Big Welcome Week rallies of the late '40s and early '50s [Griffiths inter-varsity rally]

Submitted by aec059 on Wed, 12/07/2022 - 10:06

On Campus News, 6 September 1996

"We'll Cheer For Dear Old Varsity"
S'katchewan Varsity!
I hickety ki yi, I hickety kye.
Deo et Patriae, Deo et Patriae,
The Green and White


In the 1940s and early 1950s, one of the grandest events on the University calendar was Welcome Week's Griffiths Inter-varsity Rally. Held on an evening of the first week of classes at Griffiths stadium, it often attracted several thousand participants. It was a time to welcome new students and demonstrate school spirit.

"Joe" Griffiths, director of men's physical training, played host and led the throng through the university yells and songs. The night continued with the introduction of the Student Representative Council, a message from the President, skits, athletic demonstrations, fireworks and sing-songs. Reportedly the most exciting and entertaining portion of the night was the inter-varsity torch race. Four-man relay teams from each college vied for the much prized Gil Watson Memorial Trophy named after Gilbert A. Watson (BA 1936), former manager of the Huskie track team, who had died in Toronto in 1943.

Scandal rocked the race in 1953 when the College of Law was disqualified for entering a horse, leaving the College of Engineering to claim the trophy. Law threatened to sue saying, "While we are understandably reluctant to resort to the Courts of Law to uphold our claims, due to the fact that the College of Engineers would be at such a disadvantage in such an intellectual atmosphere, unless an immediate apology coupled with a renunciation of the trophy by the Engineers is forthcoming, we shall have no alternative than to resort to the courts." The Engineers kept the trophy.

At the conclusion of the rally the crowd sang the University song as hundreds of stationary torches were lit to spell a fiery "U of S". This was immediately followed by a parade through campus. In 1946 it was described as a "monster torch parade with some 500 torches with a band and drum majorettes." The University's use of torches is said to have originated in 1907 when the citizens of Saskatoon held a torch light parade to celebrate the news that the University of Saskatchewan would be located in the city. In later years the torch parade would be dropped in favour of a snake dance which was itself subsequently banned as it because it repeatedly spilled over into downtown Saskatoon becoming increasingly unruly.

The campus parade ended in the fields behind the Chemistry Building (Thorvaldson) where as many as two dozen "official" bonfires were lit. Free wieners and coffee were supplied and the crowd ate, sang and socialized till the fires burned low.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, the rally, torch race, snake dance and wiener roast would all disappear. As enrolment increased and new colleges were added, the University became less of a small close-knit community. Much was gained in the ensuing decades of expansion but there were also losses.

Patrick Hayes