The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Ingenuity at its finest: Over one hundred years of stories and traditions

By in Features
University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, RG 2024, 2006-086, 2211, Student Pranks. Photographer: David Mandeville.

Dayne Gawley, the president of the Saskatoon Engineering Students’ Society, sits with his back to the window. A table fills the center of the room, outlined with shelves and papers. He is wearing his red engineering jacket and a beaming smile from ear to ear.

Gawley has heard many of the college’s infamous pranks and rivalries that date back to the early days of the university. These stories are passed on today not just by faculty members and senior students, but by family members, too. Although it’s documented sparsely, the emotions these stories bring carry on. 

When questioned about the history of the annual water balloon fight known as College Splash, Gawley simply asked, “Do you want to go right to the beginning of how that started?”

College Splash is an event that engineering and agriculture students perform during the Fall Term. It is an amicable commemoration of the rivalry between the two colleges, which dates back to more than a hundred years ago. However, stories of the past are vastly different to now. Back then, the rivalry wasn’t just between engineers and agros — commerce and arts students were part of it, too.

The engineers of the past donned their prankster hats when things got dull. The pranks were originally born from a couple of water balloons launched from the top of the Thorvaldson Building, according to Gawley. He says it was the first prank that initiated years of prankings afterwards.

“It set the tone for the long history of pranks where the pranks are funny if you’re an engineer and you’re doing the prank, but it’s not so fun if you’re on the receiving end,” Gawley said.

Gawley is among the few who know these stories of the college. He says that the College Splash came from an event in the ‘70s called “The Crucifixion.” Because rules were not made yet for these pranks, kidnapping was part of the culture then. The engineering students would kidnap the agriculture president and from there on, it becomes a game of King of the Hill.

“The engineers created this huge steel ‘E,’ painted it red and they would kidnap [the agro president]… [He was] duct taped up there and it would be pretty hard to get him down,” Gawley said. “We would plant him on E-plant Hill … and the agros would come riding through and storming it.”

“The campus will attack the Engineering Building at 12:30 today,” the caller said.

Gawley points at a picture to show the pandemonium unleashed during the event, and it was a sight to behold. Students with their bodies painted red and blue swarmed around this pillar where a person — likely one of the student presidents at the time — is duct taped at the top. The scene is a feeding frenzy, and although it’s just a photo, it’s not hard to imagine the sound of the chaotic cacophony. The event did not last long before it was shut down. Gawley delves into another tale, one that is just as anarchic as the last. 

When Izzy Daw, the first female student, enrolled in the college, no one expected a riot to rise. U of S in the ‘40s was the era of campus queens where candidates were put forward for the chance to be crowned as the university’s queen. This pageant posed to be a difficult task for the engineering college as they were traditionally all male. 

But because Daw was the only female student in the college at the time, she became the college’s candidate for campus queen. By coincidence, it just so happened that the name of the household sciences candidate was Dawson, and the engineers saw an opportunity. As this candidate put up her posters that said “Dawson for Queen,” they got to work. They crossed out the “son” in the poster, making it “Daw for Queen” in favour of their own candidate. 

In retaliation for the ruined posters, the household sciences students infiltrated the engineering college to overturn their old metal-legged drafting tables. The engineers caught them in the act, tied their hands and feet, and wrote “Daw for Queen” on their foreheads before letting them go. 

After these instances, one might think that it stops there but it was far from being done. At 3 a.m. the next day, Eyrle Brooks, the president of the engineering student group, received an anonymous phone call.

“The campus will attack the Engineering Building at 12:30 today,” the caller said.

And sure enough, at noon of that day, students were seen marching towards the college. But the engineers were ready. They were armed with paper bags, some filled with water and others with soot. They rained down on the mob as they tried to push their way into the college.

What the engineers did not know was that in the crowd, pushing their way through was the engineering dean and a wing commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Yes, the dean and a VIP visitor were soaked in water and soot as they entered the building. The engineering students surely got into trouble from that stunt.

This story is told today in a glass showcase filled with historical symbols and stories on the second floor of the engineering college. Gawley stood in front of the showcase, reading the stories that made the college infamous on campus. He read another one that happened in 1959.

During that year, there was a manure prank pulled by the agriculture students. They filled one of the entrances of the College of Engineering with manure “from top to bottom.” As a means of retaliation, the engineers were about to get a crane and demolition ball, but unfortunately — or maybe in this case it’s fortunately — the dean at the time stopped the students as the pranks were getting out of hand. 

But as the last part of the excerpt from the glass showcase says, “But memories are short. It was to happen again from time to time when things got dull.” 

The tradition of the engineering pranks and their rivalries continued on into later years. To this day, the agros and engineers are still doing stunts in one another’s lounges. However, this lounge pranking was extended to the Edwards School of Business while it was formerly known as the college of commerce.

Gawley mentioned that the commerce students were part of the prankings until the engineers decided to build a beach in their lounge in the early 2000s.

“What happened was that we made a beach … so we got a bunch of sand and a bunch of water. It’s a great prank because, you know, how the hell did they get all this sand in here? It was fun until the commerce … took all that sand and sold it for a lot of money,” Gawley said.

It was a prank gone wrong: the commerce students saw a surplus while the engineers ended up with a big deficit in their budget.

“It’s just funny that they, being commerce students, of course they saw the economic potential with all that sand,” Gawley said.

Though they joined in the game a bit later, the arts students were once a part of the prankings as well. Sometime between 1958 to 1967, a group of arts students took to the roof of the Arts Building while it was still being built and spray painted “Arts men rule!” The engineers saw the opportunity in this and spray painted an “F” in front of the phrase. 

There were many stunts the engineers did over the years, but there are some highlights of the pranking culture. Gawley shared another story that happened between the ‘60s and ‘70s. Imagine a crowd of students chasing after three fast running, squealing pigs. And one by one, each pig was caught only for the arts students to see the numbers painted on them — one, two and four. 

“And then [the engineers] waited to see how long it would take them to realize that there’s no pig three,” Gawley said.

Another highlight in the engineer’s prank history is their car pranks — Gawley’s favourite stories. These stunts were popular because of their ingenuity — it’s undeniable how gobsmacking it is to see a car where it shouldn’t be. 

In 2000, the sky tunnel between Thorvaldson Building and the Arts Building had just been built. As a prank, the engineers took their red “E-car” and set it atop the walkway with the sign, “Nowhere else to park!” hanging for all of campus to see. Reportedly, the university had to rent a crane for $300, which came out of the college’s budget, to remove the car.

The year before that was an even larger car prank. The engineering students managed to suspend the red E-car on the train bridge. According to Gawley, the SESS denied any involvement in the prank.

“It’s undeniable how gobsmacking it is to see a car where it shouldn’t be.”

Gawley says that it was a mystery to people of how the students did it, but that was the point. 

“I remember … my first class of our introduction to engineering. The professor tells us the story, what the history was [and] what it means to be an engineer — that was an example of what it means to not be an engineer — ingenuity although not fully responsible,” Gawley said.

Today, these pranks still happen and are monitored by rules set by the groups. These rules are to ensure the safety of the students and those around them. 

But just because there are rules now doesn’t mean that they can’t pull off pranks that will make us ask, “How in the world did they do it?” In fact, one of the engineering groups last year did a prank that was impossible without the proper equipment. 

“[They] moved a jet engine that we have…  This thing is extremely heavy,” Gawley said. 

The jet engine was put in the walkway between engineering and agriculture. There were signs on each side of the jet that said, “This end sucks,” pointing to the Engineering Building, and the other side that said, “This end blows,” pointing towards the Agriculture Building. As for the meaning of the prank, it was unknown to many, so interpret it as you wish. 

Engineering is thought to be a difficult degree to attain, so with all the physics and math they do, it’s no wonder that they let off steam when things become mundane. From pulling simple jokes using water balloons to stunts that show engineering ingenuity, these stories of traditions and pranks are awe-striking. With such a history, these pranks are sure to carry on.

With Gawley describing their pranks as, “ingenuity, although not fully responsible,” you can’t help but ask, “I wonder what their next prank will be?”

J.C. Balicanta Narag/ Copy Editor

Photo: David Mandeville

Graphics: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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