Queen's Grease Pole

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The Queen's Grease Pole, or The Grease Pole, is a steel pole used as part of the annual grease pole climb during orientation week at Queen's University Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. The pole itself, according to legend, was originally part of the goal posts (football uprights) installed at Varsity Stadium at the University of Toronto. The Grease Pole is often cited as the mascot of Queen's Engineering for its symbolic importance, although it is not officially noted as such by the university.

Although the traditional story recited at both Queen's and the University of Toronto is that the Grease Pole came from the goalposts taken from Varsity Stadium during the October 8, 1955 football game between the Queen's Golden Gaels and the Toronto Varsity Blues, the actual Grease Pole (both the first in use at Queen's and the modern pole) is almost certainly not the 1955 goalposts, because there is substantial recorded evidence (including photographic evidence) that the 1955 posts were returned to Varsity.

History of the Pole[edit | edit source]

Background and Context[edit | edit source]

During the 1940s and 1950s, storming the football field after completion of the game and the tearing down of goalposts was a tradition in American football widely practiced by fans.[1] The activities were not limited necessarily to either the home team or the visiting team, as it was common for fans of the home team to tear down their own goalposts in celebration of a victory. There have been many recorded instances of brawls taking place between fans of the home team and visiting teams involving attempted take-downs of goalposts. In the year 1955 alone, several recorded "goalpost incidents" took place involving McGill, Western, Queen's, Toronto, Ryerson, Waterloo, and UBC.

A Skule engineer contemplating a jump from the old wooden goalposts at Varsity field, c. 1953.

At the University of Toronto, engineers from the School of Practical Science were known to be active participants at football games and had taken on the role of valiantly defending goal posts from attacking visitors during post-game festivities.[2] On other occasions, engineers had been known to assist in the toppling of their own goalposts.[3]

At the time, typical goalposts for college football and soccer fields were made of wood, usually a long piece of standard treated 4x4 timber used in construction. These wooden posts would be typically set in a frame or concrete base and were readily removable. If such goal posts were taken down, it was not uncommon for them to be readily replaced at a relatively low cost. These wooden goalposts were often the target of fans from visiting teams and, when taken, often paraded or cut into pieces to be taken home as souvenirs.[4] Fans (particularly engineering students) also practiced a tradition of climbing up the posts and jumping off from the crossbar into a waiting crowd below.

In 1954, the Blue & White Society (the Athletic Association) at the University of Toronto voted to fund the installation of steel goalposts at Varsity Stadium in order to avoid repeated thefts and vandalism of the existing wooden goalposts. At a cost of $701.52, the Athletics Association installed steel posts on each end of the football field. Each post was embedded in a concrete base measuring six feet deep and three feet square in plan. Each of the four posts (two on each end of the field) were wrapped in six-inch thick nylon padding for about six feet of height from the bottom. The crossbar remained made of wood, and was tied across the two posts from hooks welded to the posts. The tops of the goalposts were greased to "make the task of flying enthusiasts slightly more difficult". [5] The latter reference to "flying" was likely about the practice of climbing on top of the goalposts and crossbar and jump off in celebration. (It might also be speculated that the initial practice of greasing the goalposts led to the later re-enactment by Queen's engineers, although the practice of climbing greased poles was apparently a long-held tradition and photographic evidence from the first theft of the Varsity Stadium goalposts did not show any climbing activity.)

Photo of the Varsity Blues football team of 1954, pictured in front of the newly installed goalposts at Varsity Stadium. The nylon covering of the steel goalposts, cross-stitched, is visible in the background.

When the goalposts were installed in the fall of 1954, the Blue and White Society considered the installations "permanent fixtures" and warned students that "[a]ny damage done to these goalposts will be looked upon very seriously". The Blue and White Society expected at the time to save seventy-five dollars per game (implying savings from avoiding the cost of damage from repeated damage and re-installation of the old wooden posts) and to increase safety on the playing field due to the round construction of the steel posts (rather than the square sections of the wooden posts).[5] Later reports also indicated that the university touted these goalposts as "immovable" and "indestructible", virtually signalling a challenge to the world.[6] In fact, the goalposts stood intact for the entire 1954-1955 season without being disturbed.

In the 1950s, football was becoming rapidly popular on campus, with Canadian intercollegiate football rivalries experiencing a peak by the mid-1950s. Collegiate football games at this time could draw upwards of 25,000 fans, compared to Grey Cup games which apparently drew only 2,000 attendees.[7] In Toronto, the Varsity Blues football team, coached by Bob Masterson (a former NFL wide receiver who played for the Washington Redskins between 1938 and 1943), was at the height of its success, having won the Yates Cup in 1948, 1951, and 1954.[8] The Varsity Blues had a brewing intercollegiate rivalry with both the University of Western Ontario's Mustangs (who won each of the other Yates Cups in the post-war years until 1953) and the Queen's Golden Gaels, who were a team on the rise following a post-war nadir.

The goalpost incident of October 8, 1955[edit | edit source]

Front page of The Varsity reporting the goalpost theft of October 8, 1955.

On the afternoon of Saturday October 8, 1955, after the second game of the season for the Varsity Blues (which the Blues won 11-6), students from Queen's University, consisting of primarily engineering students, "swarmed" the north end of Varsity Stadium after the last whistle. Within minutes, the north goalposts and crossbar were torn down and removed from their concrete foundations.[6]

The incident was announced on the front page of The Varsity, University of Toronto's official campus newspaper, on October 11, 1955 with the headline "Queen's Demolish Goalposts". The Varsity reported that Queen's students came prepared with ropes for a planned attack on the goalposts. The police, present at the time, did not interfere with the "howling mob of Queen's students, but prevented a serious attack on the south end posts." It was also reported that a few Toronto engineers attempted to stop the attackers from Queen's but were "completely unsuccessful".[6] Several punches were evidently thrown, and a number of "shiners and at least one chipped cheek-bone" were reported.[9]

The Queen's Journal reported that the goalposts were marched down Bloor Street by a howling mob of Queen's students following the game, led by Walt "Crazy Legs" Armstrong.[9][7] There were conflicting reports, however, with the identities of the perpetrators. A later eyewitness from Queen's claimed that it was Western students who had taken down at least one of the goalposts and carried it from Varsity Stadium to the Royal York Hotel, allegedly assisted by a Toronto engineering student.[10]

The posts were later shipped by Canadian National Express to Kingston.

There were signs that Queen's students had been planning something for the weekend of October 8. On Thursday October 6, 1955, two nights before the game, Queen's supporters had vandalized Varsity Stadium with red paint, including by painting various slogans supporting the Queen's Golden Gaels on stadium walls and defacing the scoreboard, which had to be completely repainted before it could be used for the Saturday game.[6][9] This was part of a series of increasingly serious incidents involving Queen's, Toronto, and Western students at football games in 1955.

There was no immediate response from the University of Toronto. In the following days, the old wooden goalposts were re-installed on the field to ensure that games could continue for the rest of the year.[6]

The damages were initially estimated at $500, including the damage caused by the paint vandalism two nights earlier. Though the University of Toronto had never billed other students or universities for damages before, this incident represented an escalation of improper conduct over a period of time. A precise bill was later presented by P.J. Loosemore to Queen's University, naming the dollar value of one set of goalposts ($350.76) and cost of removing paint from walls and seats ($125) for a total of $475.76.[11]

Repercussions from the goalpost incident of 1955[edit | edit source]

The goalpost incident and related events that took place in the fall of 1955 were not lauded by university officials or students. Rather, the immediate reaction of the student body at large were generally negative, as similar events and escalating violence at college football games in the United States in this era had led to serious consequences and the banning of certain campus sports.[12]

Officials at the highest levels of both University of Toronto and Queen's University quickly became involved. President Sydney Smith and Athletic Association Secretary J.P. Loosemore publicly denounced the pattern of increasingly violent post-game conduct of students at football games, and directly contacted officials from Queen's to report the damage.[13][14]

Queen's University Principal W.A. Mackintosh wrote to President Smith to report that the matter had been placed in the hands of the Alma Mater Society (AMS) at Queen's, the student council which at the time had very liberal powers to manage student affairs up to and including convening "courts" to hear disciplinary cases and dole out punishment for violations of university rules.[13]

University officials from both sides immediately warned against retaliation at the scheduled October 29th football game at Kingston.[13] However, this warning went unheeded and the resulting post-game incident ended violently.

Football brawl of October 29, 1955[edit | edit source]

On October 29, 1955, following the homecoming football game at Richardson Stadium at Queen's University attended by a reported 13,500 fans (the second game of the season scheduled between the Varsity Blues and the Golden Gaels, which the Gaels won 11-10), a brawl broke out on the field when fans from both Toronto and Queen's rushed to take and defend the goalposts, partly in revenge for the incident at Varsity Stadium on October 8. Approximately 600 Toronto students present at the game had rushed the field, armed with ropes, in an attempt to take the Queen's goalposts but they were foiled by Queen's students who had the posts heavily defended.[15]

The ensuing "shenanigans" and "near-riot" between students from Queen's and Toronto resulted in at least five reported injuries, some serious. One female student (Katherine Cameron, daughter of the Supreme Justice of the Court of the Exchequer, and a nursing student at Queen's) was knocked momentarily unconscious after being struck by a thrown beer bottle and was seriously cut in the head by the broken glass. Another two students were hit in or near the eye by "lime bombs" (bags of finely powdered lime which burned skin on contact) or "smoke bombs" (supposedly being set off around the field) reportedly thrown and set by Toronto students although this was independently disputed by several students present.[16][17] Len Robbins, an engineering student at Queen's, was reported blinded in the left eye. Hugh Gamble, another student, was also struck in the eye. Both were feared to have potentially permanent eye injuries.[18] Two others suffered broken bones in the hand from the fight for the goalposts and brawling.[15] Two more students were later reported injured. The Kingston police arrested one former Queen's student who had failed out of the university the previous year in connection with intoxicated behaviour.[19]

Toronto students allegedly returned at night after the game, successfully using a saw to tear down the tri-color painted wooden goalposts. This heist broke a several-years-long streak of safety of the Queen's Richardson Stadium goalposts.[20]

Following the October 29 brawl, President Sidney Smith again denounced the students' behaviour and publicly stated that he intended to raise the question of whether the Varsity Blues football team should even continue to finish the scheduled season (despite being the defending champions) given the escalation in violence. President Smith reiterated that the incidents were "most unfortunate after all the warnings which were given", and feared that each passing game would result in further "revenge" incidents and escalation.[19]

The student body at both universities largely condemned the incidents and blamed particular rowdy students for the acts of violence. A contemporary poll taken by The Varsity indicated that 25 of 34 questioned students disapproved of the practice of tearing down goalposts after football games.[21] The student societies from both Queen's and Toronto issued statements and discouraged students from further retaliation.[22] In the result, tensions wound down by the end of the season.

Queen's AMS, who were protective of their uniquely wide latitude in student affairs and who did not want that jurisdiction taken away based on perceived lax discipline, held a special meeting to discuss means of dealing with the problems raised by the incidents. AMS felt that Queen's reputation was being damaged by these incidents, and had considered withdrawing the intercollegiate football program. Upon motion, AMS voted to assume responsibility for the monetary damages from their student funds paid directly to the University of Toronto. The AMS felt that there was a need for decisive action to deter future events.[23]

The AMS also attempted to prosecute some of the responsible students for the October 8 incident at Varsity Stadium, but the prosecution was dropped because there was no constitutional rule at AMS deeming such an offense to be illegal within AMS' jurisdiction. An amendment was later recommended to AMS' constitution to address this defect.[24]

The Queen's Golden Gaels and Toronto Varsity Blues both finished the football season, appropriately ending the season by playing each other in the intercollegiate finals for the 1955 Yates Cup. At the game, which took place on November 12, 1955 in Kingston under heavy police supervision,[25] no violence broke out. Queen's won its first Yates Cup in over 15 years by defeating the defending champion Varsity Blues by a score of 18-0.[26]

Post-game journey of the goalposts[edit | edit source]

Goalposts are returned to Bob Masterson, the head coach of the Varsity Blues, on November 7, 1955, by Western students

The pair of Varsity Stadium goalposts taken by Queen's students were shipped to Kingston by Canadian National Express in the days following October 8, 1955. The Varsity later reported that the goalposts sat in the Kingston station depot for three days while Canadian National Railway official tried to find someone to pay the $4.50 fee for moving the 300-pound cargo.[27] Certain Queen's students had managed to "remove" the goalposts from the train station for display at the Queen's campus without paying the fee.

However, by the following weekend, after a Queen's-Western football game, the Varsity Stadium goalposts had been removed from the Queen's campus. Western's fans had attempted to acquire Queen's own goalposts at Richardson Stadium after the football game but were unsuccessful. In "revenge", Western's supporters found the Varsity Stadium goalposts at Queen's and took them for themselves. The Western Gazette reported that the Western students "in the driving rain and under the dripping noses and bloodshot eyes of 2000 celebrating Queen's students" ... relieved Queen's of the "oversized pieces of plumbing".[28] Western had the goalposts shipped to London and hid them on a remote part of the Western campus, suspected to be on a farm.[27]

What followed were several attempted three-way heists between Toronto, Queen's, and Western at their respective football matches scheduled through October 1955. However, no further attempts were successful that fall. [27]

Western students in possession of the Varsity goalposts had indicated they would present the liberated goalposts back to the Varsity Blues on November 5, 1955 at their regularly scheduled football game,[27] but they later retracted this offer based on the official reason that they wanted to avoid further incidents and risk of violence (likely as a result of the increased scrutiny in the aftermath of the October 29 football game between Queen's and Toronto).

Instead, Western shipped the two goalposts to Jim Vipond, sports editor at The Globe and Mail, who was not expecting the shipment.[22] Vipond invited Varsity Blues coach Bob Masterson to inspect and receive the goods on November 7, 1955. Both posts were received intact, although slightly damaged and visibly bent.[29] It was reported that the university machine shop inspected the posts and were "found to be somewhat more damaged than when they left the city".[28]

1958 goalpost heist[edit | edit source]

Queen's had lost possession of the 1955 goalposts by virtue of Western's "liberation", although they were not deterred. While "goalpost incidents" continued to take place throughout the 1950s, they were less notorious than the events of 1955 and likely received less press attention.

In 1958, Queen's students returned once against to Varsity Stadium for an October 20 football game. At the conclusion of this game (which the Blues won 44-0), over a hundred Queen's undergraduate students rushed the north end of Varsity Stadium's field and after 45 minutes of fighting, successfully took the goalposts once again (it is not clear whether these were the same goalposts as installed in 1955 although it is likely to be the case). The Varsity reported in 1958 that an advance guard of Queen's students had nicked the posts the previous night which allegedly helped them steal the post after the game.[30]

University of Toronto stadium manager, Charles McElroy, was quoted at the time that "we've got more", referring to the stolen goalposts.[31] There was no recorded return for these goalposts in the following years. It is likely that the Queen's Grease Pole, at least for a period of time following this second event, was the 1958 version of the goalposts stolen from Varsity Stadium.

Queen's Grease Pole Climb[edit | edit source]

Photo of the first Grease Pole Climb at Queen's, which took place on October 12, 1956.

Queen's University engineering students organize an annual Grease Pole Climb during orientation week around September of each year. In general, the incoming engineering class (named "Sci's") have a certain amount of time to climb the pole and retrieve a tam (a traditional Scottish hat also worn by Queen's students as a traditional symbol) placed at the top of the pole. The pole itself is thickly coated with lanolin and placed in a pit, sometimes watered down to form a mud pit. If the class does not complete the climb within a certain amount of time, upper year students and/or alumni would be enlisted to assist in the effort.

History of Queen's Grease Pole Climb[edit | edit source]

The first recorded Grease Pole Climb at Queen's University took place on Friday October 12, 1956 at 4:30pm at the practice football field, as part of initiation for the incoming Sci '60 class. The Queen's Journal that week recorded that a "tam was placed on top of a 20-foot pole liberally smeared with grease. If the tam was removed in two minutes the wearing of tams was to be discontinued. The final time was eight minutes, ten seconds."[32]

The idea for a grease pole climb apparently came to the Queen's engineering orientation committee from one of its organizers and originated in an old high school tradition.[33] According to those present at the 1955 Varsity Stadium football game and the first grease pole climb of 1956, the first grease pole used in 1956 was not from the goalposts from Varsity Stadium at all, but was a taller pole with a narrowing top.[33] This is likely accurate, since Queen's was not in possession of the Varsity Stadium goalposts in the fall of 1956 as they were taken by Western students within a week of Queen's theft and returned to Varsity Stadium in November of 1955. The Queen's Journal, which extensively reported on the goalpost incident in 1955, did not in its 1956 article about the first grease pole climb at all mention the provenance of the pole, although the photograph accompanying the article is not conclusive of the matter.[32]

After the Varsity Stadium goalposts were taken again by Queen's in October 1958, it may be that the following years' grease poles were made from parts of those goalposts. The first story connecting the Queen's Grease Pole and the Varsity Stadium goalposts was apparently recorded in the Queen's Journal in 1965, where Bill Dewar, chief vigilante (i.e. chief orientation coordinator) told the story of the Varsity Stadium goalpost incident and connected it to the grease pole. According to Bill Dewar, "Apparently the Queen's students heard about the new posts, and cut them through with a torch the night before a big game. The next day, after the game, they took off with the posts again."[34] While this retelling did not explicitly reference the year and implies the 1955 incident, the quoted story closely matches The Varsity's description of the 1958 events.[30]

However, according to Jim Shearn, a Queen's Mining Engineering '59 graduate who was involved in the first grease pole climb, the Varsity Stadium goalpost story was a fable, and in fact the first grease pole, which measured 20 feet high and 6 inches in diameter, was welded together by the Mechanical '59 class.[35] He confirmed this version of events once again in a 2016 interview.[33]

Early grease poles were covered with axle grease, although beginning in around 1988, lanolin (a much thicker grease) began to be used because Queen's did not have permits to dispose of the non-biodegradable industrial waste from using axle grease. Lanolin had the side effect of being significantly more slippery than axle grease and made the climb more difficult.[36]

Grease Pole Heists (Liberations)[edit | edit source]

Following the original theft of the Varsity Stadium goalposts by students from Queen's University, engineering students from Toronto were motivated to attempt "liberations" in order to return the posts to their rightful owners. Skule engineers were successful on two occasions:

  1. Queen's Grease Pole Liberation (2000)
  2. Queen's Grease Pole Liberation (2015)

References[edit | edit source]

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_invasion#Tearing_down_the_goal_posts
  2. "Important?". The Varsity (November 1, 1954), p. 4 (Archived)
  3. "Down They Go!". The Varsity (November 8, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  4. "Queen's Students Enthusiastic: Orderly On Toronto Week-end". Queen's Journal (October 6, 1953), p. 1 (Archived).
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Very serious". The Varsity (October 8, 1954), p. 5. (Archived)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Queen's Demolish Goalposts". The Varsity (October 11, 1985), pp. 1 and 7. (Archived)
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Make Varsity Blue". Queen's Journal (October 28, 1955), p. 6. (Archived)
  8. "Bob Masterson", NJ Sports.com, http://njsportsheroes.com/bobmastersonfb.html
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Varsity Sees $500. Damage By Gael Fans". Queen's Journal (October 12, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  10. "Outside Help?" Queen's Journal (November 4, 1955), p. 6 (Archived).
  11. "University Officials Greatly Concerned Over Damage To Varsity Stadium". Queen's Journal (November 1, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  12. "Good Fun, Serious Action Confused Says School Alumnus in Toike Oike". The Varsity (October 24, 1955), p. 7. (Archived)
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "SAC Raps Game Conduct". The Varsity (October 27, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  14. "UofT Athletic Directorate Appeals To Students". The Varsity (October 27, 1955, p. 6. (Archived)
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Queen's Melee Injures Five". The Varsity (October 31, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  16. "Amazed by Inaccuracy". The Varsity (November 1, 1955), p. 2. (Archived)
  17. "Well Behaved Eyewitnesses". The Varsity (November 3, 1985), p. 3. (Archived)
  18. "Students Suffer Serious Eye Injuries Say Varsity Supporters Threw Lime". Queen's Journal (November 1, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  19. 19.0 19.1 "May Stop College Football As Result of Queen's Fracas". The Varsity (November 1, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  20. "Tradition Broken: Goalposts Stolen". Queen's Journal (November 8, 1955). (Archived)
  21. "Most Varsity Students Agree Stern Disciplining Necessary". The Varsity (November 4, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Standards Coming! Western Repentant Sends COD "Gift"". The Varsity (November 4, 1985), p. 1. (Archived)
  23. "AMS Pays Toronto Damage Bill: Serious Action to be Taken". Queen's Journal (November 1, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  24. "End Prosecution". The Varsity (January 27, 1956), p. 8 (Archived).
  25. "Every Gate To Be Guarded: Will Search U of T Fans Too". Queen's Journal (November 8, 1955). (Archived)
  26. "We Tried It and Dammit We Did It!". Queen's Journal (November 15, 1955). (Archived)
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 "Varsity's Travelling Goalposts: Here AGain, Gone Again, Na Branrighinn". The Varsity (October 26, 1955), p. 1. (Archived)
  28. 28.0 28.1 "Goal Posts Complete Tour: Return Home From Western". Queen's Journal (November 18, 1955), p. 4 (Archived).
  29. "Goalposts Come Home". The Varsity (November 7, 1955), p. 8. (Archived)
  30. 30.0 30.1 "The great goalpost fight". The Varsity (October 20, 1958), p. 5 (Archived).
  31. "Blue Beam Blinds Tricolors". The Varsity (October 20, 1958), p. 7 (Archived).
  32. 32.0 32.1 ""... Who Through Coventry" Rode Into Queen's Stadium". Queen's Journal (October 16, 1956), p. 1 (Archived).
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 Brigid Goulem, "Reaching for the tam: An almost-comprehensive history of the grease pole tradition". Queen's Journal (August 2, 2016).
  34. "To the Pole! (Again)". Queen's Journal (September 28, 1965), p. 5 (Archived).
  35. "The Grease Pole Climb: A Case History". Queen's Journal (October 29, 1965), p. 6 (Archived).
  36. https://robburke.net/greasepole/LegendWeb/Legends/Ascents/events.htm#sci60