Powries past and present: U of S student culture through the generations

By in Culture

Every past generation at the University of Saskatchewan had a different experience with campus culture that evolved to bring us the student life of today. Three generations of U of S students in my family shared some memories to show that while some things have changed a lot, others will always be the same.

The U of S began offering classes in 1909 and celebrated its first graduating class in the spring of 1912 with a mere three students, each of whom studied subjects in the arts. Fast forward 40 years to the early 50s and the university had a fully-fledged and internationally recognized experimental physics program, conducted cutting-edge medical research in cancer treatment options and wasPapa-Powrie-1-James2 -Courtesy University Library, Archives & Special Collections Law2006p38 home to faculty with forward-thinking ideas about the Canadian education system. Campus had become a cosmopolitan, intellectual hub.

The 50s were also the years when my grandfather Tom Powrie moved to Saskatoon from a tiny, no longer existent town in the south of Saskatchewan. Tom was a farm kid suddenly immersed in a bustling new home, a sometimes lonely experience which is still shared today by students from rural areas. He says living in Qu’Appelle Hall, though, is one of his fondest memories.

Other memories from Tom’s time at the U of S include the college shows every few years, when different colleges would put on the “Med Show” or the “Engineer’s Show,” which were mixes of skits and other performance art that required the college to unite together to work hard and have a great time performing. Another is a series of fun rivalries that existed between the College of Agriculture — Tom’s undergraduate college — and the College of Engineering.

“One [rivalry] was unusually constructive, about who would have the highest percentage of donors to a blood clinic,” Tom said. “Agriculture beat engineering with the help of an agro who fainted every time a needle came near and couldn’t help it, but served anyhow.”

College unity and pride was strong in general at this time. Campus life was more insular, with transportation options around the city far less accessible than they are today. As a result, nightlife fun looked a little different.

“Fun on weekends? You are joking. We worked,” Tom said.

Still, university students needed to blow off steam back then as much as we do now. According to Tom, going to movies was very popular. Also, the guys would go out to pubs — but not the girls. At this time in Saskatchewan, beer parlours were male-only.

Tom graduated with a bachelor of science in agriculture in 1954 and a masters of economics in 1955. Fast forward again almost 50 years to the early 2000s, when the U of S had become a whole new landscape. The first virtual biotechnology program was introduced at the university, the Physical Activity Complex opened its doors and history professor Bill Weiser published a defining book on Saskatchewan for the province’s 100th birthday. Also, my older cousin attended the U of S — James Powrie.

Obviously, James’ experiences were different from Tom’s — he had the Internet, video games and pub crawls. The agriculture and engineering rivalry was still around though, as was a new rivalry which James was a part of.

“[There was a] competition between law and commerce students for the use of the Law Library,” James said, due to the latter’s reputation for being noisy studiers.

James also recalls “Legal Follies,” the College of Law’s goofy variety show. It was entirely run by students and all proceeds went to charity. However, James’ experiences with student weekend fun Chelsea---Caitlin-Taylorshow the true difference between the early 2000s and the early 1950s.

James’ activities included Tecmo Super Bowl on Nintendo, foosball at Lydia’s Pub — a Broadway Avenue establishment which closed in 2013 — and the many U of S student pub crawls which seemed to happen every weekend. Louis’ Pub was also around, having opened in 1975. He also recalls looking forward to Ag Bag Drag — a quintessentially U of S experience then and now. When asked what he enjoyed most about his U of S experience though, he joked about the law and commerce rivalry.

“[I enjoyed] asking commerce students to be quiet in the Law Library,” James said.

James graduated in 2003 with a bachelor of arts in philosophy and political studies and then again in 2006 from the College of Law. Fast forward one more time to the present and here I am at the U of S, studying geology.

These days, girls go to pubs as well as guys. We don’t have the same level of college pride that my grandpa enjoyed — but then again, we have vastly more students per college. Lydia’s Pub no longer exists and the battle for the Law Library has expanded throughout many colleges — now that we all know it’s the comfiest.

My university experience will be well documented on my various social media accounts — James, of the pre-Facebook university generation, was only able to dig up a blurry handful. I can talk to any of my friends and family who are far away from me with the touch of a few buttons when I’m lonely — my grandpa wrote letters and made phone calls only when it was an option financially.

The student experience at the U of S changes all the time. Still, I was struck by one thing while speaking to my grandpa and cousin. Both of them independently mentioned the same thing while discussing their time on campus when I asked them both for some memories, good and bad.

“A bad experience was walking the length of campus in the cold,” Tom said.

“[A good memory] was the first day of spring when it was nice enough to wear shorts,” James said.

My response to the same question? A great memory is the first sight of small pockets of grass in the Bowl after a long winter. No matter how many years pass in the history of the U of S, some things will never change.


Supplied / Tom Powrie

University Library, Archives & Special Collections

Caitlin Taylor / Photo Editor