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Bar None: How It All Began

by Cy McAndrews, '50 BSc(Ag)

Bar None, the "Aggies Big Bash", has become an institution at the University of Alberta. It brings to mind parades, square dancing and watching the Aggies and Engineers fail, year after year, to pull off that slightly more clever stunt. Yet, besides all the fun and frivolity, what does Bar None mean? How did it all get started?

As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry this summer, it seems an appropriate time to answer these questions. After much meditation and digging around, and with more than a little help from old friends and classmates, I was able to piece together the circumstances that led to the first Bar None way back (as my children would say) in the spring of 1948.

In the years following World War II, the University of Alberta housed an interesting and sometimes bewildering mix of returned men and newly graduated teenagers. It was often difficult for students to find some common ground, even within small faculties.

The difference in backgrounds and experience did not discourage the Aggies, however, for as you may know, they are a naturally fun-loving species. Always a resourceful bunch, they organized field days, dances and social events.

One such event was described in The Gateway of 15 March 1946: "Denim decked dudes and gingham garbed gals relived the spirit of the old west to the rollicking rhythm provided by Frog Fraser and his Frontiersman. The Barn was never livelier, according to the management, and from where we stood we can well believe the statement. The Animal Hub men and House Eccers make pretty fair actors of the frontier days."

Needless to say, functions such as this were tremendously successful. The Aggies became a more cohesive, identifiable group and earned a reputation for being an outgoing bunch.

The divisions on campus, however, remained. There were of course the fraternity parties and the individual faculties had their own social events, but there existed a sense of separateness and, for the most part, groups kept to themselves. Furthermore, the division between the Aggies and Engineers grew even larger when the Aggies let pigs loose at the Engineer's Ball in the spring of 1947. Some will say that the "pig incident", as it became known, marked the beginning of the now famous Ag/Engineer feud. Quite frankly, I think the animosity may have begun when a prehistoric Aggie had his first good crop run over by an Engineer on his first good invention—the wheel! It's a moot point now; suffice to say that the campus had its rivalries in 1948.

Many of the Aggies of the day had come from small, closely-knit rural communities and could not understand the concept of excluding anyone, even an Engineer, from a social function. It was that spirit of hospitality that prevailed one spring afternoon in 1948 when a group of Aggies got together to plan the upcoming Ag Club dance.

The North Lab, like many rooms on campus at that time, was usually on the cool side. But that afternoon, the atmosphere was hot with ideas. After much brainstorming and "creative discussion", they had it. That spring, the Ag Club would put on a dance that anyone could attend. They would Bar None.

This would be the first true "mixer" at the University of Alberta, and a brand-like logo, o, would symbolize the event. With great excitement, the Aggies set to making a thousand or so stickers bearing the o motif and sticking them absolutely everywhere on campus. (Unfortunately, the ever-vigilant custodial staff were also everywhere on campus, and the stickers came down almost as quickly as they went up.) The Gateway publicized the event and curious onlookers in the rotunda of the Arts Building beheld the first Bar None square dance exhibition.

The promotion worked. On the evening of March 13, 1948, a sizeable crowd converged on the Drill Hall to see what the Aggies had in store. Some were quite surprised to be herded one-by-one through a poplar-pole branding chute by burly cowboys wielding authentic branding irons.

They emerged in the midst of a good old-fashioned barn dance. The Hall was decorated with wheat and corn sheaves, and off in the corner stood the "Dirty Shame Saloon" where, for one thin dime, you could get a glass of non-alcoholic punch. (This, of course, was the "official" beverage of the evening.)

There were two orchestras and the party-goers enjoyed a series of square dances, reels, polkas, and other old-time dances. A further highlight of the evening was the "surprise entertainment" provided by members of the Ag Club.

I am reluctant to mention any specific names when describing the events of the first Bar None, as I would hate to leave out any of the hard-working Aggies. Nonetheless, it seems only just that the entertainment should be described by someone very close to the action—Lloyd Seath (Class of '50). Lloyd had the unenviable job of bringing up the rear of the unisex bovine featured in a mock bullfight.

Lloyd remembers, "At the Bar None where we performed, I recall holding on to Vance Molsberry's belt (inside the bull/cow) and readying myself for what was to come. We were wearing shoe boxes for hooves and when Molsberry let out a roar, they flew off as we charged. I had no idea where we were going and we had lots of problems (me especially) as we turned to charge again.

"Marion, the matador, was to be bowing to the crowd, accepting the roses thrown to him by his girlfriend. It was Marion's intention, when we charged, to leap over us (he was quite athletic) but from accounts I received afterward (bear in mind that although I was present, being in the bull/cow, I was not an eye-witness) our charge was so sudden and so rapid that we almost destroyed Marion.

He was, however, able to recover and with some difficulty, leap over us on our next charge.

"We then become passive and refused to be goaded into any further activity and finally lowered a paper bag from which protruded four carrots—he was a she!"

The evening was thoroughly enjoyed and the Bar None tradition began. We even made money; the secretary-treasurer of the Ag Club recalls that we cleared over $200—at 35 cents a head, that's not bad!

Over the years the faces and the venues have changed, but the central theme of rural hospitality and fun has remained. Many readers will have their own memories of good times at Bar None over the years. Indeed, attending Bar None has become something like a rite of passage.

My own memories are of my classmates and contemporaries. They are old friends now and some are gone. Many became famous and all added a special something to agriculture wherever they went. Yet I sometimes prefer to think of them not as distinguished and accomplished agriculturists, but as that special group of kids back in the North Lab in the spring of 1948-kids who wanted to enjoy life and to Bar None.

Published Summer 1990.

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