Cronyn Observatory was draped to look like R2D2 a few months ago, but this isn't even the most outrageous prank Western has seen.
Engineering programs across Canadian universities tend to have unique traditions, and Western is no exception. While many of the traditions are intentionally secretive, there have been a number of historical large-scale pranks at Western that can be attributed to no other faculty than — you guessed it — engineering.
Western engineering professor Peter Castle admits that when he attended Western as an undergraduate student, the engineering students pulled a number of pranks.
Castle, who wrote Expansion & Innovation: The History of Western Engineering, 1954-1999, says the first notable prank took place in 1962. A group of engineers loosened and removed all of the toilet seats from all the buildings on campus — there were only about nine or 10 buildings at the time.
They held the toilet seats for ransom until a donation to the United Way was made.
“It sort of met the criteria of one of our earlier leaders, Professor Stewart Lachlan, who used to have a saying about pranks,” Castle explains. “Number one: they had to be funny. Number two: they should do no harm. And number three: the perpetrators should never be discovered.”
When Western’s engineering program began in 1954, the faculty had some catching up to do; the University of Toronto and Queen’s University had pre-existing engineering programs, both of which established a tradition of pranks.
“With Western being the new kid on the block in engineering, so to speak, there were strong feelings amongst the students that they had to get on board and compete with other universities in terms of carrying on the tradition,” he said.
Today, Western engineering students still carry on a number of traditions, but the faculty and University take a hard line against pranks — largely because the pranks became too dangerous.
“There were, over the years, a number of pranks which were downright foolhardy,” Castle says. “A famous one was when the engineering students hung a Mickey Mouse face over the clock face of the Middlesex tower. And that was extremely dangerous.”
Caleb Caldwell, a first-year engineering student, values the traditions within the engineering faculty, many of which take place during O-Week. Being dyed purple, cheering for only the Charity and Music teams, and carrying around a giant fork are all part of the engineering students' orientation experience.
While being purpled with 'crystal violet' dye is a common experience for engineering students at other Canadian universities, Caldwell values the uniqueness of Western’s engineering student experience.
“I'd say that for the sake of my student experience, [the traditions] mean a lot to me,” Caldwell says. “The customs of a faculty are what distinguish it on campus and are a source of pride for its members.”
Of course, neither Caldwell nor Castle is able to reveal the full extent of the traditions — although Castle does admit he partook in pranks as a student.
While the University and the faculty take a hard line against pranks today, the defining 'work hard, play hard' attitude of the faculty will never fully disappear.
Expansion & Innovation: The History of Western Engineering, 1954-1999 is available at Western libraries.