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Evergreen and Gold

The first yearbooks published at the University of Alberta were special "magazine" editions of the student newspaper, Gateway. In late 1920, however, an item buried in the 22 November issue of the student newspaper foretold the coming of a new era.

"Owing to the large expenditure and extra effort required in the publication of the Annual Graduation Gateway, " explained the news report, "it appeared for a time that this volume would not be published at the end of term." However, said Gateway, the senior class had refused to let the yearbook die. And, instead of simply publishing "an ordinary summary of activities in a plain and uninteresting magazine," the class had undertaken to "follow the custom of other universities by producing an elaborate and distinctive Year Book."

Just who suggested the name for the new yearbook is now lost in history, but it was a particularly apt choice, evoking both lasting vitality and enduring richness — as well as the school's colors. Evergreen and Gold.

Strangely, though, the first Evergreen and Gold was bound in a cover somewhere between claret and oxblood in color. In the next 50 years, there would be another two or three red-brown covers, some stray blacks, and a white. But most — not surprisingly — would be shades of green or gold. And from cover to cover, many of the books would be "elaborate and distinctive" well beyond what any one in the Class of 1921 would have imagined.

The 1921 yearbook — Volume 1 of Evergreen and Gold — was hardbound with a horizontal orientation. Its page size was about 25 centimetres by 21.5 centimetres, and there were 114 pages. The first half of the hook was largely devoted to the graduating class. Photographs of the graduates, each with an accompanying biographical sketch, were followed by the class history, the valedictorian's address, and a lengthy humorous piece entitled the "Prophecy of the Class of 1921." At the back of the book were a dozen pages of advertising. Most of the ads were from local businesses — everything from Edmonton Cartage ("Coal and wood delivered to all parts of the city") to Sullivan's Academy of Dancing ("Our aim is, and always has been, to provide refined Dancing for refined people...") and Mrs. McClellan's shop on Whyte Avenue ("Lovely Silk Underthings for Commencement").

Sandwiched between the grad profiles and the ads were photographs of the non-graduating classes and reports on the various campus teams, societies, and clubs — including the popular Mandolin Club, then in its second year ("If the development of this organization is as great in the years to come as in the first two, the University of Alberta will soon have a Mandolin Club equal to any in Canada.") Sprinkled throughout the whole of the yearbook were various original poems, ditties, and jokes.

Soon humor would increasingly creep into the grad profiles. By the mid 1920s the facetiousness so cultivated by the sophisticates of the Charleston era could be found in almost every grad biography. Thus in 1924-25 we find that P. Owen "a wild Welshman came to Canada as soon as possible bringing his parents with him," and that A.R. McBrine "comes of honest parents, but himself has decided to follow law." That same A.R. McBrine, we are told, by "preferring Revised Statutes to the alluring smiles of maidens, has signs of the sure understanding necessary for success in his chosen profession."

Similarly, we learn that Edna Irene Wallis of the Class of 1924 "enjoys the outlook on the back steps of Pembina to the tune of ‘Kiss Me Again,' " while her classmate Kathleen Marsh McNabe "has absorbed every history course that she has found lurking unsuspectingly around the University class rooms."

The first major departure from the template created by the first Evergreen and Gold volume came in 1934. Although the western world struggled under the weight of the Great Depression, the 1934 Evergreen and Gold reflects little of that grim reality. The volume is of unprecedented richness, with a distinctive embossed cover, bold illustrations, attractive end papers, and a color-tinted photograph as a frontispiece. Throughout the book, there is a new sophistication.

Its pages are bigger — about 22 centimetres by 31 centimetres –— and are oriented vertically, establishing the standard for the rest of the publication's life. Although there are almost 300 pages, the lengthy grad profiles disappear, no longer practical because of the larger student numbers. Accompanying the photos of the graduates are simply their names, their hometowns, and one or two lines of text – something in the nature of "One big argument from behind one little mustache equals Les," or "A man who says little, thinks much, and acts on it."

For the next decade or so, each succeeding yearbook committee would try to outdo the one before with the quality of its publication. As a result, the years of the Depression and the Second World War were a golden era for Evergreen and Gold. On the other hand, the post-War prosperity of the 1950s brought with it some rather pedestrian yearbooks. The volumes from the '50s covered all the bases, but, for the most part, they were unimaginative and fell short of the aesthetic and production standards set earlier.

The '60s breathed fresh life into Evergreen and Gold, however, and a milestone edition of the yearbook was published in 1966. "We decided to completely revise it," says William Thorsell, '66 BA, '71 BA, '95 LLD (Honorary), who, along with Tom Radford, '66 BA, was co-editor of the 1966 Evergreen and Gold.

"Working on the yearbook was a great experience," recalls Thorsell, who never got far away from publishing and is now editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail. "Tom and I spent much of our graduating year working on the yearbook," says Thorsell. "We re-imagined the whole thing."

That rethinking resulted in their devoting almost half the book to a photo-essay recalling, month-by-month, the events and activities of the University year. Gone are the rigidly-staged group photos; over-all the yearbook is lively and engaging, organic rather than stratified.

In a brief editorial, Thorsell and Radford defend their departure. "Some may feel," they write, "that the book lacks form. But the imposition of a rigid form at the expense of spontaneity, we feel to be undesirable. Freedom has replaced restraint in determining the character of this yearbook."

"Freedom has replaced restraint." Prescient words: it is difficult to imagine a better description for the tumult taking place in society. The times they were a-changing — and in a few short years Evergreen and Gold would fall victim to that change.

"The yearbook was still a big deal in 1966," says Thorsell. "In those days the Students' Union Building had just been built. Varsity Guest Weekend was big. Fraternities were big and powerful. The Wauneita Society was still around.

"At that time, the campus social life was tremendously active and tremendously coherent. It was the time just before the whole culture changed."

The new campus culture is evident in the 1970 yearbook — the last Evergreen and Gold in the traditional mould. It's a brash, in-your-face publication with bold photography and a we-don't-give-a-damn attitude (not even, apparently, about spelling). But for all the life that characterized Evergreen and Gold in 1970, it would soon disappear.

Its death was not quick or quiet, however. In the spring of 1970 the Students' Union decided that the money being poured into the yearbook — by that time, about $40,000 per year — could be better spent and decided to pull its support. The decision was immediately greeted with a great deal of vocal opposition. The controversy refused to go away over the course of the summer, and eventually a special general meeting of the student body was called to resolve the yearbook's fate. The notice of the meeting — to be held in the ice arena on 6 October 1970 — appeared in the 9 September 1970 issue of Gateway, which also reported, in a front-page story, that in the U.S. a presidential committee investigating campus unrest had determined that the shooting of six students at Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State College in Mississippi had been "completely unjustified." Another Gateway headline that fall announced that "Student Health Has the Pill." Yet another wondered "Are Computers Good for You?"

Those were tumultuous times, and at least one Gateway editorial writer had difficulty working up any enthusiasm for the yearbook debate: "While many other universities find it possible to get student solidarity for a massive strike," he wrote, "good Old backward U of A is doing its thing with impassioned and heartfelt arguments about whether the yearbook should be retained. All this in an age when many campuses have already given up having a yearbook published, due to impracticability and irrelevancy."

Evidently, most students shared his disdain. When it came time for the special meeting, the Students' Union executive faced 800 vocal yearbook supporters, but that number fell far short of the 1,800 students (10 per cent of the student body) needed for a quorum. It was effectively the end of the proud Evergreen and Gold tradition.

Eventually, there was a yearbook published in 1971, but it makes no attempt to be a chronicle of the year's events and activities. It is a strange publication, organized into two small volumes and entitled Who's Who at the factory. One of the volumes contains only names and photos of the graduates, which are separated by title pages containing the names of the faculties and schools — there are no other words, no introductory text, no page numbers, nothing else. The 64-page companion volume (which came complete with a fold-out psychedelic poster) is an esoteric mix of photography, cartoons, interviews, free verse, and other forms of literary expression.

There wasn't another volume of Evergreen and Gold published until 1983-84. In that year, the University's 75th anniversary year, a group of interested students led by Michael Ford, '81 BCom, '85 LLB, attempted to revive the yearbook and produced Volume 52 of Evergreen and Gold. This time the book contains grad photos, only images and text preserving the memory of a special year in the University's history.

Volume 53 of Evergreen and Gold is yet to be produced.

Published Spring/Summer 1999.

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