Yesterday’s News: Spring 1947

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The return of World War II veterans caused McGill to burst at the seams. An air force base handled the overload and alumni launched a worldwide fundraising campaign to build a sports complex for the University’s servicemen and women. 

by Diana Grier Ayton

Declaring itself the “War Memorial Issue,” the Spring 1947 edition of the News reported on the progress of the campaign to raise $750,000 to complete a sports complex honouring the 5,547 McGill men and women who served in the Second World War. Donations from alumni and friends had poured in from around the world. Not everyone could send money, though – tight government restrictions in England meant currency couldn’t leave the country, so graduates instead sent tiles for the swimming pool.

War veterans were having a big impact on McGill. In the spring of 1947, the University was “jammed to capacity” with more than 8,200 students registered, 48 percent of whom were returning veterans. Overall, McGill enrolment was about three times what it had been before the war, and the demand for space and the shortage of workers and materials in the post-war building industry made it impossible for the University to add new facilities in Montreal.

The South California branch of the McGill Graduates' Society must have had some awfully good connections back in 1947 when they managed to get Bing Crosby to host one of their events

McGill therefore renewed its lease for two more years on Dawson College, a former air force station and repair depot, at St. Jean, Quebec. Dawson accommodated first- and second-year science and engineering students (the areas experiencing the greatest increases in enrolment). St. Jean, located 20 miles (32km) southeast of Montreal, was still close enough for travel to and from McGill social events in the city.

Some urgent building repairs were taking place on campus, however. The News reported on a tour of the “famous East Wing of the Arts Building,” once the home of Principal William Dawson, that would be “prepared for a new century of usefulness by having its wooden beams, now sagging under a great load of files, replaced by steel.”

Times were very different in the area of athletics, with a high-minded declaration promoting the spirit of amateurism being issued by Principal F. Cyril James and published in the News. A special Senate committee produced the seven-point code, which looked “with disfavor upon the granting of ‘athletic scholarships’, proselytizing, scouting and subsidization in any form.”

The McGill Daily – at the time still a daily responded to a story from an “international news agency” which asserted that communism was rampant at McGill and that the Daily was a red-directed rag. Formal letters of denial were huffily circulated by the editors, and overnight, Daily staff produced a two-page supplement to the regular issue. The McGill Daily Worker, which “lampooned the news agency’s accusation from every campus angle” was deemed “clever” and “devastating” by the News.

A report from the branches included a photo and short note about an event at Paramount studios in Hollywood, where crooner Bing Crosby hosted a McGill Graduates’ Society delegation. The News ran a photo of Bing and a group of star-struck grads, including (here’s that name again) Victor Dawson, grandson of Sir William and president of the South California branch.

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