Skip to content

70th anniversary of exchange programme with Queen’s University, Canada

The University of St Andrews has a long-established tradition of fostering exchange programmes with institutions around the globe. As a result, students (both now and in the past) have many opportunities to travel and study abroad.

This year we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the popular exchange programme with Queen’s University, Canada. To mark this occasion, we asked alumni who had taken part in the programme to share their memories and anecdotes.

Ian Dorward − who graduated from St Andrews in 1959 with an MA in Logic and Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy − duly obliged! Here, he describes his various adventures in Canada during 1956-57. We thoroughly enjoyed reading his story and we hope you do, too!


I was the eighth St Andrews exchange scholar to go to Queen’s University. When I applied, I was an immature and unworldly semi [second year] and the world was a very different place.

I had to earn some Canadian dollars to keep me going during the academic year, so I left Scotland in July 1956.

Travel across the Atlantic by air was very new at that time, so the most common way was still by ship.  Cunard was well beyond my means, so I joined a shipload of (mostly Scottish) passengers on board a Greek liner in Greenock, emigrating to a new life in Canada.  It took 10 days to reach Montreal, where we disembarked to pursue our new lives.

I then took the train to Kingston and stepped onto the station platform at my destination with only one other passenger – another Scotsman. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know a single person in the town nor did I have the slightest idea where I was going to spend the first evening.  Moreover, the temperature was 80 degrees fahrenheit at night − overwhelming for a Scotsman.  My travelling companion and I found rooms for ourselves in the YMCA.  Fortunately, the previous exchange scholar, Ron Macgregor, had given me the name of a Canadian family in Kingston who had been kind and hospitable to him, and I was hugely grateful to them when they befriended me.  (Besides, they had a very attractive daughter of about my own age.)

Very soon, I was able to find a menial job cleaning machinery at the local DuPont nylon factory and I shared lodgings with another poorly-paid employee.  That lasted for two months during which time I found my feet in and around Kingston and earned a modest amount of spending money.  Feeling comparatively at home made it very much easier to settle into life at Queen’s.

Having left St Andrews at the end of my second year, I knew that when I returned I would be doing specials in Logic and Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy.  One of the first questions I was asked when I met fellow Queen’s students was what I was studying.  When I told them, I was frequently met with astonishment and total disbelief.  What possible benefit would my degree be to me or to Canada, where the emphasis was on developing the infrastructure and economy of a relatively young country?

I discovered to my relief that the Professor of Philosophy was a fellow Scotsman from Edinburgh.  He was very welcoming, and he knew that my year at Queen’s would not contribute towards my St Andrews degree course.  He therefore suggested that in the circumstances I did not need to attend all his lectures and it was more important that I should get to know Canada and the Canadians.  I took him at his word and visited Montreal, Quebec, Toronto and Winnipeg, then went over the border to Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  That was all very good, but to my horror towards the end of my academic year at Queen’s, the same Professor required me to deliver a paper on Descartes!

Student life at Queen’s was fun and I was made to feel very much at home.  Queen’s prided itself on its Scottish connections, and I found myself in charge of coaching the Scottish country dance team, which performed during the interval at football games.  Queen’s also had a university song which was sung frequently at sporting events.  The words were reputed to be in Gaelic and therefore I was expected to translate.  I failed miserably but I am almost certain that there was not a single recognisable Gaelic word in it!


There was, in these days, a tradition that students from all Canadian universities applied for summer jobs at one of the large railway-owned hotels in the Rockies at Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper. There was great competition for these jobs and, having been accepted, the successful students went back year after year, gaining promotion each time. The head bell hop and head waitress were therefore students – and they made an enviable amount of money. I put in an application thinking that as a student in Canada for one year only, I had little chance. However, I was successful and went to Jasper as the snow was still falling at the end of May.

I discovered that there were 500 students there from all over Canada, and they comprised almost the entire staff of the hotel. I started at the bottom of the ladder and remained there, cleaning toilets for the entire time.
We students lived in a series of wooden huts near the hotel and had a wonderful time during off-duty hours partying, exploring and trekking in the Rockies. One of the few drawbacks was the occasional appearance of brown bears and their cubs who wandered around looking for food: we had to be careful to keep the windows of our huts shut in case the bears clambered in looking for goodies.

In early September it was time to close the hotel for the winter, and as I left the snow was falling again.

Although academically I did not progress significantly, my year at Queen’s was wonderful: I matured considerably, learned to cope with new places and people and grew in self-confidence. These things benefited me greatly when I returned to St Andrews to resume my studies, and gave me the confidence to become Secretary of the SRC and Vice-President of the Kate Kennedy Club in my third and fourth years.

If you participated in the exchange with Queen’s University, Canada, please feel free to get in touch, telling us which year you took part, and share any special memories or anecdotes from your experience of the exchange.


Share this story

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *