Laurier Golden Years
With their side ponytails and mullets, shoulder pads and leg warmers, the average Laurier student of the 1980s was certainly different in appearance from that of today. The school itself was even a dissimilar display as this era witnessed the initial opening of the Peters Building, the John Aird Center and the completion of the Laurier Library.
But construction of the Science Building, Bricker Academic and the Schlegal Center were yet to come.
“There were no single rooms on campus. There were only double dorms,” said Laurier Alumni Chris Dodd. “The study rooms in the residences got used all the time, the library was a very popular place to study but those were basically the two places that we had.”
Dodd attended Laurier during the late 80s and graduated with a degree in political science and history in 1992. Dodd now works at Laurier as the director of residential services.
The minimal space on campus at this point in history however also had its benefits.
“There was no way to message someone or anything like that. But it was a pretty small place so if you were going to meet someone on campus and they didn’t show up you could just wander over,” said Dodd. “That’s the way life was back then.”
This created a great sense of togetherness that Laurier is still appraised for to this day. “I always loved that; the tightness of the community and the way people interacted in central spaces like the lounge, in the concourse or the torque room,” Dodd reflected.
The torque room was a cafeteria area located in the lower Concourse, where the Starbucks is now and existed as a popular hangout place for the rather smaller student population at the time.
“The spirit and sense of belonging was very much the same, it was just manifested differently because of technology and where people gathered and what not,” said Dodd.
The matter of technology also had a big influence on the academic aspect of being a Laurier student.
“For research we had to go into the library and search through the little cards … you found the journal or book that you wanted. You went and found it in the stack, if it was there,” Dodd recalled. “It was busy work, you couldn’t just sit at your desk and get what you needed. You had to physically take yourself to the library and do your research.”
The closest thing to computers were typewriters, which everyone had in their room for writing up assignments. This didn’t help much when signing up for courses however.
“It was a physical manifestation of Loris,” said Dodd. “You’d stand in line in your department and you’d have to get the prof to sign you in and get a sticker. Once you got all your stickers and signatures you’d take it over to the register’s office.”
Students of this era were not totally focused on academics though and had a similar party scene to that which we have now, just in the style of their particular generation.
“The hot place to go was always the Turret,” said Dodd. “On Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.”
“The Turret would have a lot of cover bands and a ton more live music then they have now. They would have a live band a week,” he reflected. “You’d see a Genesis cover band, a Springsteen cover band. When I was a student those were big.”
The city of Waterloo offered a few alternatives for student nightlife, but nothing really in comparison to these days.
“Off campus there used to be a place in downtown Waterloo called Taps and it was a really popular place with students. Chainsaw was called Stingers … After a football game on a Saturday night it was very popular with football players, friends of the football team,” said Dodd.
“It was such an amazing time for the football program because they were so good for so many years … so football games were massive events.”
The house party scene also had its differences.
“It was a lot more socializing and sort of more hanging out … There were some [drinking games] but I don’t remember it as a focus at all. Beer pong wasn’t invented,” said Dodd.
Laurier’s much smaller population of students meant that basically everybody knew everybody and went to the same events together since there were only a few things to do every weekend.
“I can remember a party at that house right there” Dodd remarked, pointing out the window of his office on King Street at a building across the street. “There used to be a balcony and there were so many people on the balcony that it crashed down. I can remember being at parties where you couldn’t even move.”
The social life, sports and days hanging out around campus were what Dodd cherished most about his university experience as a student of the late 1980s.
“Back in my day maybe we weren’t as academically focused as students are now. It wasn’t always the first thought, we were busy with other stuff,” he said.
Dodd went on to explain that the culture of a student is different now with the added pressures of increased competition when applying to schools and achieving the right grades to succeed on the other end. “I mean, for us, university was the next thing that you did.”
In this way, it is not only the student life at Laurier specifically that has gone through its fair share of transitions.
“It was a really fun time, but a very different time. Everything is different now. Campus is different, so much bigger,” concluded Dodd. “Like I said the reason students are here is maybe the same reason but with a different focus. I think it was a more carefree time to be honest with you. In a lot of ways that’s good and in a lot of ways that probably wasn’t good. But it was our time, and we got by okay.”
Besides embracing the popular 1990s fads of owning Tamagotchis and listening to CD Walkmen, Wilfrid Laurier University students were able to experience many new activities on campus as this era saw the establishment of the Student Union’s Peer Help Line, Emergency Response Team and Foot Patrol.
This was good news to Laurier Alumni Megan Harris who attended the university from the late ‘90s until 2000 when she graduated with a degree in history.
“I have to say I wasn’t the academic, I was the extra-curricular person,” Harris admitted. “That was our way of getting to know people outside of the classroom and for me that was the highlight of my university career because that’s where I made all my friends.”
There were a lot of ways that a student could feel a part of the university experience at Laurier during this time period, even if it wasn’t something they sought out.
“There were a lot of traditions then that I don’t think exist anymore,” said Harris.
Certain events at particular times of the school year would bring everyone together.
“Like the boar’s head dinner,” recalled Harris. “It was a long-standing tradition that I think took place in the fall because it was harvest season. It was in the Theatre Auditorium and you had big harvest tables. They’d bring in the full pig with the apple in the mouth and it was a big, huge harvest dinner for everybody.”
Another event that took place in the fall was Homecoming, which in many ways was the same as it is today.
“The clothing, everyone was still as proud as they are now. Like when you see the students at Homecoming, we were exactly the same thing,” said Harris. “We were as crazy as they are.”
But drinking wasn’t the only thing that students enjoyed as a group each year.
“We used to have a parade before Homecoming and all the residences used to have a flat bed, so we’d put together something and it would go up and down King Street,” said Harris. “The Pikes [Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity] would always run the ball in as well.”
The community of Laurier was nurtured through these sorts of shared experiences. But most of what students did on the average was done in groups.
“You had to go out to see your friends, you got out of the house to be with everybody,” Harris said. “You were around each other a lot more… you interacted with people more, I think, because you weren’t hiding behind a computer all the time.”
Computers were just beginning to grow in popularity at this time, but since the internet hadn’t made its breakthrough yet they did not serve the same purpose as they do today.
“The only thing I used my computer for was to write my papers,” said Harris. “And if I wanted to check e-mail there were three or four computer rooms on campus. You went in, you had to wait your turn and then you would sit down at a computer, check your email and go.”
This meant that students in the ‘90s were cracking books in the library most of the time when it came to their academics, but the outcome was still the same.
“It’s the same degree, it’s the same process to get it, it’s the same requirements to get it. What you guys are going through now, we went through then,” said Harris. .
“Same with the student experience, everyone got involved. It’s just different opportunities now.”
This is true for both the extracurricular social life and the party scene.
“Wednesday night at Wilf’s was the big thing, the Turret was packed every Friday and Saturday night,” Harris recalled.
King Street didn’t have the same nightlife it has now, so students generally stayed close to campus when it came to going out. These venues are still relatively popular at Laurier today, but the fashion and music has changed.
“At that point in history the top was where you showed your midriff. So we’d always call them, even to this day, Turret tops. Because that’s what you would see at the Turret, just short tops,” said Harris.
“Aqua was big, Notorious BIG… raving was really coming in as we were leaving.”
There were places to go off campus, however, on the odd night. In University Plaza there was a bar called Loose Chance Louie’s and The Silver Spur downtown where Chainsaw is currently located.
“We went to The Silver Spur. That was pretty much the same. It was the karaoke bar,” said Harris. “Ethel’s has always been there and you’d go to Ethel’s, but it was rare. Usually we went to Ethel’s and The Silver Spur on pub crawl nights.”
House parties had their similarities though. But while students now hit up the local convenience stores for Red Solo Cups and ping pong balls, the students of the 90s were in search of other supplies.
“I think Canadian Tire probably would have laughed at us, because if any student ever came in there looking for plastic tubing and a funnel they knew what it was for,” said Harris. “There was always flip cup… beer-pong existed, but it wasn’t a big thing.”
In the midst of everything Harris was involved in throughout her time at Laurier, she still feels that her education was her greatest achievement.
“My biggest accomplishment in life is getting my degree, because I worked hard at it. But I also worked hard at everything else.”
The other activities that Harris pursued alongside her education were ultimately what led her into the field she’s in today. Before becoming a manager of marketing and communications at Laurier, she worked many years as a director of events.
“I have to say that I don’t do anything with my history degree except that I’m an excellent writer. I spent my history degree writing papers,” concluded Harris. “For events, that came from everything I did outside the classroom.”