Alfie’s: What’s in a name?

It’s not the first time students have raised concerns about the campus pub’s name. But the man who named the popular student bar in 1979 says it honours a Queen’s legend

“We want to be aware of the full account of his experience and why the campus bar is named after him,” the Culture Shock chair says.
“We want to be aware of the full account of his experience and why the campus bar is named after him,” the Culture Shock chair says.
Photo courtesy of Queen's Archives

There are two ways to evaluate what Alfie Pierce meant to the University, said Allison Williams,

AM S social issues commissioner. “There’s the happy alumni story camp where Alfie was this happy-go-lucky guy and the University swooped in and saved him from a life of hardship,” Williams said.

“There’s the other camp where he lived in the boiler room with Boo Hoo the Bear.”

And according to Darcel Bullen, there’s a camp that doesn’t know anything about the man.

The ArtSci ’08 student and Culture Shock chair doesn’t want Pierce to be remembered as
a mascot.

“Queen’s is focused on the spirited side of Alfie’s,” Bullen said. “We want to be aware of the
full account of his experience and why the campus bar is named after him.”

Bullen organized an event last Thursday entitled “Free Alfie’s.”

About 150 people attended the event, which had a coffee house feel to it.

Naila Keleta Mae performed dub poetry, and whenever she mentioned Pierce, people applauded.

Culture Shock also sold pins that said “Free Alfie’s,” and “Respect Mr. Alfred Pierce.”

Bullen said she hopes to create dialogue about Pierce so students can learn about who he was.
Bullen presented her case to AMS Assembly and told the Journal she wants to expose the truth that’s
often denied to Pierce.

But what is the truth about Pierce? Is it possible to evaluate him through the same lens the University viewed him 25 or 50 years ago?

Williams said she wants to hear how students feel about the issue, and whether a plaque hanging
outside the bar is an effective way to honour Pierce.

“We’re in an interesting place,” she said. “Because first of all, Alfred Pierce was treated in a way that was racist and discriminatory and ageist and completely inappropriate, but at the same time you don’t want to lose that story.”

* * *

If you haven’t heard the story before, it goes something like this: According to Herb Hamilton’s
Queen’s Queen’s Queen’s, Alfie Pierce was the son of a runaway American slave who settled in
Kingston. He was born in 1874 and orphaned at 12. Pierce grew up playing sports and frequented Queen’s playing fields. When he was 15, Queen’s football captain Guy Curtis allowed Pierce to join the team.

The Queen’s Encyclopedia says Curtis named him, “with the thoughtless bigotry typical of the
day,” as the team’s mascot. From that point, Pierce turned into a legend of sorts.

He became the football and hockey teams’ trainer, assistant coach and masseuse. Because
he slept under the bleachers at Richardson Stadium—still on Union Street’s south side at the
time—he became its unofficial security guard.

During the winter, Pierce would live in Jock Harty’s boiler room, accompanied by Boo Hoo the Bear.
In 1994, Queen’s student Amina Ally wrote an article in Wahenga, a publication detailing the black
experience in Canada. Ally wrote that Jock Harty’s arena manager, Dutch Dougal called Pierce a
“black bastard” and “dragged him out and forced [him] to be given a hot bath.” During Black History month in February 1996, Queen’s student Abdulghany Mohamed wrote an article in The Whig-Standard containing information about Pierce’s last years.

She said that after a 60-year relationship with Queen’s, Pierce had a stroke in 1948 that paralyzed
his arms. He suffered a second stroke on Feb. 10, 1951 and died three days later. The best first-year male and female Queen’s athletes have received the Alfie Pierce Trophy in honour of Pierce since 1950. There is also a scholarship in his name. In one of the few first-hand accounts remaining about Pierce, Rose Switzer discussed what he meant to the University in a 2002 Whig-Standard letter to the editor:

“Suddenly I heard a new and raucous sound coming from some distance down Union Street. As I
craned my neck to determine its source, I was astonished—almost alarmed—by the sight of a very
tall man dressed flamboyantly in Queen’s colours.
“He wore a long blue tunic with red cuffs, and as he drew near I could see its red buttons. Underneath the tunic was a bright yellow waistcoat and, below that, long red trousers. Perched on his head was a round blue cap with a visor, a shako, jauntily sporting a bright red feather. In his hand he carried a stick which he swung in time to the music. …
“Throughout most of his association with Queen’s, Alfie was referred to as the football team’s
‘mascot.’ But the term is misleading, both in the context of that time and in regard to the several roles he played in the activities of the team. He played a very public and pivotal role at the beginning of each home game. Attired in his colourful and unmistakable costume, Alfie would appear on the field with the ball in his hand, and the crowd would watch silently while he tossed it to the captain...
“It is not Alfie’s colour that distinguishes him in the minds of thousands of Kingstonians who ‘knew him when,’ and in the minds of succeeding generations of Queen’s students who have imbibed at Alfie’s and cherish his memory.”

* * *

In February 1979, the AMS voted to change The Underground—a pub that opened in 1976—to
something less sterile. According to the Journal’s Feb. 13, 1979 edition, the name Alfie’s won the “overwhelming support” of AM S council. The Assembly minutes show that they had narrowed the choice down to three names: Alfie’s, the Underground and the Krumpled Kilt. Alfie’s received 10 votes, the Underground received seven votes and the Krumpled Kilt received two votes.

A third-year law student named George Vassos suggested the pub’s new name. Vassos graduated in 1980 and currently works as a senior partner with Kuretsky Vassos in Toronto.

“I often thought if the pub was named the Krumpled Kilt, I’d leave the University,” Vassos recalled.
When he suggested the name to the AM S, Vassos did so with the intention of honouring a University legend that embodied the Queen’s spirit.

“It had nothing to do with his height, weight, skin colour, his origin or his religion.”

The student pub was a place to meet up with other people and have a good time, Vassos said. It
was a place to celebrate Queen’s. “It was all very positive,” he said.

Vassos saw the pub as a fun resting place for a person who had become a school legend.

“Everyone associated his name with Queen’s.”

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