A Daring Escapade: The Incident at the Lily Pond

It’s certain that a number of readers will recall the 1948 escapade at Mount Allisons Lily Pond. Because today’s date is so close to All Fools Day, the uninformed may conclude that what follows is a hoax. Not so; I can guarantee that every effort has been made to verify the details. More on this later.

By present standards, student activities at Mount Allison during the late 1940s were closely controlled. Not only was there was no admission to any residence by a member of the opposite sex; rules governing womens residences were especially rigid. For example: on weekdays, freshettes were obliged to be back in their rooms by 10 PM; seniors had to be in by 11 PM. These regulations were enforced by a vigilant Dean of Women, with penalties being levied on those who disobeyed. Dances and mixed social activities were carefully chaperoned and supervised.

Liquor was taboo. There was no pub on campus and Sackville had few worries about the location of a liquor store; since the nearest legal outlet was in Amherst or Moncton. There were no taverns in the town and illegal drugs were unknown. However, while liquor might be banned; it was not totally absent. On Friday afternoons, the number of hitch hikers on the main highway east and west of Sackville was noted to increase.

Students were also forbidden to operate cars or motorcycles. This rule was eventually relaxed in 1951, when under certain circumstances, permission [to do so] might be granted. A hint of a breakthrough came in September 1948 when one male student in residence was permitted to use his own car. Possibly in exchange for this privilege, he made it clear that he was uninterested in making special trips to either Amherst or Moncton.

One final point of clarification. What is known today as the Swan Pond east of Convocation Hall was referred to during this era as the Lily Pond. In the late 1940s it was a considerably larger body of water than today. In addition to the fountain erected in 1904, there were two small islands within the Pond. The name change did not take place until 1968 when Hon. Campbell Macpherson, a former regent and lieutenant governor of Newfoundland, presented a pair of swans to Mount Allison.

Early one morning in the late autumn of 1948, something was amiss in Sackville. East Main Street was experiencing a traffic jam. Soon a crowd of onlookers, including both students and towns people gathered. The source of all the excitement was the presence of two automobiles on the larger of the two islands in the Lily Pond. Between the two vehicles there was a No Parking sign encased in concrete. Someone in the crowd noted on his way over that a familiar sign in front of the Post Office (now the Town Hall) was missing.

Two questions were uppermost. Who was responsible? and How did they manage to do it without detection? The answer to the first question was predictable. It had to be a student prank but how was it accomplished? The pond was too deep for the vehicles to be driven there. There was some evidence (tire tracks in the frozen grass) to indicate that the two cars had been pushed down the hill from the direction of the Womens Residence.

This was confirmed very quickly when word spread that one vehicle was owned by the Dean of Women and was normally parked near the residence then connected to present day Hart Hall. Later the angry owner of the second car appeared. He was the uncooperative student (who was granted permission to have a car on campus) but who refused to run errands to Amherst or Moncton. His car had been parked behind Trueman House.

Neither vehicle was locked; so that their removal by persons unknown was comparatively easy. However, the details of the escapade are best told in the words of one who was there.

The old wooden rink which stood opposite present day Allison Gardens had been torn down. [The new rink was officially opened on Dec. 4, 1948.] All of the sills and planking had been piled on the side of Lansdowne Street. Late one night, some men from Trueman House picked out two sills, along with some planks. These were carried to the edge of the Lily Pond. There the sills were stood on end, and toppled over so that one end was on the mainland; the other on the island. The planks were then used to cover the bridge.

My informant went on: The student owned car was guided from its parking space to the bridge. It was then carefully pushed across to rest on the island. Since this was so easily done, it was decided that the car belonging to the Dean of Women should also be parked on the island. Her vehicle was selected because it was deemed that she was too enthusiastic in enfoRCIng the rigid residence rules. Unfortunately, her car was much heavier and when half way across the bridge, one sill began to fracture. A couple of strong rugby players jumped in the water and lifted the sill. There was no damage done to the car, and it was pushed to its resting place on the island.

The No Parking sign was another story. At this point, another student of slight build, was seen stumbling toward the bridge. While his fellows were hard at work, he had gone downtown and somehow managed to loosen the sign. This, when put in place on the island, was the finishing touch In less than an hour from starting time, the bridge was erected and completely dismantled. But more work remained. The sills and planking had to be returned and piled in place, exactly as they were before. This done, we all slipped back to our rooms in Trueman House.

My informant concluded: The men involved from East Section decided, on their own, that a bit of celebration was in order to mark mission accomplished. Several had recently received care packages from home and this was to be the basis for a late night feast. A social faux pas of the highest order was then committed no one from Centre Section was invited…

Revenge was not long in coming. A Centre resident and veteran of the Second World War had spent the previous summer on military training. He had in his room a Thunder Flash used to simulate battlefield conditions. This was hurled from an open window and the East Section party was over almost before it began. Alarms were sounded and the Dean of Men was quickly on duty. Once it was established that no damage was done, peace eventually descended on Trueman House.

What transpired the next day was equally interesting. The Incident at the Lily Pond became the talk of town and gown. The first problem to be solved was removal of the cars from the island. The university carpenter and a couple of his assistants were consulted. There was no Department of Facilities Management to call on in this era! A decision was made to build a wooden trestle; new lumber was purchased and a temporary bridge constructed. Eventually the cars were removed from the Island and the workmen took down the structure.

The Incident did not go unnoticed by the university administration. After some deliberation it was concluded that this was an inside job. Accordingly, a nominal fine was levied on all male students. This would raise an estimated amount to cover the cost of the lumber used to build the bridge. Since payment might be taken as an admission of guilt; and few students had any spare cash, the fines were ignored.

On the students side, a strict code of silence prevailed and no names were ever revealed in public. But possibly more important, an indelible chapter in the folklore of Mount Allison was written; to be recalled every time alumni from the classes of 1949 and 1950 meet.

You may well ask what about the claim of authenticity mentioned at the beginning of the column. When I was first told of the Incident; I checked my normal primary source for details concerning a university story. Unfortunately, the Sackville Tribune Post did not cover the event. The 1949 University Yearbook revealed two photographs, the one reproduced here and a second showing the superstructure constructed to remove the cars.

My first confirmation of the details came when a neighbour directed me to the memoirs of the then Dean of Men, Dr. D. W. MacLaughlin. Years after the event, he established some, but not all, of the facts revealed above. He also admitted that a third car (his own) was slated for the island, but the fractured sill was considered too weak to tempt fate. While I had no specific reason to doubt the story revealed by my anonymous informants, I decided it might be wise to consult someone with the best of credentials, on the whole truth concerning the Lily Pond Incident.

Fortunately, I was able to find such a person. He was a member of the Class of 50, a former professor and later a Mount Allison administrator. Even more significant, he hails from Pictou County; and was elected President of the Mount Allison Students Council. Registrar Emeritus Don Cameron not only verified the details as pieced together in this column; he also loaned me the photograph of the Incident. It was taken by his close friend, a member of the class of 1949, the late Ralph Howe. The case rests.