Yesterday’s News: Fall 1931

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img003McGill’s principal at the time was Sir Arthur Currie, a decorated First World War general who was knighted in 1917. In 1920, “Guts and Gaiters” Currie brought his battle philosophy of thorough preparedness to the leadership of McGill, where he served as principal until his death in 1933. Although he had had no post-secondary education, Currie proved to be an extraordinarily successful administrator at a critical time in McGill’s history.

The fall issue included a report Currie had prepared for the Board of Governors. Canada was sinking into the Great Depression and McGill’s fortunes were equally bleak. The University, then a private institution, was running a considerable deficit. Investment income was down, enrolment levels could not be maintained and securities were being sold at a loss. Currie noted with chagrin that McGill students were the only ones in the country without a gymnasium. “Had we a gymnasium where they could assemble in the afternoon and play their games, their health would be better and they would be more likely to avoid those indiscretions to which some of them are prone.”

At the principal’s request to “get it done,” alumni mounted a fundraising campaign despite the hard times, and eventually succeeded in building a gym, which opened in 1939 and is named in Currie’s honour.

Also in the issue, Dr. James Trueman, a medical student in the 1870s, reminisced about his teachers, Sir William Osler (“earnest and intense, witty, kindly”) and Sir Thomas Roddick, a great proponent of Lister’s theory of antisepsis, who introduced carbolic spraying during operations at the Montreal General Hospital. Trueman also wrote of Dr. George Fenwick, whose students went on strike, or “sloped” as it was known then, “for some fancied grievance.” Seeing the error of their ways after a week, they notified him they were returning to class, “but when they did so, no Dr. Fenwick appeared.” It seems he retaliated with a week-long strike of his own.

Trueman reported that his McGill diploma and group photograph of the Class of ’81 hung in his office from the time of his graduation but were lost in the disastrous 1906 California earthquake and fire that destroyed 80 per cent of San Francisco.

An article by Frank “Shag” Shaughnessy, coach of a number of men’s and women’s sports teams at McGill over 17 years, explained the benefits of introducing the forward pass to Canadian football. Because it evolved from rugby, “gridiron football” only allowed lateral passing. In Shaughnessy’s estimation, this revolutionary rule change would ultimately please the fans.

“At first they will grumble because more passes are not completed, but they will see the ball twice as much as they did in other years and there will be ten times as many thrills, for a game will seldom be decided until the final whistle blows, on account of the fact that any pass may result in a touchdown.”

By Diana Grier Ayton

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