The Story of Dalhousie; Or, The University as Insurgency
Commissioned for Dalhousie's 200th anniversary in 2018, The Story of Dalhousie; Or, The University as Insurgency is written by George Elliott Clarke.
A Dalhousie alumnus (MA'89, LLD'99), Clarke is a revered artist in song, drama, fiction, screenplay, essays and poetry. Born in Windsor, N.S., he is also a pioneering scholar of African-Canadian literature. A professor of English at the University of Toronto, Clarke has taught at several universities, won many awards (including both the Order of Nova Scotia and Order of Canada) and served as Canada’s seventh Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17). Read Clarke's Dalhousie Original profile.
Watch: George Elliott Clarke performs "The Story of Dalhousie" at Halifax City Hall on February 5, 2018, accompanied by pianist Tim Crofts
The Story of Dalhousie; Or, The University as Insurgency
By: George Elliott Clarke
Canada’s Seventh Parliamentary Poet Laureate
Named for a Scottish castle at two streams where trout and salmon
flicker and gleam and splash,
and named for George Ramsay, whose prowess at Waterloo—
cannonading and negating Napoleon,
got him dubbed Lord,
“Dalhousie” originates as a trophy—a profit—of War,
as actual booty—
the 12,000 Halifax-£ boodle
snatched from Brit-conquered Castine in Maine
and eyeballed in the Nova Scotia colony—
for paving stones, a garrison library, et cetera;
except that Lord Dalhousie—
now His Majesty’s Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia
(due to his sorties and flourishes contra “Boney”)—
noticed the New Scottish colony lacked a college
capable of sprouting its own Christian ministers
who’d spout—he prayed—open-door-fresh-air,
open-minded, but godly precepts—
inspired by the porridge, salmon, and whiskey of Edinburgh—
the Scottish Enlightenment, Rabbie Burns ecumenicalism
and Adam Smith firm-hand and clear-eye of Edinburgh—
and the brogue and Gaelic of grey-beige but bagpiped Edinburgh—
and the chill fog, dour granite, and indomitable thistle of Edinburgh—
and tolerate no spite, but be suave, urbane:
Was that the meaning of the corn, oil, and wine,
Lawd Dalhousie spilled on the cornerstone of his Haligonian university,
two years after the Prince Regent’d bleated “Oui,” bureaucratically,
assenting to the eccentric notion of an ocean-side,
Scotian, non-sectarian college—
as of February 6, 1818?
Just ten days after cannons’ kabamming gunpowder
saluted resonantly the college’s (university’s) debut,
Lawd Dal’d slooped off to Ville de Québec,
to govern every Britannic inch of Amérique du Nord
(and latterly India),
if yet right oblivious to the politic primacy
of so-called East Indians, West Indians, and American Indians….
In any event, the founder exited,
and his Halifax, namesake college—
rampant on the city’s Grand Parade—
was just gonna have to duke it out—
go head-to-head, toe-to-toe, face-to-face—
with double-talking preachers and two-fisted priests—
all hotly redneck under their white collars—
agitated by a “non-denominational” school
that might siphon off sect-anointed moolah—
whether taxpayer or top-hatted, public or plutocratic—
so that Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian
township-and-county edifices of Edification,
would go begging for cash, begging for students,
begging for profs,
and end up bagging only drafty piles, half-scaffolding,
bleak in perspective and empty of prospects,
but resounding with ill winds blaring legislative nyet, nyet, nyet—
that nixing, niggardly fiat—
over foundation cracks bristling
“Besides,” fretted tonsured, whiskered ecclesiasts,
“Dalhousie ain’t split off ex the Kirk:
It’s a conspiracy of cloak-and-dagger Presbyterians!”
King’s College spurned entanglement with Dal;
born skeptical, infant Acadia—askance—glanced at Dal;
newborn St. Mary’s could only eye Dal as suspect:
“One united College for Nova Scotia was dangerous
for how could clergy doctrinally discriminate
a Catholic microscope from a Baptist telescope,
a Methodist microbe from an Anglican asteroid?”
Surely, colleges conniving to be classed as universities
needed congregations for Conscience and cash-flow!
Joe Howe fulminated Reaction: “Nova Scotia’s plagued
by black-hatted, black-coated, black-horse-riding,
black bible-brandishing blackguards—
a retrograde, degenerate, backward avant-garde—
pinch-faced, “presbyopic” profs—
who can debate Satan in Latin,
and who wager New Glasgow
and New Minas
all suitable for resuscitated, old-stock Feudalism:
‘Better to be rebarbative, provincial,’ they allege,
than rambunctious, experimental, secular,
or else Halifax annexes Hell.’”
By 1847, Dalhousie was classless, penniless, friendless,
studentless, professorless, and so less and less a college,
it did seem, said some, well-nigh, worthless….
Except, it could be a High School—
and languish in such louche, secondary status,
serving up fish-n-chips rather than physics….
Unless the Presbyterians could comport and sport
as the Trojan Horses of Liberal Education
vis-à-vis the ABCs—
and the mathematical (atom-and-hair-splitting),
by letting Dalhousie docs teach Everyman,
while church-connected campuses corral their clergy
on keeps agog at Haligonian grog shops—
on redoubts spurning petticoats and rum—
the temptations of molasses
and Mephistophelian tobacco,
where Virtue is apprehended by declining always
that Euro-trash, exploitative spectacle—the Waltz….
1863 marks the reset, the resurrection,
when what was Dalhousie College
is once more Dalhousie College,
but now cheek-by-jowl with a brewery—
proffering ale for every ailment—
and profs on tap
to discourse on trout fishing at Salmon River (Dartmouth)
or to wield Euclidean equations like sledgehammers
(that best beer bottles at bustin’ open a skull).
The Dal rhetoricians be eristic and exigent chaps,
step-dancing among “Crimean heroes”
dead-drunk in downtown gutters or in backyard mud,
while their couple-dozen students fortify their bellies
(from which all soliloquies surface)
with oatmeal gruel, salt cod, corned beef, bread, apples,
a “quantum of solace”—of rum….
Science evolves outta sickness and the Genesis damnation,
declaring Birth ushers Sin-struck mortals
soon-or-late to an earthen berth—
a point as true for Dal Natural Philosophers
lisping the 1870 motto,
“Ora et labora”
(“Pray and work”)
as it be for any lad (and lady).
So, despite the Anatomy Act gravely allowing docs
to carve up any indigent (poorhouse) cadaver,
there befell a shortage of corpses
so as to advance, convincingly,
The fix demands a Medical Faculty—
a separate body bestowing Dal degrees—
in spluttering fits and seizure starts—
in the 1870s,
until, by degrees,
the Halifax School of Medicine becomes separate—
shrouding the parturating in prudish, Victorian cloaks,
applying Jack-the-Ripper willy-nilly to callously plucky cadavers,
that is, until Greco-Latinate Flexner came calling
to castigate the med-school as “grossly appalling,”
thus triggering its upbraiding “upgrade”—absorption—by Dal,
and later, nigh 1920,
access to a tram-line, Public Health clinic
(where students could describe and doctors prescribe),
sponsored by Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Carnegie—
pleased to prop up latter-day—if rustic—
salt-spray, hayseed Scots.
Pace the messy stillbirth of the University of Halifax
that effort to mollify church-campus envy of Dal
and to unify Babel-Pentecostal, Christian syllabi
(conflicting dogmas barked in passionate tongues)—
by asking a single Congress of Examiners to test
would-be clerics and should-be clerks;
anent that good-intentioned, but goddamned gaffe;
Dalhousie was set to vaunt—flaunt—itself—
but only if private coin could coddle its Liberalism,
preserving it from whimsical chastisement
by skinflint and/or shrewish public finance.
Thus commences the dedicated schmoozing of donors,
benefactors, citizens who’ll morph from Midas to Apollo—
those enlightened, eleemosynary few
whose munificence is gold showering down like sunlight.
Soon, George Munro professorships, George Munro bursaries,
free Dal to headhunt scholars and body-snatch students,
to internationalize the regional reach,
to pick-off Cambridge, Edinburgh, Harvard, Oxford alumni-luminaries
and transplant em as elect, Acadiensis profs,
sure to entrance—intrigue—undergrads….
Here’s how the bar-and-brothel-adjacent college—
commences a romance with worldly, surplus Capital,
to wine-and-dine well-endowed, well-read widows
and moneybags pining to be labelled “Dr.”
(but skipping the bothersome dissertation);
and whose deliberated, fiscal Realism
(not really Cynicism),
means the college can afford to front as airily sophisticated—
float a cosmopolitan, espresso-and-Spinoza aura—
chic as Harvard Square, Broadway, Piccadilly, Old Town, the Quartier Latin,
if never so posh (quite)….
The other mind-expanding, mood-altering revolution—
besides the fluxing influx
of boffo, ego-stroking, self-aggrandizing,
is the entrance of women, politic arrivistes opposing
(unmanly, inhumanly practiced) man-only Empowerment….
Register here that Dal never opposed
though the upstart distaff only alighted in the 1880s—
idealistic, church ministers’ daughters
(or lasses consigned purses by deceased papas)—
spurred on by Munro’s gilded disbursements,
and not keen on expected subservience to hubbies,
but pooh-poohing patriarchal folderol
(that mantra that “Male Rule” is an Adamic mandate),
and preferring Economics to that desperately poor sister—
and meditating on Madame Curie rather than mastering cookery.
Tis necessary to place women up-front in the classroom:
Let fellas stand when the ladies enter;
remain seated as the feminists exit.
Ask not about “Coloured” pupils!
and/or descendants of Loyalists, Maroons, Refugees, Fugitives—
attaining Grade Three—
in Negro-only, one-room shacks—
have a difficult-to-impossible time
to sidle into Dal (de facto, white, aristocratic) classes.
Yet, a few West Indians and Bermudans can/do.
Check Sylvester Williams, ex-Trinidad/Tobago,
who took up Dal Law by 1893,
and departed minus the degree,
but still rallied the Pan-African Movement
African and Black and Caribbean independence,
that is, escape from European/Caucasian “uplift”
But let us not forget Halifax’s James R. Johnston,
who became Dal’s first black Bachelor of Letters—1896,
next a Law grad—1898,
and whose moniker now graces Dal’s Chair in Black Studies.
(And mark the residency of Africadian contralto,
Portia White, at Shirreff Hall, ca. 1929.)
1887: Dal transits off the Grand Parade—
takes to heights above Halifax’s Northwest Arm—
and shows aspects tricked-out in brick, not stone;
that same year, Law materializes—concretizes—
with a Constitutional-Law-magisterial dean
who’s a Member of Parliament—
and a decade later,
with a Contracts prof who’s—ditto—
a Member of Parliament—
while Engineering barged into the calendar—
thanks to coal mining for engines, steamships furnaces;
next, all the emitted soot and grit and dirt and cinders
encouraged Civil Engineering—
roads, bridges, tunnels—
the cornerstones and buttresses of Industry,
but also the Marxmen’s forte.
(Yet, conscription Communism entails Construction
as shoddy as Capitalism’s manufactured ephemera….
Seldom does the cement set strong and smooth;
rather, it cracks:
Compare the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall.)
the Dal Forward Movement figures to finagle $300,000
to field triple schematics—
a library, Science laboratories,
and, at Studley, space for Medicine and Dentistry,
featuring Georgian conjurations of local ironstone,
plus quarters to round up students and round em off….
Shouldn’t undergrads canoodle in their own courtly alcoves?
Thus, circulated blueprints on June 29, 1914,
the day after Arch Duke Ferdinand and his missus
became the bull’s-eyes for bullets booming, “War!”
Is a scholar as manly as a soldier?
Decidedly positive were the Dal recruits
who lined up for Lord Kitchener,
though—soon—Krupp guns chopped down scores….
Assuredly, Krauts were keener in their aim
than were Brit generals in their tactics,
stupidly self-assured that World War One
was just a blow-up of Waterloo,
that guys affixing bayonets—
could charge suddenly, frontally, franticly at machine-guns—
or get splattered by shells
and/or scattered by caustic, lacerating, and/or choking gas—
and still stand triumphant, rosy-cheeked, laurelled,
to warble “Cheerio” to the Kaiser.
No matter: The Albion Canucks—
sporting maple-leaf badges on khaki lapels—
enlisted holus-bolus the Dalhousie men,
so that females numbered 2/3 in Arts classes,
and then the Canadian Corps were “over the top”
on the Western Front,
hammering dead the Götterdämmerung “Huns” so damn much,
the “Jerries” slammed em as “Shock Troops.”
While the Great War waxed, waned, Dal erected
the Macdonald Memorial Library
which inaugurated—for the entire Dominion—
the Library of Congress cataloguing system;
while the Law School now accented lucrative practicalities—
not supposed eccentricities like the Constitution
or various forms of execution.
(What’s the ideal form of State murder?
The noose, the guillotine, or the electric chair?
Would you rather snap your neck, lose your head, or fry?)
Still, despite its distance, the War wracked Dal:
The double-vessel collision in Halifax Harbour—
December 6, 1917—
discharged battering and bashing power equivalent
to 3000 kilotons of TNT detonating instantly—
and North End Halifax got obliterated,
vanishing under an unprecedented,
dented-bent-stovepipe-shaped, fuming cloud
(an augury of A-bomb and H-bomb
and a blast that turned windows into daggers
and metal into a shower of molten slag.
The gargoyle-faced, monstrously punctured survivors
of the 2000 slain pretty much outright,
got bandaged angelically by Dal med apprentices
and by Jane Austen essayists instantly deputized as nurses;
and the Carnegie Foundation okayed snappily
bankrolling the dispatch of glaziers and masons
to patch Dal’s fractures—plus those windows now wounds.
Postbellum, Jennie Shirreff Eddy found herself wooed
by Dal grad and future Prime Minister of Canada,
(Rt. Hon.) R.B. Bennett,
to pay out a tad of her matchstick-
(racked up by E.B. Eddy)
to deck out a women’s residence—
in pink quartzite ex-New Minas.
Next the men’s residence—
got promulgated in 1919,
thanks to the purchase of a Northwest Arm hotel
outta the Million Dollar (cash-scoop-up) Campaign.
Flames dissecting King’s College in 1920 resurrected
the spectre of Amalgamation,
not just of Dal and King’s,
but of all the church-linked, Atlantic colleges—
if all could be egged on to accept $3-million
in Carnegie Foundation “bread” (i.e., Bribery).
By the finish of the 1920s, the federation idea
its very inception seemingly meretricious,
and the Carnegie bucks flocked back
to plump up in stony banks and nest in lambskin briefcases,
and Dal was left to worry
whether it would decline into an ivied, vocational school,
graduating lawyers as practical as carpenters;
doctors less dexterous—
but more lethally arrogant—
engineers talented at concocting white elephants;
and Humanities students
whose Latin announced casus belli
and/or pronounced caveat emptor.
Was it feasible for twentieth-century,
North American, industrial/commercial society—
so cavalierly results-oriented
(always dreaming up a better machine-gun)—
to value a brine-washed, Canuck brain trust
capitalizing on buttoned-down scholars?
Modernity whelps talkies and speakeasies,
Prohibition (of alcohol) and Revolution (by Lenin’s Reds,
chased by Mussolini’s Black Shirts),
The Waste Land in poetry
and The Great Dictator in film,
Duke Ellington veering Dixieland to bebop
and the Gershwin Bros working Dixieland into Debussy….
Unable to stomach the hunger of Soviet Five Year Plans,
and refusing to eat the lead of Fascist coup and Nazi Putsch,
suddenly cometh the (White) Russians—
landing right after Trotsky the Wobbly
(latterly toppled by a Mexican icepick)
was sprung from his cell in Halifax’s Citadel
to vamoose to St. Petersburg
to bully on the Bolshevik bouleversement of the boulevardier Czar;
Fleeing now also were Europe’s Jews—
antennae’d witnesses of Gulag
and prophets of Darwinian Death Camps—
voyaging to Pier 21 (Halifax),
finding entrée at Dalhousie (finally)—
reinforcing the possibility of string quartets serenading
otherwise jitterbugging sailors and their Lindy-Hopping molls,
and stressing Old World savoir-faire, savvy,
in a city quite comfy with grungy Vice,
where Adult Education got started
primarily as a way to tamp down
the wartime spike in Venereal Disease….
World War I gone, but World War II not yet,
Dal enrollments doubled—tripled—in between,
and then profound, radio orator—Herbert Leslie Stewart—
dreamt-up—drafted—The Dalhousie Review,
a “Little Magazine” to rival McGill’s Fortnightly Review
and maybe Chicago’s Poetry,
which readers could sink their teeth into
while experiencing—with prayer and dread—
the operative know-how of the newfangled School of Dentistry.
Suddenly, Dal students staff a union
and Dal’s president wins a house (of his own),
and the Dal co-eds need shortened skirts
to suit Jazz Age, upsy-daisy, dipsy-doodle cavorting,
regardless of the acidic chagrin—
tut-tutting male killjoys, spoil-sports,
dudes (duds), Dudley-do-wrongs exude—
those who should beg a Billy Butler Yeats-style
that precursor to sildenafil citrate….
Sayeth Wall Street and bayeth Bay Street,
and screecheth the City and the Bourse (until hoarse):
“Sire no more M.A.’s, but only M.B.A.’s:
We want ‘Relevance,’ not ‘Elevation’!”
They’re right? Or just brain-dead rightists?
Yet, how does acquaintance with Aristotle
elucidate investment portfolio profitability, really,
and how does memorization of Milton
aid the race to be the first to weaponize atoms—
the very guts of sunlight,
to incinerate a hundred thousand infants
in a thousandth of a second?
Eventually, Dal’s George P. Grant, philosophe,
is gonna scorn the utility of the “multiversity,”
accusing it of most foul Vainglory,
in defining Progress as shifting from enumerating angels
prancing on a pinhead
to counting up the number of rat droppings one encounters
in a typical, polio-, TB-, VD-ridden slum.
That’s the age-old problem of this New Age:
When is knowledge Wisdom?
If ever, even?
Plots—policies—quicken when Angus L. invades the N.S.
Legislative Assembly, 1935,
unassailable at Reform, the local F.D.R.
(Fiercely Devoted Renovator),
votes in a refurbished Dalhousie Act,
though if he had his druthers,
he’d design one universal, Maritime university
rather than deign to tolerate
thirteen old-dog, old-boy, persnickety, church-college-bastions
“worse than high schools”….
Then, out of Europe’s swirling, Machiavellian-malevolent maelstrom,
whirls into town Lothar Richter, a fugitive intelligence,
to plant Dal’s Institute of Public Affairs
and its eponymous, academic organ,
after first introducing himself (“Guten Tag”) as a lecturer in German.
Currently, Dal’s Chairman of the Board’s a suave, Frank Sinatra-type,
liking menthol cigarettes—three packs daily,
liking Scotch—three pungent tumblers daily,
while mover-and-shaker Prez’dent Stanley spoils to spiff up
Dal’s Medical et Dental schools,
but Depression-depressed governors retort—
“The blind and deaf—poor and helpless—need aid, yep,
but not medico-dento apprentices,
bound to join the gold-plated, silver-spoon upper-crust….”
1939 detonates World-Wide War redux—
as Darwin’s devils haste to gobble up territories
and gut, gas, and torch—“scientifically”—millions
asserting mere “vermin extermination”—
thereby expanding to Europe and Asia
past, imperial European—imperious—Evil
in Africa, the Americas, and Asia,
but now all mechanical—as well as mechanized—
industrialized, efficient, mass-produced massacres.
Makes sense to open, in 1941,
Dal’s Department of Psychiatry—
a testament to Reason, Rationality, Mindfulness—
even though the septic bias
of war-dirtied Halifax’s white-coated, downtown doctors
prevents three Austrian, refugee Jews
(escapees from Hitler’s Semitic-genocidal regime)
from being able to Canadianize their med training
(August 1942) at Dal….
Too, while white students, white profs, and white troops
had green lights—carte blanche—to enjoy the Green Lantern’s fare,
Coloured People (Negroes) had to forego taking meals there.
They could aim guns at Hitlerian White Supremacy,
but they couldn’t stick a fork in it in the Halifax eatery.
Might as well ride the ferry footing Oakland Road
cross the Northwest Arm to the Dingle,
then back again, price just 10¢,
while debating Poli Sci with Prez Stanley—
who deplored Dal’s existence as a jewel
begrimed by a city slimy with slums….
Mussolini got bulleted, then strung-up by the heels;
Hitler gnawed a gat and then blazed to char;
Tojo dangled his avoirdupois from a strangling noose;
“hard and bitter” was the on-again Peace—
Pax Americana nipping at the Iron Curtain—
as Winnie (Pooh-Bah, Pooh-Bear) Churchill opined….
Thus, now Canuck vets gangwayed into Dal—
gleeful to exchange uniforms and sun-dazzling boots
for jackets, ties, and sun-dazzling shoes—
and deem textbooks now as precious as ale—
if not as alluring as the silk-stocking’d “sweater girls,”
still segregated sweetly in classroom front rows,
giving gents their backs,
their pony tails and bouncing curls;
so that forthright fellas had to face fantasies
by ogling Esquire’s nylon’d pin-ups.
The student army milling and marching,
taking one subject by storm
then overtaking others,
wresting and wrestling degrees from Dal,
necessitated instituting a Department of Graduate Studies,
as of 1948-49,
when bombastic Soviets set off an A-bomb at last—
and Mao unfurled a gold-star-spangled Red Flag over China—
and mandatory Latin sang its swansong,
croaking out in Oktoberfest beer fiestas at the Lord Nelson Tavern….
(Hear ye, hear ye:
Lusty, Bluenose, Ecum Secum yinkyank drowned out, ipso facto,
the fusty and musty, gusty and dusty,
dictation of literally guttural—and/or lyrical—grammarians….)
Recognizing that Dal Law was in a parlous state
due to formerly stingy, belly-tightening finance,
Premier Macdonald remedied the starvation,
tossing scrawny lawyers chunks of red-meat
from the provincial budget (sausage-making) table.
Dentistry’s decaying facilities also needed straightening—
and the filling in of architectural cavities with gold.
However, half the Atlantic governments,
all four of which ought to’ve backed the mouthy school,
gave nada, precisely zilch, just hot air,
leaving N.S. and N.B. to inject 25% of the filling
so Dalhousie had to repair the maw
digesting the corrosive, capital debt.
Meanwhile, the Medical Faculty were jaundiced—
no matter expertise in jigsawing through cadavers
or in rigging the jigging of an “Eye-Opener”
(gin, lemon, and Eno’s Fruit Salts),
due to the irksome “busybody,” Prez Kerr—
intruding picayune pencil-counting,
while yielding insultingly insufficient funds
to let anyone win at research-grant roulette.
Well, everywhere, Deterioration is cured
by spreading the guilt around,
to petition plutocrats to forego gilt and give gold….
Enter Sir James Dunn and his widow Lady Dunn,
whose largesse cranes up a new Science building—
despite blandishments and overtures and marriage proposal
(accepted) from U. New Brunswick’s Lord Beaverbrook
(once upon a time sympathetic, appeasingly, to Hitler)—
and despite the dullard and dulling rejection
of celebratory liquor by Dal’s teetotally sobre Prez Kerr—
Dunn’s millions soon mint law scholarships;
and later bequeath Sir James’s name to marquee a theatre;
all this construction adding to the not incorrect perception
that Dalhousie was the most dynamic concentration
(there’s a distinction)—
on the Nor’East North Atlantic—
even if Beaverbrook hooded glamour-puss J.F.K. himself,
the latter granted a U.N.B.-brand LL.D.
Just as J.F.K.’s New Frontiersmen
sent Ike and Tricky Dick packing,
so did testy profs like Geo Grant—
or Futurist librarian-poets like Doug Lochhead—
and others doubtful about Prez Kerr’s prudence—
(if not prudery)—
trekking down the road to Hogtown,
to address “New Lectures to a New Generation,”
now that the 60s were twisting and hula-hooping in,
with Capitalist napalm for “Commies”—
colour TV for “consumers”—
cops’ batons for the noggins of Civil Rights protestors
(daring to dream of eating, living, learning, sleeping,
wherever they could afford,
without regard to colour, creed, or committed Faith)….
And never ought a prude object
to comic pleasures, bawdy laughter,
lest his/her constituency disintegrate,
doubled up, howling;
yet, such a dégringolade degraded Kerr’s standing—
so he was no longer pivotal,
(as of 1957).
The 1960s summoned forth innovative policies,
but brandished inventive calamities
arising from old bigotries.
Thus, just 2 years after Prof. Guy Henson documented
The Condition of the Negroes of Halifax City (1962),
the sesquicentennial-old hamlet of Africville
began to be bulldozed into rubble,
a devastation imped by Dal Social Work theory,
Dal Urban Planning models,
although Dal scholars also totted up the faults
and tabulated the grim incivility
of “The Africville Relocation”
(that euphemism for South-African-apartheid-style,
While Africville was being reclaimed by city planners
and civil engineers
(and rampaging rats and squabbling seagulls),
Dorothy Killam returned to Dal—
a widow also with a memory to further,
and whose treasure chest would nurture a library
and a children’s hospital
(the latter separate from Dal)—
essentially 30-million bucks—
Dal’s biggest bequest ever—
to magnet meritorious scientists,
buck up the Graduate School,
lavish scholarships whose gilt-edges
could attract incandescent, foreign students.
Moreover, once New Brunswick aye-ayed funding
the nursing of New Brunswick interns
greenhoused in Dal’s Medical School,
now feasible was the Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building.
Concurrently cemented was the Weldon Law Building,
and Lady Dunn reemerged as Lady Beaverbrook
(doubly widowed now),
to christen the Sir James Dunn Law Library,
prefacing 67’s “Summer of Love.”
And Dal learners put up their own Student Union Building:
Finally, Rebecca Cohn’s estate issues Dal $400,000
to complement all the newfangled, professional ziggurats
with a reminder of the spiritually minded Arts—
an auditorium sounding her name….
Apart from the spree—the spate—
breaking ground at breakneck speed—
of Dal structures of concrete-and-glass—
disdainful of old-school architecture—
students also are impatient with old structures,
(Liberty! Sex! Drugs!)
seem to highlight the Hypocrisy—Illegitimacy—
of the chilling, blood-curdling, Cold War propositions,
such as “Mutual Assured Destruction” in a thermonuclear exchange
and preferable to compromise—détente—with “Commies,”
and is defensible,
but not profanity and graffiti
(both corrosive of civil society),
and neither short skirts nor long hair.
Rightly, leftists forthrightly ridiculed such idiocy.
Yet, the sophomoric occupation of Prez Hicks’ office
in September 1970—
a month before the dead-aim Terrorism
of Québécois kidnappers and assassins—
was only a namby-pamby, playacting gesture,
cos everybody vacated the quarters
before cops could gun-point squatters out
and before Dal’s Hicks returned from a non-eventful trip
to an uneventful non-event….
Arguably, anyway, the most rad uptakes at Dal
were the Transition Year Program
and the later Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq Law Initiative,
both urged on by Burnley “Rocky” Jones’s analysis—
to whit, that one way that the poor and Indigenous,
the criminalized and “Coloured,”
remain perpetual paupers, social outsiders,
is via their supposed inadmissibility to university
and law-school palaver—
those organs and engines of bourgeois hegemony.
Add to these programs the Maritime School of Social Work
and Dal Legal Aid,
and Dal evolves into a nexus, a matrix,
of potential change-agents (i.e., Saul Alinsky acolytes)….
Thus, Halifax social-worker Alexa McDonough,
straight outta Dal,
emerges to helm the New Democratic Party in N.S.
and then head the federal N.D.P.—
those sock-and-sandal, tie-dyed and tea-tippling socialists,
“only in Canada, eh? Pity!”
Dalhousie University’s history is now 200 years—and counting,
existing before I (and you),
and likely persisting eternally after us.
I dread to intersect my mortal bio with what is—
but I’m twice a Dal alumnus
and long before either passage,
I was a Black Haligonian—
inspired by an institution that is,
that excellent devise—a schooled insurgency—
summoning, perennially, “Young Turks”
to “Make It New” (pace Chu Tsi)—
make everything new—
by turning sailors into seismologists,
fishers into philosophers.
The Dalhousie difference was in making
all Halifax an extension campus—
a de facto university of the Commons
and the Public Gardens
and the waterfront-harboured, Palladian legislature,
even metaphysically unkillable Africville….
Thus, as a boy, my teeth got filled and fixed
and drilled and extracted
at the Dal clinic;
At 15, to design a Grade-9-junior-high-school, A-bomb,
I biked down to the Killam Library,
and wantonly photocopied so many volumes,
I was practically kayoed by the acrid, ammonia fumes;
Aged 17-19, I fellow-travelled with Rocky Jones’s
T.Y.P. crew, debating “Black Liberation”:
Was it possible? In Nova Scotia?
(Well, turntable Malcolm’s agit-prop; turn up for talks on Mao.)
At age 21, visiting the Killam at Christmas,
trying to anatomize “Rabbi(e)” Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,”
I was so engrossed in my amateur Musicology
that I was padlocked therein the library.
Then, age 26, I arrived elect at Dal, selecting,
preternaturally, the John Fraser’s
“Tradition and Experimentation in Modern Poetry,
a graduated (in terms of increasing insight) grad course,
that the Calendar certified as “ideal for poets.”
Nicely, Doc Fraser (ex-Cambridge U.)
was easygoing, but no nice-and-easy prof.
His 3-hr, Monday night, living room-staged class
was an arena amid a library amid an art gallery,
with a tabby cat prowling round the coffee
or tea cups
and the cookie tray—
before the vivid, florid oils of Carol Hoorn Fraser—
and ten wise-guys and bluestockings
tussling over Gothicism in Baudelaire,
surrealism in Hopkins,
Uncle Tom Eliot’s Ol’ Possum affecting of gloom-infected Laforgue,
and imagism conjuring sadism in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.
Sure: I was a poet before I ambled into Fraser’s chivalric ring
of knightly, smart-aleck, gladiatorial combat;
but I knew I’d earned the sobriquet, the designation, the lordship,
if one likes—
by fighting off the naysayers.
And this anecdote showcases, I pray,
Dalhousie’s daunting history: