“Decorating Dalhousie”

James MacLeod Teaching a Night Class, Dalhousie University, [191-?]

1st Alternative Title for This Post: “Kid, Don’t You Have a Test to Study For?”

2nd Alternative Title: “Prof, Don’t You Have Papers to Grade?”

One of the questions I had when I began my research into my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s education was what campus life would have been like at the time she attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (My curiosity had been piqued by photographs in The Family Archives, including several snapshots of men in academic gowns standing around in the snow.)

I was fortunate to find that Dalhousie’s online digital archives include scanned copies of the student newspaper, The Dalhousie Gazette from 1915-1918, when Velma attended. What better reflection of campus life than the student-run newspaper?

“Decorating Dalhousie” was the leading article of the May 18, 1916 edition of The Dalhousie Gazette. Initially, the intent of the article appears to be commentary on the way in which the recently-built science building and library on the new Studley campus reflected the character and tradition of the University:

Dalhousie, it must be borne constantly in mind, is a little sister of Edinburgh, and the Dalhousie tradition is overwhelmingly Scottish. Strictly in accordance with that origin and that tradition, the new Dalhousie rising at Studley is architecturally severe. Indeed the features of of the two new buildings are rugged plainness of rough stones and the honesty of straight lines. The Laboratory has even been denounced for its resemblances to a jail or a factory; the only concessions to a sense of the beautiful are the pillared porches of the two entrances. All has the air of “Caledonia stern and wild”.1

Science Building, Studley Campus

In Dalhousie, the essentials have always come first, the beef and the potatoes before the mustard and the pudding, the mathematics and classics before the “music, French and washing, extra.” This does not imply that that extras are not valuable, or that they should be omitted altogether. Dalhousie has her two new massive buildings at Studley, perfect fortresses of learning to the eye, capable of standing a siege, “pensive citadels” as Wordsworth might call them; . . . 2

I found the preceding passage interesting and enlightening; it seemed to describe a place where Velma would have been comfortable, given her upbringing on the Economy Point farm and her affinity for hard work. Moreover, my own memories of her are that she was not a woman who suffered fools gladly.

However, “Decorating Dalhousie” then takes an unexpected turn and begins to suggest ways in which the severe aspect of the new campus might be softened and beautified:

Concrete is not romantic, but it offers wall spaces and ceilings, ample and virgin-white, which simply cry aloud for the brush of the artist. In the Physics lecture-room, for example, how fine it would be to see the walls covered with Burne-Jones’s “Six Days of Creation!” The dreamy Celtic angels with their wonderful wings and divers spheres might perhaps arouse the dullest to the notion that there was something more in Physics than strings and strains and stresses, measurements, formulas and examinations.3

In the mathematical room, there should of course be a fresco of Archimedes in the sack of Syracuse, so intent on his geometrical problem that he paid no heed to the plundering soldier who was about to cut his throat. This would point to the obvious moral of concentration, regardless of the consequences.4

By the time I reached the apogee of this flight of fancy, my reaction was pretty much, Kid, don’t you have a test to study for?:

Those lunettes, (or whatever they are called)–those semicircular spaces over the windows of the Big Lab–are just the place for portrait busts of the Scientific Professors done up as Della Robbia bambini. I seem to see them all in while and blue majolica, swathed and swaddled more or less (to symbolize the toils of laboratory work) and stretching out their little hands in benediction over all who shall enter the doors beneath them.5

The only byline I could find for “Decorating Dalhousie” was a set of initials: A. M. M. I checked the masthead of the Gazetette to see if I could identify this student was who wasting time writing fanciful drivel to amuse his classmates, all of whom should have been studying for tests or writing papers. There were no names that matched A. M. M. Then I saw the name Archibald MacMechan under a poem that immediately preceded “Decorating Dalhousie.” Of course! I’d see his name in The Family Archives. Archibald MacMechan was Velma’s English professor:  A. M. M.

I therefore believe this august gentleman to be the perpetrator of “Decorating Dalhousie.”

 

Postscript: From everything I’ve seen in the Dalhousie University archives, Dr. MacMechan was an accomplished and well-respected member of the academic community. In poking gentle fun, I mean no disrespect.


Photograph of James MacLeod teaching a night class Dalhousie University Archives, [191-?], PC1, Box 12, Folder 48, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

1“Decorating Dalhousie,” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVIII, no. 11 (May 18, 1916): 1.

Photograph of Dalhousie College Studley campus, [after 1915], PC1, Box 38, Folder 52, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

2“Decorating Dalhousie,” 1.

3“Decorating Dalhouse,” 1.

Image: Edward Bourne-Jones, Six Days of Creation, 1870-1876, Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge, MA.

4“Decorating Dalhousie,” 1.

Image: Death of Archimedes in the sack of Syracuse, http://www.art.com.

5“Decorating Dalhousie,” 1.

Image: Andrea della Robbia – Glazed terra-cotta reliefs of swaddled babies, Gallery of the Ospedale degli Innocenti.

 

Studley Campus, Dalhousie University, 1915

Dalhousie College Studley campus [after 1915]

I was surprised to learn that although Dalhousie University was founded in 1818,1 it was still relatively small at the time my grandmother Velma Jane Moore attended (1915-1918). The total number of students enrolled in 1918 was 339: 188 in Arts & Science, 30 in Law, 67 in Medicine, 18 in Dentistry, 28 in Engineering, and 8 in Music.2 The teaching staff comprised 80 professors, assistant professors, lecturers, and demonstrators.3

When Velma arrived at Dalhousie in the fall of 1915 to begin her studies in Arts and Science, the University had just moved to a new campus:

The new home of the University [the Studley campus] contains more than 40 acres and is beautifully situated on a partly wooded eminence overlooking the North West Arm. The corner stone of the first of the new buildings, the Science Building, was laid . . . on Aug. 15th, 1912. The Science Building and the Macdonald Memorial Library were opened for occupancy in the fall of 1915, and the work of the Faculty of Arts and Science is now carried on in these buildings.4

Digging into the Dalhousie University digital archives, I was able to find several photographs of the Studley Campus from that time to get a feel for what Velma’s walks to class would have been like:

Science Building, Studley Campus

Macdonald Memorial Library, Studley Campus

Macdonald Memorial Library, Studley Campus

And of course the reading room of the library, where Velma would have spent a great deal of her time:

Macdonald Library Reading Room

Here is a picture of Velma (l.) on her way to or from class with her friend Christine. Note their heavy fur-trimmed coats and the fur muff Velma carried. It was a very cold day on the Studley campus!


1A. E. Southall, ed., Imperial Year Book for Dominion of Canada 1917-1918 (Ottawa: Mortimer Co. Limited, 1917), 3: 387.

2Southall, Imperial Year Book, 3: 387.

3Southall, Imperial Year Book, 3: 387.

4Dalhousie University, “Introduction: Historical Sketch,” Calendar of Dalhousie University: Halifax – Nova Scotia, nos. 1916-1917 (1916): 3-4.

Photograph of Dalhousie College Studley campus, [after 1915], PC1, Box 38, Folder 52, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of Science Building, Studley Campus, 1916, PC1, Box 46, Folder 1, Item 23 , Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of Macdonald Memorial Library, Studley Campus, PC1, Box 46, Folder 1, Item 25, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of Macdonald Memorial Library, Studley Campus, 1916, PC1, Box 46, Folder 1, Item 24, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of Macdonald library reading room, February 1916, PC1, Box 31, Folder 11, Item 1, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Some Highlights of Truro, Nova Scotia in 1903

Street View, Truro (Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia)

Before I leave my grandmother Velma’s high school years behind as she enters Dalhousie University in the fall of 1915, I’ll share a few details about the town of Truro, where the high school she attended, Colchester County Academy, was located. My source for these details is Markland Or Nova Scotia: Its History, Natural Resources, and Native Beauties, by Robert Randall McLeod. Published in 1903, Markland Or Nova Scotia is the work of another of those obscure nineteenth-century historians in whose prose I take such delight.

Truro was about thirty-four miles from the Moore farm in Economy Point, so it was necessary for Velma to stay with her father’s sister, Addie Moore, when school was in session, returning to the farm in the summer.

When Velma entered high school in 1910, living in town would have been quite different from living on the farm. As McLeod’s history tells us:

Streets, dwellings, and stores are lighted by electricity. There are eleven churches and two superior hotels.1

. . . .

Quite a number of manufactories are in successful operation. There is the Truro Foundry Company, the Truro Knitting Mills Company, the Truro Condensed Milk and Creamery Company.

This town is also a railway center of considerable importance, being on the Intercolonial Line, also the point of departure for Pictou and all points in Cape Breton. Recently, the Hants Central Railway has been opened to Truro, and it will doubtless add not a little to the business importance of the place.2

As for Colchester County Academy itself, “[it] is a credit to the town, and its equipments are of a high order. . . . The academy has a good laboratory and is well-equipped with apparatus for scientific work.”3 Velma was well-served by the academy’s laboratory and faculty, as they provided her with the foundation needed to later pursue a university degree in biology. Opportunities for cultural experiences would also have been available to her in Truro: “A Conservatory of Music is among the later institutions of the town, and is reported to be in a flourishing condition.”4

Architect’s Rendering of Colchester County Academy, 1902 (Image: Annual Report of the Superintendent of Education of the Public Schools of Nova Scotia, 1902)

Another of Truro’s attractions was Victoria Park, with which McLeod was obviously very taken:

I have before me an elaborate description wherein the writer can hardly keep his feet for the tendency to take flight. Here too at my hand are half-tone views of rustic summer loveliness as they were caught by the camera, and they fill me with “longings for spring.” Here are driveways following cycloidal sweeps of a curve system that has delved under the sheltering hillside, where it frets the roots of ancient trees, and gets itself tented under their friendly branches.

It is very evident that the spell of the place is on me also, and to stop while I can is prudent.5

Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia

Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia

Before I return McLeod’s virtual dusty tome to its proper place in the Google Books stacks, I must give him credit for the following digression on his way to discussing the founding fathers of the town–which echoes the genealogist’s lament:

Alas that the mothers are so often overlooked in the records of people, and often in the written lives of illustrious sons. John Stuart Mill wrote his life and never once mentioned his mother, who was a worthy woman, and did more for him than his father, whom he never tires of admiring.6

Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia


1Robert Randall McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia: Its History, Natural Resources and Native Beauties (Toronto: Markland Publishing Company, 1903), 326.
2McLeod, Markland or Nova, 327.
3McLeod, Markland or Nova, 327.
4McLeod, Markland or Nova, 326.
5McLeod, Markland or Nova, 326.
6McLeod, Markland or Nova, 327.

Ancestors Out of Context

This is one of my favorite pictures from The Family Archives. It looks to have been taken when my grandmother Velma was in high school, at the age of perhaps thirteen or fourteen. Although the photograph is obviously posed, I now know from my research that her posing with a book was not at all a photographer’s (or a parent’s) affectation. Posing with a book at her fingertips would have been a true reflection of who she was. Funny, though–I remember her cooking for us, cleaning (although she first shooed us out of the house), and arranging wild flowers for the table–but I never actually saw her sitting and reading a book that I can recall.

Along similar lines, when I discovered her name listed in the Nova Scotia provincial records1 as having passed her each of her high school examinations, it gave me the strangest little thrill to see someone I had known in only one context, as my grandmother, in a completely different context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m reminded of E.M. Forester’s explanation in Aspects of the Novel of the difference between flat and round characters:

In their purest form, [flat characters] are constructed round a single idea or quality: when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve toward the round.

. . . .

The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. 2

I suppose this must be the family history paradox. We want to know more about our ancestors because of their connection to us. Yet at the same time, we want to take our close ancestors out of their immediate context (i.e., their relation to us) so that we can know them as fully-realized, three-dimensional people, rather than flat characters defined only by their relation to us.


1Journal of education: being the semi-annual supplement to the report of the superintendent of education for Nova Scotia, 3rd ser., VIII, no. 3 (April 1915): 93.

2E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (London: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1927), 67, 78.