Firing of the Cannon
Date(s) of occurrence: 1837, 1876 - 1924, 1926 - 1936
Origins: The tradition of firing a cannon annually at the end of the Spring term, to mark the graduation of UNB students, dates back as early as 1837. At this point in history, Fredericton was garrisoned by the British and each night the evening gun was fired to signal the end of the day. To celebrate the presence of Lady Harvey (wife of New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor Sir John Harvey) at Encaenia that year, the students used the sound of the daily evening gun as the signal to illuminate the Old Arts Building so that it was visible to the town. When the university was presented with a cannon, it was placed out of the way in fear that the students would attempt to fire it. These fears proved correct when, on Encaenia night, students successfully filled the cannon with gun powder and fired it, whereupon the citizens of Fredericton "thought it was the end of the world."
History: It was during the 1870s that the practice of firing a cannon to celebrate Encaenia became an unofficial, though rather contentious, ceremony. Many sources document the class of 1876 as having initiated the "proper" procedures, wherein students stole a gun from a property on York Street, carried it back to the university, and fired it in front of the Old Arts Building in the middle of the night. For years students had to hide the cannon, as the practice of firing it was banned by the university administration, which routinely attempted to find and disable the cannon. Efforts to destroy the cannon by filling it with brick and mortar were not successful, as students managed to pick out the debris; in another instance, students bribed a janitor to reveal the cannon's location, which he readily did due to a falling out with the administration and the promise of money and clothes. By 1883 however, the faculty appeared to have accepted the inevitable and the ban was recinded. The cannons used were often stolen, as were the conveyances used to transport the gun back to campus. Cannons also rarely lasted long and had to be frequently replaced, at which time eulogies and obituaries for the fallen guns could be found in the student publication, the University Monthly.
Destruction of some sort was a common side effect of the yearly salute, with burnt grass and on some occasions broken windows a typical result from the firing of the cannon. In 1924, however, a student was seriously injured when a cannon prematurely discharged, resulting in the suspension of the tradition until May 1926.
The last recorded date of the firing of a cannon was in 1936; an attempt was made in 1941, but national defence regulations forbade the purchase of explosives without a permit. After the police refused one of these permits to the students, they made their own gunpowder--unsuccessfully. By 1942 the event was officially terminated; a combination of large classes, increasing intolerance for pranks, and a decrease in available cannons forced an end to the tradition.
Note(s): Every cannon used was known as the "rusty rebel." A cannon was found in the 1950s in an area near the Lady Beaverbrook Gym and was reburied the next year when Buchanan Field was built (now the location of the Currie Center). Carleton Hall was built on the site of a former popular hiding place of the cannon.
- UNB Scrapbooks (UA RG 100), 1944-1945.
- UNB Scrapbooks (UA RG 100),  - 1943.
- UA Case 128; Section 2; File 1.
- University Perspectives, vol. 7, no. 16, 21 May 1981, p. 2.
- MacKirdy, Kenneth A. "The Formation of the Modern University, 1859-1906". In The University of New Brunswick Memorial Volume, ed. Alfred G. Bailey. Fredericton: University of New Brunswick, 1950, p. 33-46.
- University Monthly, October 1900.
- University Monthly, June 1905.
- Lloyd, Hugh and Wade, Scott. "The Rusty Rebel." In Behind the Hill. Fredericton: Students' Representative Council, the Associated Alumni and the Senate of the University of New Brunswick, 1967, p. 114-121.
- Bailey fonds (MG H 1); MS.5.3.12.
© UNB Archives & Special Collections, 2014