Making of a mascot

The bare minimum of Boo Hoo’s mysterious history revealed

When the bear arrived in the 1920s, Boo Hoo became quite the spectacle on campus. He usually led crowds of cheerleaders and supporters to cheer on the Gaels.
When the bear arrived in the 1920s, Boo Hoo became quite the spectacle on campus. He usually led crowds of cheerleaders and supporters to cheer on the Gaels.
Credit: 
Supplied by Queen's Archives
Trainer Billy Hughes poses alongside the original Boo Hoo the Bear.
Trainer Billy Hughes poses alongside the original Boo Hoo the Bear.
Credit: 
Supplied by Queen's Archives

The legend of Boo Hoo the Bear is boundless, and has puzzled university archivists and historians alike.

There are many mysteries and discrepancies about the infamous mascot for the Queen’s Golden Gaels football team.

One thing that is known, though, is that Boo Hoo the Bear wasn’t always the jovial plush character we see bouncing around at Richardson Stadium today. The original Boo Hoo was a live bear mascot from the 1920s to the 1950s.

The problem with Boo Hoo’s history is that there are little paper records of the bear’s existence.

Deirdre Bryden, an archivist at the Queen’s Archives, has made it a project of hers to delve into the lost history of Boo Hoo.

It’s certain that there were at least five Boo Hoos, she said, each succeeding one after the other.

“I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what happened to each Boo Hoo,” she said. “It never seems they kept Boo Hoo to full-size.”

Although there are inconsistencies in its minimal history, the bear was believed to have first been the pet of Billy Hughes, a Golden Gaels football trainer during the 1920s.

How the bear really took root as a mascot, though, isn’t certain.

The bear started showing up to football practices and then games, according to Bryden, and people took a liking to him.

“I guess then they just loved having a bear mascot and were known for it so they just kept getting others,” she said.

On Nov. 27, 1922, the Ottawa Journal reported on what was one of Boo Hoo’s first appearances — when the Golden Gaels played the University of Toronto’s football team.

The bear is said to have conducted itself in a “queenly demeanor”, while easily putting Toronto’s collie mascot in its place.

Eventually, the AMS took over caring for the bear. “I haven’t been able to track how [bears] one and two went, but I do know by three and four — which was the late 30s early 40s — the AMS was in charge of [the bear],” she said.

Its meager paper trail makes putting its true history together very difficult, and there are many reasons for this lack of documentation.

“It’s a little hard to trace the bear because under my impression, they didn’t take very good care of the bear,” Duncan McDowall, the University’s historian, said. “Especially out of football season.”

One of the many Boo Hoos is believed to have been kept in the old vivarium, otherwise known as “animal house”, on Barrie St. in the off-season.

“I guess they would feed him peanut butter sandwiches or whatever inappropriate things, so he was kept there,” McDowall said. “That underlines the problem about where you keep a live bear.”

Other theories suggest Boo Hoo was kept at Richardson stadium, or that he lived with Alfred Pierce in the boiler room of Jock Harty arena — once located at Union and Division Streets.

A live bear on campus did cause quite the spectacle. Drama and outrageous urban legends — true or not — obviously followed.

It’s rumored that in 1928, a group of student football spectators brought their homemade whisky to the game and fed it to the first Boo Hoo, causing the bear to go into cardiac arrest and die.

Some tales say that Boo Hoo was let loose in Algonquin Provincial Park after its time at Queen’s, and others say that Boo Hoo was originally from the Park. Others say the bear was exiled to an island.

In 1926, Kathleen Ryan, an Arts graduate, gave a speech where she described Boo Hoo roaming the campus, freely sitting atop Ontario Hall’s windows during early morning lecture hours.

“I think the point of all this is that Boo Hoo lived a kind of ephemeral life, not really attached to anything and sort of came and went in people’s lives. So there’s no paper records of him,” McDowall said.

The importance of a university mascot lies in the values a team or group wants to display and champion, McDowall added.

Different mascots are chosen because they are perceived to represent different values or emotions, like ferocity or heroism.

“It becomes a kind of code or symbol for a broader set of values so that you don’t have to talk about the broader sense of values, they’re just evident in the mascot,” McDowall said.

“[But this] begs the question: Why a bear and why Queen’s?” There are many coincidences relating to bears around the time that Boo Hoo was introduced to the Queen’s community.

Winnie the Pooh, a fictional character based on a real Winnipeg brigade’s mascot during WWII, was coming into fame when A.A. Milne’s son fell in love with him while he was being kept at the London Zoo.

The term “teddy bear” had also recently been coined, named after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who refused to shoot a baby bear cub while hunting on the campaign trail in 1908.

But, McDowall suspects that Boo Hoo wasn’t purposefully made a mascot. “I don’t know if it really projects any Queen’s values or heritage or anything,” he said. “Where the name came from, I don’t know.” By the 1950s, it was either the practical challenges or the changing social views towards animals that saw the end of a live Boo Hoo.

Yet, Boo Hoo is still around today, albeit in different form. In the 1980s, Queen’s Bands officially brought the famous mascot back as the character we know today.

Now, the bear is a part of the Tricolour Queen’s spirit that many students are a part of.

Claire Frye, ArtSci ’15, played the character of Boo Hoo, in a suit for Queen’s Bands, from September to December last year.

“It was amazing. The unconditional love that people had for whoever personified the bear both inside and outside of the suit was really encouraging and sweet,” she told the Journal via email.

Bands has been connected to the bear since the 1920s, when cheerleaders would escort him from games. To Bands, Frye said, Boo Hoo means history and tradition.

She also believes that Boo Hoo is a symbol for school spirit, promoting student happiness.

“All our teams are labeled ‘The Golden Gaels’,” she said. “But, if you ask me, that’s not a very relatable or fun figure to look to for encouragement during a game.”

“This is why I think Boo Hoo, or any animal-type mascot, is particularly important for the Queen’s community.”

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