Alumni reunions:  a long and varied tradition

The week-long alumni reunion of 1923 attracted 200 graduates and was celebrated in conjunction with Encaenia in May.While alumni gatherings of one sort or another been a part of UNB Fredericton since 1866 — four years after the Associated Alumni was established — major alumni reunions are a creature of the 20th century. 

In 1900, UNB celebrated one of its many anniversaries:  the centenary of the charter creating the College of New Brunswick, one of its predecessor institutions.  On that occasion, some 400 people were drawn back to their alma mater, some from as far away as the U.K. and western Canada.

Alumni roared to life in the Twenties

But the tradition of official alumni reunions did not take hold until 1923.  The year before, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in New York had commissioned a study that recommended a consolidated “University of the Maritimes” located at Dalhousie University in Halifax.  UNB President C.C. Jones categorically opposed the proposition and alumni and alumnae rallied round to support him.  The week-long May event coincided with Encaenia and attracted some 200 graduates to a sports day, dramatic performance, a garden party, ceremonies, dances and dinners. 

Sir George Foster, who spoke at the reunion dinner, claimed the reunion was “one of the most blessed things he had stumbled or cogitated into.”  And he used the occasion to challenge the alumni and others to establish a half-million dollar endowment fund for the university, guaranteeing $50,000 in contributions himself.  On the strength of the interest shown, the Associated Alumni began publishing the Alumni Bulletin in July 1923.

Recent years marked by mega-events

The reunion held during the 100th anniversary of the Associated Alumni in 1962 included a Red ‘n Black Revue revival, complete with the event’s signature kickline. Several more reunions followed in the 1920s and ‘30s.  In 1947, the alumni reunion drew 700 people to celebrate the installation of  Lord Beaverbrook as chancellor.  In 1957, the reunion or “homecoming” was held in the fall and featured John F. Kennedy as Convocation speaker.  Photo on page 99 of Pictorial History

The centenary of the Associated Alumni was marked in 1963 with a major reunion that attracted 450 graduates.  Thereafter reunions were held annually for the graduates of classes celebrating incremental five-year anniversaries: five, 10, 15, 20, 25 or more years out.

In August 2000, to mark the millennium, UNB Fredericton held its largest reunion ever.  Blessed with flawless summer weather, upwards of 3,000 people attended Homecoming 2000, overrunning the campus and the city for four days.  Two huge tents dominated the hillside below the Aitken Centre, the focal point for socializing and such events as the popular lobster boil and Pub Under the Stars. A Red ‘n’ Black revival of UNB’s annual variety show played to a standing room audience.

In fall 2010, the alumni homecoming observed UNB’s 225th anniversary by augmenting the traditional reunion events with a Parade of Presidents, anniversary cake and the launch of the architectural history book by John Leroux.  Several hundred people attended the festivities, including President Eddy Campbell; former UNB presidents John Anderson, Jim Downey, Liz Parr-Johnston and John McLaughlin; and former acting president Tom Condon.

Saint John also ties reunions to anniversaries

UNB’s younger campus has held two reunions in conjunction with its 25th anniversary in 1989 and its 40th in 2004.  Thirty-five classes comprising 7,000 students have now graduated from the Saint John campus and, if tradition serves, the annual reunions should be starting any time now.