Velma Graduates: Convocation!

Velma Jane Brown, Dalhousie University, Class of 1918

Velma Jane Moore, Dalhousie University, 1918

My grandmother Velma Jane Moore was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dalhousie University in 1918. Excelling at her studies, she earned the honor of graduating “With Distinction.”1 Velma’s graduation would have been a very proud day for her and her parents. Oddly, although our Family Archives include photographs of Velma posing with various friends, there are no photographs of the graduate with her parents. I would be very surprised if Baxter and Martha hadn’t been there.


Convocation for the Class of 1918 was held on May 9, 1918 in the Studley campus library.2 I was thrilled to find a first-hand account in the Dalhousie Gazette of Velma’s graduation day. Here are the highlights:

Because of the war the programme was necessarily of the simplest, but nevertheless the room was filled to overflowing with friends of the graduates and of the University. . . . At the eastern end of the building a platform was erected upon which the senate and the guests of honor were seated. Above this dais was hung a long white banner bearing the names of the twenty-seven Dalhousians who have been awarded military honors in the present conflict.

. . . .

Promptly at three o’clock, those who were to obtain degrees marched down the aisle to the places reserved for them in the four front rows. The co-eds looked particularly charming in their white frocks and black gowns. There were no bouquets this year, but each girl wore a single daffodil at her corsage. The guest of honor and the professors followed.

. . . .

The awarding of prizes and diplomas . . . followed [the University president’s address]. Although the platform was narrow and the candidates nervous, none of them fell off as they made their parade across it.

. . . .

The programme was closed with a talk to the graduates by Dr. T. Stannage Boyle of King’s College. Dr. Boyle spoke strongly and sincerely, and kept away from the platitudes which usually flow so freely at convocations.3

Velma’s Major

Our family always assumed that Velma had majored in English because she was such an avid reader throughout her life. However, decades later the Nova Scotia provincial records would prove our assumption to be false. In fact, she graduated with a major in Biology and a minor in English.4

In my next post, I will answer the question of what Velma did in the year after she graduated from college, as the provincial records prove another family assumption to be incorrect.

1“Convocation,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918):10.

2“Convocation,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918):11.

3“Convocation,” Dalhousie Gazette: 10.

4Province of Nova Scotia, “Pass List, 1918: University Graduates’ Testing Examinations,” in “Being the Semi-Annual Supplement to the Report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia,” supplement, Journal of Education, 3rd ser., IX, nos. 1918-19 (April 1918): 85,;view=1up;seq=239.




The Halifax Explosion of 1917

Looking north toward Pier 8 from Hillis foundry after great explosion, Halifax, Dec. 6, 1917

“People were packed in our car like flies. Some of them came to the place with noses shot off, eyes put out, faces slashed with flying glass, limbs torn and distorted. One man came in with blood streaming from what was originally his face. On one occasion while we were working around a wrecked building we could see a little baby 50 feet or more underneath a burning mass crying for aid. We could not get within 30 feet of the child and had to watch while it burned to death. Men and women children were lying on the streets and hundreds must be buried beneath the wreckage.” ~Esmond P. Barry, Eyewitness to the Halifax Explosion of 19171


I first learned of the Halifax explosion of 1917 from my mother’s biography of her mother, Velma Jane Moore, who was attending Dalhousie University in Halifax at the time of the explosion:

I remember her telling about the awful Halifax explosion. Wikipedia says that on 6 December 1917 the S.S. Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship carrying munitions collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in Halifax Harbor. A fire on the French ship broke out and the munitions exploded. The explosion was the largest man-made explosion until the A-bomb, 2,000 were killed by debris and fires and 9,000 injured. I can see why Velma remembered this.2


When my husband and I visited Halifax in July of 2017, we made a point of going to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to learn more. Once we’d finished viewing the Halifax explosion exhibit and learned the full horror of what had happened, I was struck by just how incongruous the following part of the exhibit seemed. The central image of the little girl flying through the air conveyed a sense of whimsy that was really quite jarring.

Image: The Halifax Explosion Memorial Quilt, Collision in the Narrows Exhibit, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 2017

The following map from the Nova Scotia Archives3 shows where Velma would have been on the Dalhousie campus in relation to the waterfront. The blue shading at the bottom of the map indicates the area that was leveled.

Given the distance of Dalhousie from the waterfront, I wasn’t sure whether the campus would have sustained any damage. A search through the online University archives revealed photographs of buildings that had received some relatively minor damage, mostly broken windows. The Dalhousie Gazette reported that two students were seriously injured. One student lost an eye due to flying glass and another sustained injuries to her face and hands.4 Several people in the Law Library at the time of the explosion suffered minor cuts and bruises.5

Dalhousie University Science Building after the Halifax Explosion of 1917

MacDonald Memorial Library after the Halifax Explosion of 1917

The Dalhousie campus community rallied to help the injured:

Within fifteen minutes after the explosion, probably every student in the higher three years was rendering first aid, and the majority of the students from every faculty were assisting in a variety of ways as numerous as the needs they saw. In a few hours most of the medical and a goodly number of the others had found places of usefulness in the dressing stations, and particularly at the Victoria General and Camp Hill hospitals. . . . The fifth year men were at work for hours at a time, doing things in the operating rooms and wards of the V. G. H. of which specialists need not have been ashamed. Students of the fourth year did dressings, gave anaesthetics, and in many ways made practical application of surgical knowledge recently acquired.6


In the interest of balanced reporting, there was a brief mention in the article that, “There were a few regrettable actions by the students. A very few failed to do their duty as college men and women . . . ” 7

In addition to the medical students, the young women on campus were singled out for particular mention in two different articles:

Dalhousie girls responded nobly and promptly to the call for voluntary helpers. The day of the explosion many of them went directly to the hospitals, emergency and permanent, where, among the horrible confusion and sickening scenes, they did what they could towards assisting the doctors. Others helped in distributing food and clothing, or in house to house visiting.8

If there is any one class of Dalhousians which, in the writer’s estimation, is deserving of special mention, it is the young ladies of the University, who so quietly went to work, assisting in the dressing of wounds and ministering to the comfort of patients amid scenes of agony and death to which they were absolutely unaccustomed, and which are known to have shocked the nerves of even those accustomed to surgical work.9


I was proud but not surprised to find Velma listed among the Dalhousie girls who had provided relief to the wounded in the immediate aftermath of the explosion:

Ward work at the various hospitals: Freda Creighton, Bert Colwell, Merle Colpitt, Anna Creighton, Miss Clark, Marion Doane, Gwen Fraser, Ruth Glasel, Miss Harris, Miss Lindsay, Emmeline and Arabella McKenzie, Christine McKinnon, Sally MacDonald, Jean MacDonald, Christine MacCleod, Nell Melrose, Velma Moore, Florence Murray, Eliphail Nichols, Margaret Pugsley, Jean Ross, Frances Russell, Katherine Tattrie.10


However, I found the final article concluding the  Dalhousie Gazette‘s front page coverage of the Halifax explosion to be in poor taste, even for those of the adolescent persuasion:


The Faculty, always so tenderly considerate of the students, felt that, in spite of this catastrophe, it would be shameful to deprive them of the Christmas Examinations, and so, on the twenty-first of January, they played Santa Claus, by presenting us with a series of one hour quizzes. Then, lest we grow blase with inaction, they ordained that lectures should continue through the Examination period. Great was the gnashing of teeth among the afflicted, as the explosion had blown every molecule of many a normally near-vacuum. Everyone agreed that district visiting was much more interesting than the Ablative Absolute, but alas the callous Senate refused to adopt this humanitarian idea.11


For Additional Information:

The Nova Scotia Archives has a wealth of primary sources about the Halifax explosion, “including records accumulated by Archibald MacMechan, professor of English language and literature at Dalhousie University, Halifax NS. Immediately following the 1917 Explosion, MacMechan was requested by authorities to prepare an official history of the explosion and was given the title of director of the Halifax Disaster Record Office, 1917-1918.”12 Dr. MacMechan was Velma’s English professor.

Image: W. G. MacGlaughlin, Looking north toward Pier 8 from Hillis foundry after great explosion, Halifax, Dec. 6, 1917, 1917, photograph, Reference no.: W.G. MacLaughlan Nova Scotia Archives accession no. 1988-34 no. 14, A Vision of Regeneration, Nova Scotia Archives.

1“Eyewitnesses Tell of the Awful Scenes in Streets,” The Boston Globe (Boston), December 7, 1917, 6.

2Kay Brown Gauffreau, “The Ancestry & Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown” (unpublished manuscript, December 2013), 25.

3“Plan Showing Devastated Area of Halifax City, N.S.,” map, 1918, Reference no.: N.S. Board of Insurance Underwriters Nova Scotia Archives V6/240 – 1917 Halifax loc., A Vision of Regeneration, Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax.

4“Casualties at Dalhousie,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 1.

5“Casualties,” Dalhousie Gazette.

Photograph of the Dalhousie University Science building broken windows, MS-2-718, PB Box 14, Folder 23, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of MacDonald Memorial Library after Halifax Explosion / PC1, Box 31, Folder 12, Item 2, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

6“Dalhousians and Medical Relief Work,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 2.

7“Medical Relief,” Dalhousie Gazette.

8“Relief Work among the Women,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 1.

9“Medical Relief,” Dalhousie Gazette.

10“Women,” Dalhousie Gazette.

11“Not Even T. N. T. Could Stop the Exams,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 1 (January 29, 1918): 1.

12Province of Nova Scotia, “1917 Halifax Explosion: Personal Narratives and other materials,” Nova Scotia Archives, accessed July 4, 2018,

Dalhousie & the Great War: Valedictory Address

Ernest Parker Duchemin, Valedictorian, Class of 1918

Our earnest wish is that we may turn these lessons to good account, and that we may prove not unworthy graduates of a University with such a noble and imposing roll of honor. ~Ernest Parker Duchemin


Ernest Parker Duchemin was valedictorian for Dalhousie University’s Class of 1918, which included my maternal grandmother Velma Jane Moore. In his valedictory address, Duchemin spoke eloquently of the effect of the Great War on the campus community:

In several respects the career of Class 1918 has been unique. Ours is the first graduating class whose entire course has been passed under the shadow of the great War. The spectre of the war has been with us continually. It has haunted us at our studies as at our sports, in the lecture rooms, at our College functions, and in all the varied activities of College life. The War has interpreted history, literature and philosophy for us in new and impressive ways. It has broken our class circles by the departure of those who have responded to the call of Country. Its stern realities have been brought home to us with terrible force as the announcements have periodically come of one Dalhousian after another having fallen on the stricken field, dying that the noblest ideals of civilization might live. Its glories and heroisms have stirred us as we have read of the numerous decorations for distinguished service on the field that have come to those whom we are proud to claim as alumni of our Alma Mater. It would be strange indeed if a collegiate course passed under such circumstances should not impart to the present graduating class lessons which were not prescribed in the curriculum, and material for the building of character not to be discovered in any formal system of ethics. Our earnest wish is that we may turn these lessons to good account, and that we may prove not unworthy graduates of a University with such a noble and imposing roll of honor.

When class ’18 came into existence with the opening of the Autumn session of 1914 it consisted of thirty-seven members, whose numbers were afterwards increased to seventy-two by the admission of thirty-five additional students to advanced undergraduate standing. But its ranks have been decimated at that tomorrow’s convocation but twenty will receive their academic degrees. Thirty-four have enlisted for service at the front. Three of these, Carson, Grierson and Hyde, have made the supreme sacrifice, and their names are enshrined on the University’s Roll of Honor as a heritage and inspiration to future generations of Dalhousians. Others have discontinued their studies in response to the Country’s call in other fields of service. Never have the forces of disintegration wrought such havoc with college life.1


Cyril Hyde, Dalhousie University Class of 1918, Freshman Year

George Henderson Campbell

Students and Alumni of Dalhousie rejoice to know that while the War has brought stressful times to all Canadian Universities, it has also brought substantial marks of appreciation of what our own College is doing along the lines of higher education. Dalhousie has received a number of generous benefactions since the beginning of the War. Two of these are worthy of special reference. in 1917 the Chairman of our Board of Governors, Mr. George S. Campbell, and Mrs. Campbell made the splendid donation of $25,000 to found scholarships for deserving students in memory of their only son, George H. Campbell, B.A. of 1915, who enlisted during his senior year and was killed while on active duty at the front.2

George H. Campbell on the 1914 Dalhousie Football Team

Eric Reginald Dennis

During the present year the Hon. Senator Dennis and Mrs. Dennis made the generous gift of $60,000 to the Senate of Dalhousie to found a Chair of Government and Political Science to commemorate their son Lieutenant Eric Dennis, who fell fighting at Vimy Ridge a year ago. Dalhousie is honoured in being made the custodian of these monuments of Nova Scotia heroism. And what more fitting monuments could be erected to the memory of these gallant sons of our province, who gave their lives for freedom and democracy? Both gifts express, in a far-seeing and enlightened manner, the very principles for which the donor’s sons have fought and died. In both cases these public spirited men have the same patriotic object in view, namely, to democratize higher education in Nova Scotia. The George H. Campbell scholarships will bring the advantages of University training within reach of a larger number of Nova Scotia boys and girls. The Eric Dennis Chair of Government and Political Science–the first chair of its kind to be established in any Canadian University–will broaden the influence of Dalhousie as a force in the moulding of the future citizenship of the country.3


In reading Duchemin’s account of the Campbell and Dennis gifts to the University, I was particularly struck by his expression of the human need to find good coming out of tragedy. Giving to others in the name of our loved one makes the grief easier to bear. The George H. Campbell scholarship and the Eric Dennis Chair of Government and Political Science are still a part of the Dalhousie University tradition and as such now honor the parents as well as the sons.

Image:, retrieved 7/1/2018.

For More Information:

Additional information about the war records of George Henderson Campbell and Eric Reginald Dennis can be found on the Canadian Great War Project website. The website’s searchable database includes entries for over 180,00 individual soldiers.

Information about the burial sites of George Henderson Campbell and Eric Reginald Dennis can be found on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website. Images of their grave markers are included.

An account of Dennis’s death at Vimy Ridge can be found here.

Dennis is also commemorated at Acadia University, where his father was on the Board of Governors. Read about it here.

Image of Ernest Parker Duchemin, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

1E. P. Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette L, no. 10-11 (June 18, 1918): 14.

Image of J. B. C. Carson, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Image of Vernon Grierson, Composite photograph of Dalhousie University Arts, Science and Engineering class of 1918, PC1, Box 26, Folder 40, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Image of Class of 1918 Freshman Year, PC1, Box 27, Folder 7, Climo’s Studio, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Photograph of George Henderson Campbell, UA-32, Box 10, Folder 1, Item 5, Dalhousie Alumni Association, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

2Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette.

Photograph of Dalhousie University Football Team in 1914, PC1, Box 22, Folder 20, Gauvin & Gentzel, Dalhousie University Archives, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

3Duchemin, “Valedictory,” Dalhousie Gazette.

Chronicle Herald, “Soldier’s Story: Capt. Eric Reginald Dennis,” The Great War, accessed July 1, 2018,