A library at the centre

University affairs minister Bill Davis was the first person to sign UW’s new guest book when he arrived to officially open the new science buildings in March. (The guest book, now in volume 2, is still in use, chiefly at convocation ceremonies.) Making sure he signed his real name were Gerry Hagey, centre, and alumni representative Peter Barnes.
University affairs minister Bill Davis was the first person to sign UW’s new guest book when he arrived to officially open the new science buildings in March. (The guest book, now in volume 2, is still in use, chiefly at convocation ceremonies.) Making sure he signed his real name were Gerry Hagey, centre, and alumni representative Peter Barnes.

The funniest, most touching thing I have seen in my long trollian life was the procession across the arts quadrangle on the afternoon of Saturday, October 23, 1965. Robed in black, a very young Ron Eydt -- a biology instructor who hadn't yet grown the black mustache by which generations would come to recognize him -- solemnly carried your university's new silver mace down the front steps of the Modern Languages building, across the quad, and up the steps of the new Arts Library. Behind him walked Dana Porter, chief justice of Ontario, and chancellor of the University of Waterloo, whose name would be given to the building after his death three years later. And after the chancellor came a collection of other distinguished guests, officers of the university, faculty members and potential incurrers of fines for overdue books. I wonder whether any of them reflected, as they walked, on the pleasant little stream that used to run through the quad, before quite a large number of loads of gravel were dumped there. Probably not; they were too busy thinking about the solemnity of opening a magnificent new library. Or about how to avoid tripping on their robes or getting their shoes muddy.

Ah, yes, a new library, the very symbol of a university. Splendid in white concrete, it was seven storeys tall then, and had been more than a year in the building. A few weeks earlier some 65,000 books had been moved over from the old library location, in the "Physics and Mathematics building", the boxes shot along what was officially described as "a well-greased slide". Before 1965 was over, the library's holdings passed 100,000 volumes, including the 1,800 books of the Lady Aberdeen Collection, given to Waterloo as a celebratory project by the National Council of Women of Canada. It would provide the nucleus for a nationally known collection in women's studies, this at an eight-year-old university that was finally beginning to have a few women among its students and faculty. Among other new acquisitions that year were twenty tons of documents from the long-defunct Home Bank of Canada, and six thousand dead butterflies and moths, the latter being the gift of a Kitchener collector. (I don't suppose the lepidoptera ended up in the library, though.)

The dignitary who officially opened your library that October day was James N. Allan, the treasurer of the province of Ontario. And no fewer than three prominent librarians were given honorary degrees, including Bob Black burn, head librarian at the University of Toronto, who gave a speech predicting that within five years university libraries in Ontario might be linked to "a master computer" that would "take some of the weariness and searching out of research". He was only twenty-four years off -- the Electronic Library, which provides a not bad fulfilment of Blackburn's prophecy, went into operation in the summer of 1994. But you'll look in vain for any information about trolls in it.

I say that ceremony was funny, but touching, as all convocation ceremonies are both funny and touching. They mark great transitions in life, the intersection of history and hope, and they do it with awkward flapping clothes and unaccustomed pomp, like children playing church. I tried not to chuckle as I watched the procession from the third-floor roof of the Library, making myself look like a gargoyle, a kind of ornament of which your campus is still regrettably bare. But in other respects Waterloo was doing its infant best to don the trappings of older universities. The solid silver mace (did you realize it weighs fifteen pounds?) had been used for the first time just the day before, at the regular fall convocation. With the 1,000th Waterloo degree being given that year (to an engineering student, Hans Treffers) there was certainly enough traffic across the convocation stage to make two convocations a year necessary, and the spring convocation was spread over two days in late May.

The new seven-storey library provided floor space for more than just books and Doris Lewis's growing staff. The president, Gerry Hagey, and the two vice-presidents, Ted Batke and Al Adlington, moved into the fourth floor of the building, where their offices would have a scenic view of the third-floor roof. Various administrative offices were on other upper floors. Riding up in those balky elevators, I remember going all the way to the seventh floor to visit the development office, information services, the Centre for Continuing Studies in Marketing, and the magnificently named office of "off-campus housing and overseas students".

There was quite a view from the upper floors too, showing Arts II (Environmental Studies to you) and Village I under construction. By the end of 1965 work had also started on Engineering III and the "University Lecture Building" nearby. Things went slowly: the weather in the fall of 1965 and the early winter of 1966 was recognized to be "the worst on record for this section of the province". And then they discovered that the water level under the lecture hall (now known as Engineering Lecture) would have to be lowered four feet. Two pumps that could move 70,000 gallons an hour ran around the clock for two weeks to do the job.

But I should already have mentioned the new science complex, recognizable to you nowadays as the ESC building and Biology I, which was finished over the winter and officially opened with a ceremony on Thursday, March 18. The most important person present, though probably nobody realized it at the time, was an up-and-coming chemist from the University of Toronto, name of John Polanyi, who gave a lecture on the Friday evening to make sure the event would have some academic content. The official star of the opening ceremony was William G. Davis, Ontario's minister of university affairs, who did his ceremonial thing in room 271 of the Biology building (it was all carried to several other rooms, and of course to my own creekside theatre-in-the-round, by closed-circuit television). Another thing nobody realized, I'm sure, as Davis signed the university's new guest book, was that his name would one day be emblazoned on a campus building so modern that it would startle even human observers, never mind the more conservative eye of a troll.

Your university was certainly growing. In the fall of 1965, registrar Alan Gordon reported that there were 4,477 students, and there was no sign that the pressure would taper off. Waterloo had the second-largest engineering enrolment in Canada that year, the Quarterly proudly told its readers, UW having grown bigger than Montréal's Ecole Polytechnique. Hagey warned the audience at the science building dedication that "plans to admit 7,000 students by 1970 now appear to be inadequate". Translation: there would have to be more construction, and soon, and please would Mr. Davis mention that to his cabinet colleagues?

Not only were students arriving in crowds (most of them still getting to Waterloo by rail, to the Kitchener station), but almost exactly half of them were in "regular" programs, not in co-op. That was a big change for a university that had started less than a decade earlier with complete, unswerving dedication to the co-op principle. At the May convocation the dean of arts posed happily with the "first man and woman" to receive Bachelor of Physical Education degrees. Among other student achievements in 1965: three young mathies pulled an all-nighter in the company of the IBM 7040 and announced that they had solved "the famous cattle problem" posed by Archimedes 2,200 years earlier. The solution was "one-third of a mile long if typed in a single line on a typewriter using 10 digits to an inch . . . it would take 1,000 men a total of 1,000 years to figure out the problem using conventional methods."

What else was new? The department of earth sciences, for one thing; the "department of design", later to be systems design engineering; the faculty and staff credit union. And, of course, many faculty members, among whom I remember the arrival of Warren Ober, Bob Needham, Robert Huang, Jack Pasternak. Jack Brown was named secretary to the board of governors, responsible also for a cluster of administrative services that had apparently been running on something like a free enterprise system. Alan McLachlin came as principal of St. Paul's United College, succeeding its founder, theologian Douglas Hall. And Art Headlam became "accountant" to the university. He had plenty of money to account for, as the 1964-65 operating budget of a little more than $6 million was succeeded by a 1965-66 budget that was first estimated at $8.8 million, then revised upwards to more than $9 million. Of course that doesn't include research funding - oh, research was booming. Waterloo brought in a total of 135 research grants that year, worth a total of $814,147, more than half of the money coming from the National Research Council.

Now listen: I suppose you think Waterloo never had a provost until Tom Brzustowski, the vice-president (academic), was given that newfangled title a few years ago? Think again. In 1965 Bill Scott of the sociology department was appointed "provost, student affairs", in charge of, oh, whatever it is that a provost, student affairs, is in charge of. The position didn't last that long, and it's been succeeded by one new arrangement after another, the only common factor being that the titles are too long to say in one breath. "Director of employee and student services" was one in the 1980s, I remember, and now you have an "associate provost, human resources and student services", which is too long even to get on one line of a business card. Student services continue to be essential at a university, though, don't they? I just wish you'd extend a few of those services to us river-dwellers.

Also new in the student services area, by the way, was the position of "warden of residences". Archie Sherbourne of the civil engineering department got that title in 1965, but would be succeeded, soon after the Student Village opened, by the mace-bearer himself, Ron Eydt. The first 460 students moved into "phase one" of the Village in the fall of 1965, and construction continued. A capital fund crisis was on the horizon, and even then the university authorities were thinking about ways to help fund the $4 million project (eventually it turned out to be more, but that was the original estimate). Some seer came up with an idea that you probably would have placed three decades later in the progress of human thought: let's accept cash donations, perhaps by way of memorials, to help pay for individual Village houses, and name the houses after the donors! I couldn't tell you why that idea was never put into practice. Or perhaps it was, if "South One" is in fact the name of somebody's dear departed.

Names: there's nothing more sensitive than names, and that includes the names of universities. Mail to the University of Waterloo was still getting misdelivered to Waterloo Lutheran University, one of whose constituent parts was dubbed Waterloo University College. The only solution, many people thought, was to give UW a whole new label. Winston Churchill died in January 1965, and was still remembered by many people as the saviour of the British Empire and the free world: why not rename the place Churchill University? Um, well, on second thought maybe not, said Hagey a few weeks later, after the initial flurry of enthusiasm had been succeeded by a much larger flurry of disapproval. However, a committee was set up to look at possible alternative names. And, as you can imagine, it did what committees do.

At the end of the year, fed up with bureaucracy and the administrative burden, Pete McBryde tried to resign as dean of science, but some of his colleagues persuaded him to stay on and promised that he'd be given more help.

<< Previous page                  Home                    Next page >>