Memories of Champlain
Maile Loweth Reeves ’79
I first saw the bell tower of Champlain College in the fall of 1975 when my brother, Doug Loweth, started at Trent. He lived in Champlain the first two years, and I would occasionally visit him, which gave me my first peek at co-ed washrooms (and this was before there was a door on the urinal stall)! Despite that experience, Champlain was my first choice four years later.
Doug drove me to Trent on my first day, where I met a lot of his friends and saw kids jumping off the Faryon Bridge into the Otonabee (probably forbidden, but not enforced). Several of my courses were taught within the college, including English with Prof. Elizabeth Orsten, whose office – where our class met for tutorials – was in one of the staircases. I also had Philosophy with Prof. Jim MacAdam. Despite being the quintessential “absent-minded professor,” within the first week he knew my name. He had an office in G/H Staircase which directly overlooked the river; it was rumoured he fished out the window.
The master of Champlain was John Burbidge with his wife, Barbara. Their son, James, ever the traditionalist, attended classes in a green convocation gown, as was the custom at Oxford. Marian O’Brien was the College Secretary and ran a tight ship. The Burbidge’s were succeeded by David and Molly Glasgow and their daughters Bridget and Claire, who were just toddlers at the time.
The porter was Gary Charlebois. The porter’s lodge was never locked and was the ideal place to meet the pizza delivery guy at any hour of the night. Mailboxes for students in residence were open slots with our names above. I recall a time when an enterprising LEC student put Avon catalogues all the slots for all the female students. She was apparently a little confused about names because I didn’t get one – but a guy named Kit did!
The Keep (later renamed the Ceilie) was only open on Thursday nights for dancing, beer and soft drinks. It was located in the Junior Common Room, overlooking the Great Hall. The atmosphere was great – lots of dancing and bopping around. (LEC ran Thee Place on Friday nights and Otonabee had the Cat’s Ass on Saturdays. A little longer walk took you to The Commoner, which was open more often. Downtown at PRC there was the Jolly Hangman and Traill had the Trend.)
I remember at one pub night my sister and I had to use the bathroom (which was not co-ed in the main buildings) and found a huge lineup for the ladies’ room. So we just barged into the almost-empty men’s room to use the facilities there. We were followed by most of the women who had been standing in line – and the guys didn’t say anything!
In first year I was in C/D staircase in a room facing the river (which I LOVED). I actually started out in E/F for half a week, because I registered late for residence and didn’t have a permanent room initially. The dons for E/F were Ben and Mary Truslow, a wonderful couple who were like grandparents for the whole college. Peter Boag and Laurene Ratcliffe were the dons for C/D. They were young biology instructors who always had a couple of finches in cages. I believe this related to their field of study. I could talk to Laurene about anything; she was great. At that time all the dons were older; they were not fellow-students. They were confidants, comforters, encouragers, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.
This is something I actually needed when I returned to campus after Christmas. I was suffering from the January blahs, which was probably exacerbated by the state of my walls. You see, my walls were poured concrete, dingy and grey. All the rooms were supposed to be painted white the preceding summer, but were not finished in time for the school year. Students who wished to paint their walls were offered free paint and all supplies, but the demand in September was such that I decided I could live with grey walls. In January I concluded I could not. So I invited my sister for a visit and we had a painting party. Roger Tilden, Steve Marshall and Debbie Ball helped paint, too, and pizza was involved.
I remained in residence for second year, with a room in A/B staircase, again overlooking the river. I can’t remember the name of our don. He was in a single suite and was in Toronto most of the time. He did host the odd gathering in his suite, but wasn’t as engaged as other dons. The staircase reps, on the other hand, still stand out in my memory. If we had trouble with another student, for example, we were to discuss it with our rep before escalating it to a don. One of the issues we had was idiots throwing water balloons at us when we crossed the quad. The only problem with this arrangement was that the ones tossing the balloons… were our staircase reps.
The doors to the staircases were never locked and were often propped open. Some kids never even locked their rooms. At that time, all rooms in Champlain were singles and – get this – we had housekeeping! Every Thursday morning two ladies for each staircase would change our sheets and vacuum our floors (around the litter of pizza boxes). Honestly, we were so spoiled. They were so nice and I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember any names.
Cellphones hadn’t been invented yet, so we all had landlines. It wasn’t exactly Green Acres (look it up!) but we did share a phone line with the room next door. So if I wanted to call my parents before 8:00 am (when the rates went up) and Vicki next door was on the phone with her parents, I had to wait for her to get off the line before I could place my call.
Bathrooms were still co-ed – a line of four or five sinks against the wall, two toilets and a urinal (with a door now!), all in the same room. Another small room held two showers and a bathtub. There was never any problem with this arrangement, although my sister recalls a time someone stole a young man’s clothes while he was in the shower and he returned to his room wearing the shower curtain!
The Great Hall, like the other college dining rooms, was cafeteria style. We’d line up with our trays and a student would clip our little dining card. (These weren’t supposed to be interchangeable, but if we had a friend visiting we would borrow a card from another student who was away for the weekend.) For institutional food it was pretty good. I recall Marian, a motherly woman behind the counter who seemed to know every student. I would sometimes ask her advice on dietary issues and she was always helpful. All cafeterias served a fish dish on Fridays, and for some reason they always had Reuben sandwiches for lunch that day.
The cafeteria trays also came in handy in the winter for sliding down the drumlin. Again, we weren’t supposed to do that, but they made excellent toboggans! (And we all had smaller bums back then; we could fit on the trays.)
In the fall, after Head of the Trent, Champlain hosted the Harvest Festival. Like most events, it was an excuse to drink a lot of beer, but there was also dancing in the Great Hall. In the winter Champlain celebrated with Bon Temps (“The Order of Good Cheer!”) with endless hockey games and other winter sports. We also had a spring formal, which gave everyone an opportunity to shave, put on nice clothes, and act like adults! All of these events were commemorated in our annual Champlain Year Books, which bring back wonderful memories as I turn the pages.
Speaking of Head of the Trent, I was surprised to discover a few years ago that the consumption of alcohol now takes place in a restricted area. Back in my day (sounding ancient here), people walked around with beers in their hands. I knew the enterprising young daughter of a Champlain don who walked around campus with her wagon after Head of the Trent picking up empty stubbies. Even at a nickel a bottle she made a fortune!
My family boasts a lot of Champlainers, including my brother, Doug Loweth (’75), his wife Maureen Walsh Loweth (’76), their daughter Tenney Loweth (’05), and my sister Jennifer Loweth-Reeves (’82). Jennifer’s daughter, Clara Reeves, who is affiliated with Otonabee, is also a current Trent student. In 2016 my daughter, Bridget Reeves, will start her first year at Champlain. I hope she will continuer mes decouvertes!
Maile Loweth Reeves (’79)