An Abundance of Anniversaries

— and how UNB celebrated them

Because of its many incarnations — the Provincial Academy of Arts and Sciences (1785-1800), College of New Brunswick (1800-1828), King's College (1829-1859) and the University of New Brunswick — UNB has more than its share of anniversaries.

Top hats and parasols were the order of the day during the laying of the cornerstone for the science and engineering building, now part of Head Hall, in Fredericton.  The 1900 event was part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the granting of the charter for the College of New Brunswick.

Maybe this is how UNB acquired its reputation as a place that loves a party.

It all began at the turn of the last century

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was the students who got the festivities going. In 1899, the Class of 1900 petitioned the university senate to hold a "fitting celebration" marking 100 years since the granting of a provincial charter for the College of New Brunswick. "The advantages resulting from bringing the College before the people favorably and rallying the graduates around their Alma Mater cannot be overestimated," they wrote. "At this important period in her history much might be accomplished of a permanent benefit to the College by arousing the friends of the institution to added exertions on her behalf and more liberal donations." By June of that year, a joint Senate-alumni committee had been struck to plan the celebrations.

And what celebrations they were. Centered around Encaenia at the end of May 1900, the events filled five days. All were free and open to the public as well as students, alumni, faculty and staff. They included the graduation ceremonies for the 11 men and one woman who completed their degrees that year; a students' day at City Hall in downtown Fredericton; sporting competitions; a variety show; an on-campus garden party; the laying of the cornerstone for the science and engineering building (also promoted by the students, who raised $1,455 for the edifice which is now part of Head Hall); and an alumni ball attended by 400 people. The Old Arts Building, the only major building on campus, was festooned with bunting and banners.

The crowning glory of the centenary was a ceremony at the Legislature attended with much pomp and circumstance by delegates from various learned societies, 31 Canadian universities, and several prestigious international institutions, including Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. The university presented a total of 42 honorary degrees, many to these distinguished representatives. Despite the report in the University Monthly (predecessor to The Brunswickan) that, "The program was carried out without a hitch or a break," one honorary degree recipient, founder of New Brunswick's free school system, Theodore Rand, was stricken with a heart attack and died on the spot.

The sesquicentennial celebrations in May 1950 also spanned five days. Preceded by a lecture series, which featured several major speakers, including Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling, the 150th anniversary was a whirl of various alumni reunion activities, banquets and dancing, the iron ring ceremony for engineering graduates, and two Encaenia ceremonies at which "only" 31 honorary degrees were presented. A special convocation was also held in Saint John, then the home of the UNB Law School, at which three members of the legal profession were honored, including Supreme Court justice and native New Brunswicker Ivan Rand. A history of UNB, The Memorial Volume, a collection of essays edited by historian Alfred G. Bailey, was published and sold for $1.50.

Celebrating King's College

Just 29 years later, the university held another sesquicentenary, this one honouring the establishment of King's College and the opening of the Old Arts Building in 1829. After a lengthy search that left a patchwork of excavation around its foundation, the original cornerstone of the building was unearthed and opened, revealing a glass bottle, three British coins from the 1820s, and a brass plaque inscribed in Latin, which read, in part,

With support and honour from all pious and good citizens, The First Attempt at here establishing a Seedbed of Learning upon the most liberal and soundly based principles should be treated . . . . And likewise the building here constructed by the authority of true Loyalty and with the protection of the Father of our Country, sustained by the wisdom of its founders, the integrity and knowledge of its leaders, may it become a Seat of Liberty and Letters, and for many centuries endure.

The main celebration took place in front of 200 people on New Year's Eve 1978 with a viewing of the cornerstone contents and a Historical and Musical Extravaganza written by history professor Bill Acheson, directed by Spanish professor Alvin Shaw and starring President Emeritus Colin B. Mackay, Vice-President Tom Condon and English professor Bob Gibbs. The Brunswick String Quartet provided the accompaniment. Lt.-Gov. Hedard Robichaud presided over the evening.

The Old Arts Building, or Sir Howard Douglas Hall, is an architectural gem and the oldest university building still in use in Canada. It was therefore only fitting that on Jan. 1, 2004, the university community marked the 175th anniversary of the centerpiece of UNB Fredericton by re-enacting the opening of the building. Local actor Peter Pacey appeared as the "ghost" of honour, Sir Howard Douglas, presenting the landmark speech that the lieutenant-governor had delivered almost two centuries before.

UNB's sesquicentennial celebrations in 1950 included the granting of 31 honorary degrees at two Encaenia ceremonies held in the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium.

Two centuries, twice observed

Several years in the planning, the most extensive celebration ever conducted at UNB was the year-long bicentenary of 1985-86, which commemorated the Loyalists' petition to Lt.-Gov. Thomas Carleton on Dec. 13, 1785, requesting the establishment of a Provincial Academy of Arts and Sciences. UNB, as well as Fredericton High School, traces its origins from this early desire for educational opportunities for the youth of the province.

Recognizing UNB's fiscal challenges, the Bicentennial Committee planned a year of cost-effective, grass roots activities that appropriately honoured this significant anniversary. The year's activities included three major events:  Fall Convocation in Fredericton at which 10 honorary degrees were presented; Gaudeamus Igitur, a dramatic musical re-enactment of the presentation of the petition in Saint John by English professor Mark Blagrave; and Encaenia celebrations in Fredericton in May 1986. There were joint celebrations with the University of Georgia, which was also founded in 1785; an exhibition of works by artists associated with UNB; a Bicentennial Ball; an oral history project; special lectures; and a wall calendar featuring the tapestries of alumnus Ivan Crowell. The letters of James Robb, who taught at King's College and UNB from 1837 to 1861, were published, along with several departmental histories, giving insight into the development of UNB. And the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation established the Bicentennial Scholarships for continuing education.

In February 2000, UNB marked another bicentennial, this one of the charter for the College of New Brunswick. University orator and history professor Stephen Patterson saluted the rich history of the institution in a lecture entitled, From College to University: The Origins and Chartering of the College of New Brunswick. The actual 1800 charter granted by the province was on display.

The Alumni Gate was officially opened during UNB Saint John's 25th anniversary celebrations in 1989.

Saint John's Proud Heritage

Not to be outdone by its older sister campus, UNB Saint John, established in 1964, has marked both its 25th and its 40th anniversaries. The silver anniversary party took place on Oct. 12, 1989, with the official opening of the Alumni Gate, donated by graduates; the dedication of the G. Forbes Elliot Athletics Centre, named in honour of the campus's first vice-president; several open houses and art exhibitions; and the planting of 25 trees given as a birthday present by the Fredericton campus.

In 2004, the 40th anniversary spanned a weekend of activities including a golf tournament, banquet, dinner theatre reliving the history of the campus and a Back to Campus Day.

Another cause for celebration

And so we come to the 225th, a Celebration of Spirit, commemorating once again the petition of 1785. Our long and interesting history has provided many occasions to reflect with pride on all we have accomplished here. But there is one anniversary that has never been observed: the 1859 passage of the act creating the University of New Brunswick. Its 150th passed without notice in 2009. Anyone for another bicentenary in 2059?