Bears & Gaels: Making sense of Queen’s symbolism

Looking at the origin story of Queen’s resident bear on campus and the later-adopted ‘Gaels’ identity 

Many students are unaware that Boo Hoo was once a live bear who roamed campus.
Queen's Archives

Queen’s symbolism can be downright confusing. Many students end up graduating without ever finding out what a Gael is, and much less what its teddy bear mascot, Boo Hoo, has to do with anything.

The answer to the first question is relatively straightforward, which will be addressed later. But how a vest-wearing bear came to be Queen’s mascot is, for lack of a better word, strange—and still shrouded in mystery. 

It’s believed that Boo Hoo first came to Queen’s in the early 1920s when Queen’s football trainer, Billy Hughes, started bringing his pet black bear to the Tricolour’s games, where she was walked up and down the sideline on a leash, eliciting cheers and battle cries from raucous Queen’s crowds.

Students and spectators took a shining to the cub almost immediately, so much that Boo Hoo was the inspiration of numerous pieces of music, like ‘Boo-Hoo’s march for piano’ and ‘Boo Hoo’s Queen’s Dominion Victory March.’

An excerpt from The Ottawa Journal in 1922 noted that Boo Hoo conducted herself in a “queenly demeanour” in a game against the University of Toronto.

According to a Queen’s yearbook in 1924, the legend of Boo Hoo soon spread “throughout the whole dominion of Canada.”

An obituary in that same yearbook mourned the loss of the ‘original’ Boo Hoo, who had died shortly after been given to a zoo in Watertown, NY. 

“She was at all times gentle and playful until with increasing age she grew rather ferocious,” an excerpt read. 

While it’s unclear how the name ‘Boo Hoo’ came about, it became the namesake of at least five bears, spanning the 1920s to the 1950s. 

Although adored by the students, Boo Hoo’s level of care appears to have been quite shoddy. While there are no formal records of its residency at Queen’s, a previous Journal article noted some have suggested that Boo Hoo once lived in an animal enclosure on Barrie Street during the offseason, while other disturbing reports claim that Boo Hoo lived in the boiler room of the former Jock Harty Arena with Alfie Pierce.

At times, Boo Hoo was not kept in an enclosure at all, but rather roamed campus unsupervised. 

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.

The bears were rarely kept until fully grown. Much like how they were acquired, where they went after their time at Queen’s is also a mystery. That same Journal article noted that some believe the bears were released to Algonquin Park, while others have claimed they were exiled to an island. 

One thing, however, is clear, and it’s that Queen’s loved to be known as the school with a bear on campus. 

“I guess then they just loved having a bear mascot and were known for it so they just kept getting others,” Queen’s archivist, Deidre Bryan, told The Journal.

By the mid-1950s, the growing impracticality of having a live bear on campus alongside a growing concern regarding animal rights lead Queen’s to discontinue the Boo Hoo lineage. However, the notion of Queen’s being represented by a bear stuck around. 

In 1980, ‘Boo Hoo’ reappeared, but it was now donning a plaid tam and vest—appearing like a cousin of Yogi Bear—and was embodied by a member of Queen’s bands inside the suit. Even in its new form, the students’ admiration for Queen’s mascot persisted.


In 2015, The Journal spoke with the woman behind the Boo Hoo mask, Claire Frye, who described what it was like to act as Queen’s mascot.

“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 said. 

As for what a Gael is?

According to Merriam-Webster, a Gael is a Scottish highlander or a Celtic, especially Gaelic-speaking inhabitant of Ireland, Scotland or the Isle of Man.

Prior to 1947, Queen’s teams were referred to as the Tricolour, however, the new name was coined by The Kingston Whig-Standard after Queen’s had started donning golden football uniforms. The first reference to the new name read in a headline: 

“The Golden Gaels of Queen’s University were thumped 52-3 by Western.” 

Much like Boo Hoo, Queen’s team name also started by happenstance, but just caught on. While a bear might seem like a weird manifestation of Queen’s Gaelic heritage, it might be for the best.

“All our teams are labelled ‘The Golden Gaels’,” Frye 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.”


With files from Rachel Herscovici


All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.