978, we’d been terribly turned off by the overly political demonstrations [of previous years],” Koopman said.

Students nowadays are much more studious and much smarter, Koopman said. The ethnicity of the campus has also changed drastically.

“It was pretty much white bread back then,” he said.

But some things never change, Koopman said. The student Ghetto looks exactly the same as it did during his time at Queen’s, and the tension between residents and students has always been around.

“We had guys arrested during our Frosh Week for illegally selling beer,” he said. “Four guys. I remember going to the police station myself [on behalf of the AMS], and the cop just looked at me. We did manage to get them out.”

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