Times a-changin'

Sit-in at UW’s bookstore in November 1966

Kitchener-Waterloo Record photo of the brief sit-in at UW’s bookstore in November.

The sixties came to your university about three years later than they hit everywhere else: on November 18, 1966. I remember the scene as young Tom Patterson led some 75 students into the bookstore (which was still in Engineering I, as you'll recall) to proclaim themselves Waterloo's first-ever sit-in. Patterson was a second-year history student then; later he would emerge as a leader of the Radical Student Movement, president of the Federation of Students in 1969, and finally a personnel executive for a perfectly respectable firm in a middle-sized Ontario town, which just goes to show that there is life after university politics, if you consider personnel work to be life.

But about the sit-in. The word itself dates from the 1930s (I learned that by checking the Oxford English Dictionary database which your university kindly maintains) and that form of protest had become well known from American civil rights demonstrations in the late 1950s, but it wasn't yet much associated with students. Patterson and his colleagues were both cheerful and polite as they sprawled through the bookstore aisles, once again raising their voices in song. I wish I could tell you that they sang "Blowin' in the Wind" -- that tune was three years old by then, and Dylan had moved on to the less political melodies of "Blonde on Blonde". But the only melody I can remember the crowd singing, that Friday afternoon in 1966, was "We are, we are, we are, we are, we are the protesters." No, I'm not kidding; I wish I were.

The issue, when Patterson and his colleagues surged into the bookstore just after noon, was prices at the bookstore, which was supposed to be a non-profit operation but which had, it became known, made a profit of $67,000 in the previous year, rather a lot of money in those days. The protesters demanded a 15 per cent cut in book prices, and a bigger student role in supervising the bookstore's management. That management consisted mostly of the jolly Elsie Fischer, who, along with her longsuffering staff, kept right on working in the store that afternoon, stepping over student legs and occasionally asking somebody to move aside if they needed to reach a high shelf. The store generally closed at 5 on a Friday, but the protesters let it be known that they were so firm in their demands, they were going to sit in the store for a whole hour after closing time, and would even come back Monday morning if they had to. Now that's dedication, I thought to myself as I ambled back to my creekside home.

In midafternoon the word got around that Gerry Hagey, the president of the university, was available to meet with a delegation to hear what they had to say. Why send three or four when we can all go, somebody asked? So the crowd moved out of the bookstore, picked up friends and fellow-travellers, and headed up to the president's office on the fourth floor of the new Arts Library. A university security officer (they weren't called "police" in those days) looked on bug-eyed as more and more and more of them squeezed into Hagey's office: in the end there were 210 of them, by his count. Hagey listened and argued and sympathized, but refused to make any promises. "I have never moved with a gun to my head," he told them. Eventually they went away, and eventually they got a new price structure at the bookstore, by which textbooks would be heavily discounted and other items sold at standard retail prices. And that was student activism, Waterloo fashion, phase one.

Oh, the times they were a-changin'. (Dylan again: and you probably think I'm talkin' about Dylan Thomas, whoever he is.) Internationally and nationally, the sixties were indeed rolling in. "Cambodians Invade South Viet Village," said a headline in the same Kitchener-Waterloo Record that published a photo of Hagey besieged by the student crowd. John Wilson of the political science department gave a talk on "French Canadian nationalism", probably not foreseeing anything like the October crisis that would hit just four years later. And technology raced ahead: the library acquired a Telex machine to speed up requests for interlibrary loans.

The campus was changing too, of course. There still wasn't a "ring road", as the Arts Road pushed north towards Columbia Street on one side of the campus and the Engineering Road on the other, but other things were taking shape. The massive 66-inch storm drain (trolls don't work in metric, but I have managed to calculate that diameter as 168 centimetres) was put in place that year from the northeast corner of the campus, past the planned site of a Math and Computer building, to Laurel Creek just across from what was being tentatively called "the Student Federation Building". Of all the things you humans have done to alter the landscape around here, nothing, except perhaps the moving of Laurel Creek itself to let the city engineers punch Westmount Road through, has been so dramatic as the building of that huge culvert. One construction project after another on the campus had groundwater troubles until that drain was in place, and it's still carrying plenty of water. Just take a look from the Health Services bridge after a heavy rain (but step gently, please, in case I'm sleeping).

Above ground, work continued on the Student Village, on Engineering III, on the "University Lecture Building" (Engineering Lecture), and on the General Services Complex with its huge smokestack. The powerhouse would be able not only to look after the needs of the existing and planned buildings, university authorities promised, but to power the north campus too when development began there. New projects were about to begin: that student building, Math and Computer, the "food services building" (that's South Campus Hall), a Biology extension, and the Physical Activities Complex. Money was in short supply, even when the tenders for Math and Computer came in lower than the university had expected, at less than $20 a square foot. And construction so often took longer than it was supposed to. The physical plant department issued worried bulletins about how many days, weeks or months each project was behind its "critical path", critical-path planning being the management fad of the year. Among other problems that delayed the construction was an incident in some manufacturer's kiln that burned a huge batch of bricks. I do believe that was the beginning of the brick problems that beset nearly all the buildings Waterloo put up between about 1966 and 1970, so that well into the eighties contractors were working to replace or cover flaking brick. The story grew up that Expo 67 was to blame, that its "Habitat" housing project had taken all the decent brick that every firm in eastern Canada could make, but I suspect the kiln incident is really what did it.

The city, of course, was expanding right along with the university, although probably not yet because of the university - it would take another few years before university spending and spinoff companies were the engines of growth in Kitchener-Waterloo. More than just Westmount Road was under construction; the county government (1966 was before Waterloo Region came into existence) was planning a "Kitchener-Waterloo Expressway", and planners got into public squabbles with dissenters, such as Aubrey Diem of the university's "geography and planning" department, who didn't think a throughway was such a good idea in a city. And the same week that the university endured its first sit-in, the Waterloo city council gave approval for the construction of what would be the biggest shopping centre between Toronto and London: Westmount Place. With that sort of thing going on (and not just in Waterloo, of course, but in every community in Canada) there was going to be a need for many more planners, and the university announced the opening of an honours program in urban and regional planning, which began in the fall of 1966.

Also new that fall was the "school of physical and health education", earliest forebear of the present faculty of applied health sciences. Dan Pugliese was its director. David Sprott, on the other hand, was a dean without a faculty; he was named dean of mathematics effective November 21, although the faculty of math wouldn't be officially spun off from the arts faculty until January 1, 1967. There were a couple of other new deans that year too. Doug Wright resigned as dean of engineering and went on sabbatical (he'd soon be taking a government job) and was replaced by Archie Sherbourne. J. S. Minas became dean of graduate studies, taking over from Ralph Stanton, who left for the University of Manitoba with, so it seemed to me, a few bruised feelings on both sides.

Many people, you know, seem to believe that Stanton was the first dean of math. He never held that title, although he did chair the department of mathematics for a while, and it was his collection of bright neckties that gave math its "pink tie" motif. (If you want my opinion, which you had better, the "original" pink tie on display in the Math and Computer building is no more the one-and-only than is the one that lives in Tom Brzustowski's desk drawer, or any of several others. The fact is, Stanton's ties were always loud, to the point that you could hear him coming around the corner in the old Physics and Math building, and the pink tie is a platonic idea, not a physical artifact.)

Other people came, and went, that year. When Sherbourne became a dean, he gave up the job of warden of residences, and it was taken up by Ron Eydt of the biology department, who would hold it for exactly thirty years. Alan Gordon left as registrar and was succeeded by Trevor Boyes, who would also be in office until the year of the early retirements, 1996. In the rarefied air of the boardroom, Dana Porter finished his term as Waterloo's first chancellor and was succeeded by Ira Needles, the founding chairman of the board, whereupon Carl Pollock took over his seat at the board of governors table.

The board still reigned supreme in the university and still held its meetings behind closed doors, but the slightest whisper of change might be held there too. Waterloo created a "Committee for the Study of University Government", chaired by the vice-president (academic), Ted Batke - the first of many commissions and task forces that would look at how things were structured and how they might be done better. I would have sworn that Lynn Watt was a member of that committee as he was of just about every body at Waterloo for the following three decades, but the membership list doesn't show his name; perhaps somebody was holding back the heaviest hitter until the later innings. It would, after all, be six years before any change in the university's governance came, and there would be a few more sit-ins under the bridge (if that isn't too mixed a metaphor) in the meantime.

Towards the end of the year, just two weeks after the bookstore affair, Hagey gave a special address to faculty and staff. "The rapid growth that we have had and are still experiencing is complicating our organizational problems," he said. "In spite of the appointment of well qualified staff each year, we still have not been able to keep pace with our requirements for adequately qualified people." (Among the new faces at Waterloo in 1966 were John Roorda in civil engineering, Len Gertler in geography and planning, Karl Bennett in economics, Don Meichenbaum in psychology, K. D. Srivastava in electrical engineering, Ted Dixon in physics, Brian Hendley in philosophy.)

The president went on: "We are still not able to plan even a year in advance with a knowledge of the funds that will be available. I have discussed with the Minister of University Affairs the major problems in trying to plan for the future when we do not know the growth pattern that the province is prepared to support financially."

Those were the days, weren't they -- the days when the biggest problem was coping with inexorable growth? Things are different nowadays, when year by year the changes are in the direction of retrenchment and doing more with less. And you know who bears all the responsibility? I'll give you a clue: it ain't me, babe.

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