A University at War
As time marches on and memories fade, so too fades knowledge about the contribution of the University of Saskatchewan in World War II. At the Diefenbaker Canada Centre, a small but poignant exhibit is once again shining a light on a university at war.
“People don’t really know what a huge impact the war had on the University,” according to Teresa Carlson, acting director of the centre and curator of A University at War: The U of S and WWII. Not only did the University see some 2500 of its student and faculty enlist to fight, “buildings weren’t built during that time so the war even set back the growth of the University.”
Carlson said the opportunity to explore the part played by the U of S came with the centre’s decision to host One-Way Passage: Canada’s War Brides. This audio-visual installation exhibition by Beverly Tosh was developed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the single largest arrival of war brides at Pier 21 in Halifax, and the 31st annual reunion of the Saskatchewan War Brides Association. It also gave Carlson the chance “to approach the University’s role from an academic and historic point of view.”
From the University Archives and the centre’s own collection, Carlson assembled photographs and memorabilia that commemorate those who enlisted, the 200 students who were killed in action, and events at home. Of particular interest is the recruiting material of the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) aimed directly at students and faculty. Education, said Carlson, was considered a key asset for officers.
In doing her research, Carlson was taken aback when she came across lists of University students injured and killed published in The Sheaf. Like the story of the war brides, “this seemed so patriotic and brave but in reality, people died and those who were injured came back changed men. What we’re trying to show is that it was real.”
One of the most interesting artifacts in the exhibit comes from the Royal Canadian Legion Nutana Branch #362. It is an officer’s uniform with buttons and lapel pins displaying the University of Saskatchewan crest. The crest is also seen on an officer’s hat badge.
Tucked into the displays and used during visits by school children are cartoon-like images of the stone owl carved on the College Building. Carlson explained that each University college used the owl to portray some aspect of the war effort. Shown above are owls from the Colleges of Agriculture, left, and Home Economics.
She also mentioned that at least one reference to the University’s war effort lingers to this day. One of Canada’s biggest contributions to the war may well have been through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and some of those pilots did part of their training at the University. That, said Carlson, explains why Thorvaldson 271, despite the projectiles in the ceiling, is known as ‘the airplane room’.
A University at War: The U of S and WWII continues until May 31.