The exodus of men joining the War changed the culture at the U of S. Membership in student organizations dropped steeply between 1914 and 1918. The Student Representative Council, which had relied on income from social events, was almost bankrupted. The Sheaf, likewise experienced financial trouble and nearly went out of print. The SRC and The Sheaf convinced President Murray to implement a compulsory student fee to support their continuation.
Throughout the War, students attempted to maintain aspects of earlier campus life. Though smaller than before, dances and parties continued to be held. The College of Agriculture’s Masquerade Balls were particularly popular. “Frosh Week” — a more rambunctious predecessor to today’s “Welcome Week” — also emerged during this time. Still, the War was ever-present on campus, from the articles in The Sheaf’s “Military Section,” to the activities of women in the University community led by Christina Murray, President Murray’s wife.
“My Dear Mrs. Murray,
Prior to the War, women were a minority on campus. When the male students began enlisting, women were presented with unique and unprecedented opportunities to study in new disciplines.
Staff and faculty composition changed as well. Pressed to replace male recruits, President Murray began hiring women in areas from which they had previously been absent.
Professor Reginald Bateman was temporarily replaced by his fiancée Jean Bayer, who was Murray’s secretary and the University’s former librarian. Bayer was a popular instructor and joined the faculty permanently after Bateman was killed in 1918. She was appointed as an Assistant Professor in 1921. Female instructors became more common on campus, increasing from two in 1917 to fifteen in 1920.
The Indigenous community on campus was small, but significant during the war years.
James McKay was a Métis lawyer appointed to the University’s first Board of Governors. As a Board member, he influenced wartime decisions at the U of S. According to The Sheaf, he “rarely missed a meeting… and no important decision was made without his cordial support.”
Edward Ahenakew was the University’s first Indigenous student and graduate. He attended Emmanuel College and was in the first graduating class in 1912.
Annie Maude (Nan) McKay served on the Student Representative Council. She was co-editor of The Sheaf during the War and became an Assistant Librarian after graduating in 1915. Nan was the first Indigenous woman to graduate from the U of S.
Whereas the teaching of humanities disciplines was the pre-war focus at the University, the Great War fueled a shift toward scientific research. Everyone believed that scientific breakthroughs were vital to winning the War, and to securing a future peace. As a founding member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of Canada (the precursor to the National Research Council), President Murray ensured that western universities received funding for innovative, nationally significant projects. The U of S has sustained its reputation in scientific research to this day.
One interesting project involved Chemistry Professor R.D MacLaurin and his engineering colleague A.R. Greig, who explored the conversion of straw into gaseous vapour to fuel engines. The project was ultimately abandoned because the process proved to be impractical.
Agricultural experimentation at the University also took on new meaning during the War. As the leading institution for agriculture in western Canada, the U of S assisted with meeting the demands for food production for the war effort.
In 1916, an outbreak of “wheat rust” devastated grain crops throughout the prairies. Walter P. Thompson, Professor and Head of the Biology Department, was tasked with finding a solution to prevent future plagues. A renowned geneticist, Thompson’s experimentation led to the development of rust resistant wheat hybrids.
John Bracken, a professor in the College of Agriculture initiated research into yield production and sustainability. His studies included finding crop varieties best suited to Saskatchewan’s climate.