Crosses on Front Campus (2008)
The Crosses on Front Campus were the Remembrance Day prank of Tuesday, November 11 2008, the 90th anniversary of the end of the first World War. The prank consisted of 628 wooden crosses arranged on Front Campus as a memorial to the University of Toronto students, faculty, alumni, and staff that were lost in WWI.
Remembrance Day was a regular BFC event in previous years that consisted of smaller-scale pranks that sought to be tasteful and appropriate for the tone of the occasion. The idea of erecting memorial crosses on Front Campus had circulated in previous years, but was commonly dismissed as being impractical and expensive since the original plan involved covering the entire area of Front Campus. In 2008, it was decided that the idea would be revived and limited in scope by placing one cross for each member of the University of Toronto community that was lost in World War I.
The weekend preceding Remembrance Day, 320 2x4s were purchased and painted white in preparation of cutting and assembling them into crosses. The names of 613 fallen soldiers were acquired from University of Toronto roll of service 1914-1918, a historical register printed in 1921. It was later discovered that since its printing, 15 additional names were identified but the book was never updated. To account for the 15 missing names, the list was verified against the names on the sheltered stone screen adjacent to Soldiers' Tower.
On Monday night, the 2x4s were cut into pieces to form crosses measuring approximately 3' tall and 1' wide. A template system was created to make assembly easy and consistent and additional material was used to create a faux-stone "gate" and memorial monument box outlining the purpose of the prank and playing on the common ERTW phrase with the words "Engineers Remember The Wars".
Overnight, a grid system was setup to install the crosses in alphabetical order, with a name on each cross representing a University of Toronto member whose life was lost in the war. Within a span of a few hours the memorial was complete and ready for viewing the next day.
Reception and Response
The memorial was received well by nearly everyone that witnessed it, with the exception of the university administration. The date coincided with the fall convocation ceremony, and a university policy required that nothing be allowed on Front Campus during convocation, as graduating students often used the area as a backdrop for photographs. As a representative of EngSoc went to survey the scene, they came across a Facilities and Services worker preparing to take down the crosses. The worker was told that he should explain to the onlookers with cameras why the memorial was being removed, after which he left. At the same time, the traditional Remembrance Day ceremony at Soldiers' Tower was concluding and Malcolm McGrath was crossing Front Campus with a group of alumni to see the installation. When told about the situation, he promptly made his way to the President's office. The contents of the exchange in Simcoe Hall are largely unknown, but the university granted a one day exception (possibly the only one in history) to allow the memorial to stay.
Public response was overwhelmingly positive, with the memorial being recognized in a number of Toronto-centric publications as well as the Globe and Mail. Many visitors dropped in to the Engineering Society office to comment on the prank and some even left poppies next to names they recognized, among them the notable poet John McCrae.
Overnight, the crosses were completely removed, leaving almost no trace of the prank except for the holes in the ground where the crosses were hammered in.