Student Social Life

Photographs of students sitting and lying on grass in quadrangle circa 1970

When Carleton College was conceived in the 1945, the social life of the new institution was as primary a concern as course selection and teaching space. The social life of Carleton College and Carleton University is interesting because it remained one of the institution's central concerns. It both occurred naturally and as a result of intervention. This exhibit explores the development of student social life at Carleton from its earliest traditions to its informal social spaces.

Panda Game

Photographs of students participating in Panda game activities

A homecoming game was established after 1952 between Carleton and the University of Ottawa. A University of Ottawa student bought a stuffed panda, had it displayed at a Sparks Street jeweler, and had it kidnapped to attract publicity for the game. At halftime during the homecoming game, “Pedro the Panda” was parachuted from the roof of Lansdowne Stadium. For years after, Pedro and his adventures were used to promote the homecoming game, and the stories invented for Pedro were often more popular than the games themselves. 

The “Panda game”, as it came to be known, was one of the longest-standing intercollegiate traditions in Ottawa. The original Pedro was retired and housed at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton in 1979 after 24 years. Panda games continued until 1998, with a copper replica of Pedro used as a trophy. This year, Carleton’s Football Ravens return for their first season in fourteen years. 

For more about Football at Carleton and the Panda Game, please visit Archives & Special Collections' Ravens Football online exhibit.

Photographs: (top left corner) Carleton University football fan during Panda game, 1984; (bottom left) Football game, Tory building in background, 1959; (top middle) Football fans going to Panda game, 1990, (right) photo of Bryan J. Kealey, Director of Athletics, with Pedro the Panda, 1978.

Winter Weekend

Photographs of students participating in Winter Weekend

Winter Weekend was another Carleton social event with a competitive side. Besides the on-campus snow sculpture contest, students and faculty would compete in various winter competitions on Dow's Lake such as curling, football, tug-of-war, and “human dog derby” as well as downhill skiing at Camp Fortune, and curling at the Glebe Curling Club in Lansdowne Park. Winter Weekend would also be the season opener for Carleton's hockey team. 

Though Winter Weekend is a lost Carleton tradition, it has been superseded by Winterlude which hosts similar events and competitions on Dow's Lake and along the Rideau Canal. A more recent tradition has been participation by Carleton students in the Kiwanis Bed Race at Winterlude. 

Photographs: (left) Engineering students pose behind their Winter Weekend snow sculpture, (top right) Winter Weekend Queens, ca. 1965, (bottom right) Carleton University Engineers Bed Race Team, ca. 1978.

Rodney and Ruby Raven

Composite photographs of Rodney and Ruby Raven mascots

The origins of Carleton's team name remains a mystery. When Carleton's football team first took to the field in 1945, their equipment was on loan from the Ottawa Trojans and Ottawa Rough Riders. None of the sweaters matched. The first use of “Ravens” as the name of Carleton’s athletic teams appears in the October, 1948 edition of the student newspaper, The Carleton. The moniker was used seemingly without explanation three more times throughout the paper and made the headline the following week. 

No source has yet been found for the name, though "Ravens" may have been adopted because the Carleton players, in their black uniforms, looked like ravens. Many possibilities exist in popular culture and mythology for Carleton’s use of a Raven as a symbol, but none can be confirmed.

Nevertheless, the Raven has remained Carleton’s symbol. Rodey the Raven has been present at many Carleton athletics events. Rodey’s female counterpart, Ruby, has also made appearances.

Photographs: (left) Rodney the Raven ca. 1977, (right) Students at outdoor amphitheatre with Rodney and Ruby Raven, 1985.

Field Day

Photograph of a group of students throwing a student into the Rideau Canal

Games involving group participation in athletic events were incorporated into Orientation Week following Norman Fenn’s direction. Frosh Field Day most notably featured a tug-of-war game played between two teams with a rope strung over the canal. Some members of the losing team would inevitably fall in, and the hijinks would be captured and editorialized by student newspaper the Carleton.

Photograph: Orientation, tug of war between Engineering and Communications, September 30th, 1976.

Athletics and Social Life

Compilation of photographs of student social activities involving athletics

Athletics has been a part of student social life at Carleton. Director of Athletics Norman Fenn saw participation in athletics as important for the development of character, which he considered to be of equal or greater importance to intellectual development. A field day was made a part of orientation week involving a three-legged race, and tug-of-war across the canal. Other athletic excursions included Mountain Day in the Gatineau Hills and a Winter Weekend of skiing and skating. 

Quickly, athletics became integral to Carleton’s social life. Students would regularly make the trek from the Glebe Campus to Lansdowne Park to attend Ravens football games. 

Photographs: (top left) Carleton students at the annual Panda Games against University of Ottawa, 1991, (bottom left) students at social gathering, ca. 1973, (right) Carleton students football fans attending game, 1952.

Social Design

Photographs of women dancing to records in residence room circa 1960

As Dean of Students, Norman Fenn's expectation of individual and collective (where appropriate) responsibility influenced residence life down to the design of the buildings themselves. In the earliest-built residences, two students shared a room and four shared a washroom as opposed to communal washrooms on each floor. Each floor also had two lounges. These features were meant to foster group living and foster strong social bonds to underpin the education of students at the University.

Photograph: A slice of residence life, presumably in Renfrew House, the women's residence, in the 1960's. Carleton University Library Historical Photographs.

Residence Council

Photograph of the exterior of Renfrew House circa 1960

The expectation of communal responsibility came with the establishment of Residence Council. The council was composed of and elected by residence students and was tasked with both establishing and enforcing the rules. Though Professor Munro Beattie was named provost and given veto power over all Residence Council decisions, this was seldom exercised. As little precedent existed for the to-be-established rules of residence, the council established rules that would have been considered permissive for their time. Men were allowed to have women in their rooms until one o'clock in the morning and liquor in their rooms though not in the lounges. These rules stood as they led to no incident, scandal, or public embarrassment.

Photograph: Exterior of Renfrew House. Public Relations and Information Services fonds.

Co-Educational Success

Photograph of female students washing and drying male students' hair

The end of the 1960's did lead to a change that raised many eyebrows. In 1969, the student Commission on the Philosophy and Structure of Residence Life argued that gender segregation was artificial and that both men and women would benefit socially by learning to live together. The committee convinced the university, and, by the end of that year, Renfrew House, formerly the women's residence, purportedly became the first co-educational university residence in North America. This transition brought little controversy, as students felt both proud to be a part of the experiment and surprised their lives had not been more radically transformed. The result of the experiment was fewer disciplinary problems than other residences, convincing the administration to replicate it in other buildings. 

Photograph: Students washing hair in residence, 1970's. Public Relations and Information Services fonds.

A Separate Social Life

Photograph of students in pyjamas reading book with stuffed animals

Following this success and the emergence of a separate social life in residence, Residence Council began to assert the independence of residence students from the rest of the University's student body. Social events and dances were planned exclusively for residents. This development horrified one editor of the Carleton, who lamented the fragmentation of a once cohesive student body and dreaded the inevitable arrival of fraternities. Sensational though this statement is, it does point to the emergence of an independent social life at Carleton.

Photograph: Residence students gather together in their pyjamas with stuffed toys and books. Public Relations and Information Services fonds.

Residence Life

Composite photograph of interior and exterior of residence buildings and portrait of Norm Fenn

Carleton's expansion into a University led to the fragmentation of its social life. This became especially evident with the construction of residences and the emergence of “residence life.” Residences were a separate social space with their own student leaders. The first residences, Lanark and Renfrew, opened in the fall of 1962 followed by Grenville and Russell two years later. Glengarry admitted students in 1969. This expansion was considered necessary as Carleton students were increasingly coming from outside Ottawa and housing in the city was at a premium.

The establishment of residences led to a philosophy of education which saw the new found independence of students as an opportunity to “foster a sense of individual responsibility in the students and collective responsibility where appropriate.” This emphasis on responsibility and independence was due to the influence of former Director of Athletics, Norman Fenn, who became Dean of Students as residence life emerged.

Photographs: (Top left) Architectural drawing of Glengarry House and Residence Commons, (bottom left) photograph of residence lounge, (top right) Portrait of Norman Fenn, Dean of Students, (bottom right) photograph of Glengarry House and Residence Commons after their construction in 1969. Carleton University Library Historical Photographs, Public Relations Information Services fonds.

"Stand Up for Social Progress"

Composite of photographs showing students engaged in protest actions circa 1960

Social life at Carleton depended heavily on the context of the times. In 1962, Students' Council stated that they were ready to “stand up for social progress” while simultaneously indicating that they did not consider intervention to be part of their responsibility. Throughout the decade, this would change as Students' Council became more politically active.

As the 1960's progressed, however, candidates with activist platforms were increasingly elected to Students' Council. Anti-Vietnam war teach-ins were organized, demonstrations were organized to increase accessibility to university education were organized, and students bussed down to Queen's Park to protest inadequacies of provincial student loans. Having very recently been given a seat on the Board of Governors, Students' Council also pushed for educational reform at Carleton.

Photographs: (Left) a student leaves a candle outside an embassy as a part of an amnesty international demonstration, ca. 1976; (centre) students protest cutbacks with other universities, ca. 1970; (right) student anti-Vietnam war protest at Parliament hill, ca. 1960. Carleton University Library Historical Photographs Collection, Library Special Collections fonds.

Model Parliament

Photograph of students debating at Carleton College's mock parliament circa 1954

Carleton students expressed their interest in social issues in a variety of ways, including holding mock parliament. Many students attended Carleton due to its location in Canada's capital and its proximity to the halls of Canada's legislature and civil service.


Mock Parliament was taken seriously, with a good deal of time and energy dedicated to election campaigns with platforms adapted from respective federal parties. The two-day sessions would receive full coverage in the Carleton, which relished in the details of partisan points and tactical victories by either side.

Photograph: College College model parliament, 1954. Carleton University Library Historical Photographs Collection.

World University Service Canada

Composite of photographs of student participants and a cartoon of International Student Services

A characterizing feature of Carleton was its continuing interest in international affairs and concern for the developing world. Each year, Carleton students would send a contingent to attend International Students Services (ISS) seminars and write long articles in the Carleton upon their return.

In the 1950's, ISS was incorporated nationally as World University Service Canada (WUSC) and an branch was formed on campus. Its purpose was to create a support network for students internationally, hosting pledge drives for educational materials such as maps and textbooks. Each year, it hosted a charity “Treasure Van” on campus, selling international items.

Photographs: (Top left) Carleton's ISS delegation on return to campus, 1951; (bottom left) Josiah Oki, brought to Carleton by WUSC, shakes hands with Dean Gibson, 1955; (right) editorial cartoon concerning WUSC, 1955. (Photographs from The Carleton.)

Social Life and Social Responsibility

Photograph of the Three Grand Club painting their fundraising goal on large patining of a thermometer

Social life at Carleton reflected the student body's interest in politics, international affairs, and charity. This would be expressed with fundraisers, events on and off campus, debates and model parliaments, participation in conferences, and, as time progressed, student activism.

Photograph: The Three Grand Club sets its eponymous goal, raising funds for Carleton's new campus. (Library Special Collections fonds.)

Social Life at the Glebe Campus

Photograph of German Language club's Christmas Party circa 1953

For a college with a small population and campus, Carleton’s social life in the Glebe was vibrant. Dances were regular occasions as were excursions to Gatineau Park for skiing and hiking. The college averaged 25 clubs in operation per year throughout the 1950’s. Athletics were integrated into social activities with intramural sports.

Photograph: Carleton College's German Language Club's Christmas Party, 1953. Carleton University Library Historical Photographs

The Red Corpuscle Cup

Composite of photographs showing students participating in blood drive circa 1960

Carleton College students frequently offered their arms for charity, as blood drives were common occasions on campus. Carleton students would be encouraged to compete against the student bodies of other schools in the “Red Corpuscle Cup”, awarded to the university with the highest percentage of blood donors. Similarly, the Birks Trophy awarded to the Ottawa school with the most generous blood donation. Friendly competition gave a light tone to the serious commitment to blood donation of Carleton students.

Photographs: (left) (right) Student blood drive, 1962. (Carleton University Library Historical Photograph Collection and Library Special Collections fonds.)

Early Hints of a Progressive Social Life

Photograph of female student council candidates at Carleton College circa 1956

Though Carleton College's social life in the 1940's and 1950's cannot be considered socially progressive regarding gender roles, the absence of tradition as well as its high female enrollment lent to some progressive features. From its inception, women were always included in Students' Council, frequently running in elections and succeeding. Twice in the 1950’s women were elected students council president. Nevertheless, departmental beauty queens were regularly named and the Hledor Club organized teas and refreshments for college open houses and receptions. 

Photograph: Female students' council candidates, 1956-1957. (Carleton University Library Historical Photographs.)

Handpicking Traditions

Photograph of the Spring Prom dinner at the Chateau Laurier, 1956

As a newly established college, Carleton was at a distinct advantage. While creating a social life for itself, it was able to carefully select which characteristically “college” traditions it wished to reproduce and which to leave in the past. Some events organized by Students’ Council during the 1940’s and 1950’s included the Spring Prom, the Valentine Dance, and the Sadie Hawkins Dance. Usually, dances would be held in the assembly hall on the Glebe Campus’ third floor with Spring Prom sometimes held at the Chateau Laurier. These events would be attended by administrators and faculty, but it was not always clear if this was in a capacity as chaperones or just to give a more formal status to the evening.

Photograph: Spring prom dinner at the Chateau Laurier, 1956. (Carleton University Library Historical Photographs.)

Making a social life at Carleton College

Photographs of students dancing to records circa 1950

During the 1940’s and 50’s, while Carleton College’s administration and faculty were preoccupied with establishing a reputable academic institution, it was generally acknowledged that social life required development. Encouraged by administrators and faculty, the task was left up to students. Each class arranged to choose a representative who would then elect a Students' Council which levied a one dollar fee from each student. The Students’ Council organized events such as skiing and bowling excursions. The Latin-America Club was one of Carleton's earliest student clubs, wherein students of Latin American origin organized lectures and films. 

Photograph: Cuban student Alberta de Sosa demonstrates rumba to Doris Sutherland while his brother Juan selects records at an evening get-together, ca. 1954. (Carleton University Library Photographic Collection.)

Student Social Life - Introduction

  Photograph of students looking at community events board ca. 1990

Throughout Carleton's expansion from a College to a University, extracurricular activities were always considered a necessary and important part of student experience. Student social activities were encouraged and supported by administration and faculty allowing students autonomy to create their own social activities, institutions, and traditions. These would range from formal to informal as well as cooperative and, at times, uncooperative with the university itself. The form these activities would take depended heavily on the context of their times.

This exhibit features a selection from Archives & Special Collections' photographic collections to highlight student social life at Carleton University, including annual events and traditions, clubs and societies, charity and activism, and the emergence of residence life.

Photograph: students reading social event postings at the Info Carleton Desk, 1984. (Carleton University Library Historical Photographs Collection.)