The Fulcrum’s archives provide a look into historical shifts at the U of O and across Canada
The past 77 years have been characterized by some of the most brutal conflicts, close misses, and great triumphs in the history of human achievement. From the waging of war to the negotiation of peace and the formation of institutions to maintain it, the Fulcrum has witnessed and documented it all since its establishment in 1942.
There is a need then for the Canadian perspective, raw and immediate, rather than imbued with the wisdom of retrospect. For that, there is no better place than the stacks of archived copies of the Fulcrum, their yellowed pages filled with the interpretations of distant past by young Canadians for whom it was the urgent present.
In the beginning…
The first-ever copy of the Fulcrum was released in winter of 1942, where the editors proclaimed their motives for the establishment of a campus publication.
“You, sons and friends of Ottawa U., will lend to it the support you have never failed to show your College and to the cause of Catholic education,” they wrote, revealing a significant amount about the early identity of the U of O. The university was once, at its core, a Catholic institution for the education of young men. Like the world around it, however, the Fulcrum and the U of O changed with time.
The content of this first issue is a testament to the concerns and interests of the student body at the time. Some stories are unimaginably foreign, such as the short article about the negative consequences of showing anti-Nazi propaganda. Some are familiar, like the column detailing the exploits of the varsity hockey team.
Global conflict, as seen from Ottawa
Despite the occasional elements of familiarity, the severity of the topics covered in the early days of the Fulcrum is striking. A particularly heavy issue published in April 1945 provides precious Canadian insight on the state of global affairs.
“A Citizen of the World,” reads the front page headline preceding an obituary for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who died from natural causes while he was the 32nd president of the United States. Among the praise for his achievements is a short description of the man, noting that he loved baseball, dogs, and fishing in Canada.
The news section of the April 1945 issue reads like a history textbook: A piece titled “No V-E Day Tomorrow” tentatively declares the impending surrender of Nazi Germany. The article warns against anticipating a peace as sudden and absolute as the armistice that concluded the First World War, but it nonetheless insists that “it seems as if the fate of Germany is sealed beyond all possible hope of redemption.” In actuality, VE day would be declared less than a month later.
The following article, “Treatment of Germany,” hints at the upcoming Cold War, which started just two years later.
“Most of this discussion, knowing no regulation except the dictates of prejudice and unfounded opinion, is fruitless,” the article reads. “Whether there can be reconciliation between the Russian aim, which amounts to unconditional obliteration of the German nation as such, and the Anglo-American view which now falls short of such an extreme, is open to question.”
The Fulcrum’s coverage of this era reveals that Canadian youth had both a realistic and diplomatic interpretation of events. This continued to be illustrated throughout the early years of the Cold War.
“A Debatable Question” is the title spanning two analyses of the Suez Crisis published in November 1956, divided into two subsections: “Egypt’s Case” and “Britain’s Case.”
“The world was shaken, bewildered, saddened,” writes Louis de Salaberry in “Egypt’s Case.” “Nations who have always believed in the fair-play of the British and the goodwill of the French now shake their heads and ask, ‘Is there no one left to be trusted?’”
“Obviously, Britain must have thought that the fighting in, and around the Suez Canal would reach uncontrollable heights,” Mimi Panet began in her counter-argument, “Britain’s Case.”
“Britain and France saw no other course than to begin armed combat, with the obvious hopes that the United Nations would intervene and bring peace between Egypt and Israel.”
Sheltered from the direct influence of the paranoia and self-righteousness of the American-Soviet debate, the Fulcrum actually rarely succumbed to the propagandistic Western bias that plagued many publications during the Cold War era — with a few notable exceptions.
In a personal favourite piece, “The International Situation and You” published in September 1954, Tony Enriquez points to alleged communist infiltration of the International Union of Students (IUS), which the now non-existent National Federation of Canadian University Students was once affiliated with. The IUS met yearly to discuss the concerns shared among students around the globe, beginning in the years immediately after the Second World War.
“Unfortunately even at that time, and without the slightest suspicion of good-willed delegates, the representatives from the Communist countries were busy preparing the road for their future control of the organization,” writes Enriquez. He also accuses the IUS of distributing “blatant propaganda against ‘capitalist warmongers.’”
In what amounts to nearly two full pages of newsprint, Enriquez rails against communism and the students who impose it via an institution designed for peaceful engagement and education.
The Fulcrum was able to uphold impressive standards of journalistic integrity and impartiality throughout many of the era’s most polarizing conflicts, but shows feelings of suspicion and resentment resonated with Canadian youth.
Just watch me
As fascinating as the Canadian perspective on international conflict is, it’s also refreshing to read about events here in Canada from the perspective of the youth who lived through them.
Perhaps Canada’s most notorious crisis struck in October of 1970 in Montreal due to the violent actions of the radical Quebec nationalist group, the Front de Liberation du Québec (FLQ). The October Crisis prompted a suspension of civil liberties, a variety of memorable statements from then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and of course, ample coverage in the Fulcrum.
At the U of O, a student council meeting negotiated the university’s position on the events in Montreal. The violence of the FLQ was widely condemned but what is more surprising is the degree to which students condemned the actions of the government as well.
“In so far as the governments have continually used terrorist methods, those of the RCMP represent physical terrorism on the part of the government, statements of Prime Minister Trudeau concerning the consequences of Quebec independence represent psychological terrorism,” reads an excerpt from the motion that was eventually agreed to by the council.
The language used to condemn the government’s enactment of the War Measures Act may be exaggerated but represents a reconciliation of French-Canadian secessionist interests with widespread humanitarian concern and the defence of fundamental democratic rights.
The new millennium
The U of O was in the middle of a scandalous frosh week sex scandal in September of 2001. An article by Adam Grachnik titled “The Fall Guy” detailed the misfortunes of a frosh guide who put on a pornographic show sits next to a half-page spread by Mark Greenan about the tragedy unfolding in the United States.
“In what will likely turn out to be the deadliest terrorist attack in North American history, key U.S. landmarks — the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon — were hit by hijacked planes in the early morning hours of Sept. 11,” writes Greenan, who goes on to reveal fear among Canadian politicians.
“‘(Ottawa) is the number one political institution in Canada. This could be the number one target outside of the United States,’” a concerned Canadian Alliance member of Parliament told Greenan.
In a column appropriately titled “It’s a scary, scary world,” Laura Payton wrote about her disgust regarding the brutal beating of a 15-year-old Muslim boy in Orléans, just outside Ottawa, and other instances of Islamophobic prejudice.
“The world is seriously going to hell. This boy did not fly a jet into a building and the chances are slim that he or any student at the U of O had anything to do with the attacks in the U.S.,” she wrote, “All peace-loving citizens need to stick together. After all, racially-motivated violence is just as sinister as terrorism.”
The printing presses halt
Sifting through the boxes in the musty basement of Marie Curie is an incredibly humbling experience, as a student and a writer. The pages of the Fulcrum have been home to powerful voices, who have grappled with events and issues that are somehow both incomprehensibly large in scope, and yet somehow still condensed into bite-sized pieces of literature that pertain directly to the lives and perspectives of students here in Ottawa.
The future of the Fulcrum may not be in print, but it promises to continue being an instrument of expression, discussion, and investigation for generations to come. Here’s to many more.