UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
- -
UBC Public Affairs
UBC Reports
UBC Reports Extras
Goal / Circulation / Deadlines
Letters to the Editor & Opinion Pieces / Feedback
UBC Reports Archives
Media Releases
Services for Media
Services for the Community
Services for UBC Faculty & Staff
Find UBC Experts
Search Site

UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 09 | May 10, 2001

Is there a lesson in ceremony's fine-feathered past?

The royal swans once had a role to play at Congregation

So you think voice mail and wristwatch-sized fax machines are scientific advances we could do without?

Well, the war between technologies was waging long before the computer chip reared its tiny techno-head. The outrage at UBC in 1939 was pens.

"Modern fountain pens" were being used to sign honorary degree documents during Congregation, much to the horror of the late Prof. G. J. Spencer of the Zoology Dept.

In a letter to then UBC president Leonard Klinck, Spencer expressed his "distress" at the use of such a pen "hastily produced from the Registrar's pocket."

He felt the procedure lacked the dignity and tradition associated with the ceremony.

To produce the proper pomp, Spencer wrote to the King of England's royal swan-keeper asking for some suitable quills to be sent to Canada.

Upon their arrival, he chose and sharpened several to be used in the signing ceremonies.

He also arranged for a container to be made of local red cedar. His wife made a lining for the box so the quills could rest quietly in mothproof comfort.

A man of foresight, Spencer created special bald eagle quills for left-handed honorary degree recipients, although it is unclear why swan feathers were considered unsuitable for southpaws.

Lord Tweedsmuir was the first person to use one of the quills when he received his honorary degree from UBC in 1939.

The fine feathers were used until 1991 at which time they were retired to UBC Archives, box and all. And what do honorary degree recipients now use as they sign their name to the official record?

A fountain pen produced from the Registrar's pocket.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

to top | UBC.ca » UBC Public Affairs

UBC Public Affairs
310 - 6251 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
tel 604.822.3131 | fax 604.822.2684 | e-mail public.affairs@ubc.ca

© Copyright The University of British Columbia, all rights reserved.