Prank Town | Education | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Prank Town

To foster stronger traditions of university pranksterism, we present a few moments from our college city’s history.

Now kids, college is not all about schtupping and perfecting your recipes for bathtub gin. When you arrive at your noble institution this year and start unfurling your Bob Marley and Magic Eye posters, don't forget the third and crucial element that makes up your university experience: a good ol' fashioned pranking.

Our universities aren't steeped in the richest history of notable hijinks. We don't tend to suspend Volkswagens from bridges like the engineering students of UBC or create international hubbub and stir up PETA's wrath as MIT students did with the bogus (see sidebar).

But way back in the subversive '60s, a couple of young men with a proclivity for pranks co-founded the King's College Underground, an organization with the modus operandi of mischief.

Mark DeWolf, a now-retired high school English teacher, and chum Max Moulton, an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, were the founding tricksters of this group. "King's was so full of creative, fun, slightly sadistic people---pranks seemed like a natural thing to do," says DeWolf.

DeWolf and Moulton spent much time larking about replacing the dining hall's milk dispensers with beer before the King's formal dinner or jerry-rigging paint cans to ring the chapel bell at the unholiest of hours.

But the boys had a decidedly daring conquest to live up to. Legend had it that King's students from a couple years previous captured Citadel Hill after hearing that it had never been taken by a foreign power. "One dark night apparently they went down and overpowered the commissionaire. I don't think any real violence was involved. They may or not have tied him up. Maybe they just sweet-talked him." DeWolf laughs.

In the winter of 1966 their light-hearted tomfoolery turned a little radical. The boys of Cochran Bay decided to enter Dalhousie Winter Carnival's snow sculpture contest largely motivated by a confounding lack of snow. They had the clever idea of shipping in old snow from a parking lot, surely making them shoo-ins and dampening the spirits of those Dal snobs all in one blow.

The boys built a doghouse with Snoopy on top scaled to comfortably fit Clifford. After proudly completing his work, DeWolf went off to a folk concert, as kids were wont to do at the time.

"We came back through the King's entrance on Coburg Road and we could look straight into the doghouse and I remember very clearly saying, 'Oh look! Somebody's put furniture in the doghouse!' and we got a little closer and I said, 'That's my furniture!'"

After relocating DeWolf to the icy fort on the quad the boys were struck with a notion: This was a room not under the iron fist of the residence regulations.

The King's residences in the mid-'60s were strictly single-sex. With a sternly enforced rule: no visitors of the opposite sex, night or day.

"By this point the idea of protesting about things you thought were unfair was just starting to percolate," says DeWolf.

"Nobody got the idea that they were going to take their girlfriends to this doghouse for a couple of fun hours, I don't think. They were worried about melting for one thing. But we thought here's an opportunity. We can use this symbolic room that's sort of in no man's---or woman's---land to make into a protest and we'll use this to embarrass the university to relax the rules and allow some visiting," DeWolf recalls.

They boys took siege of the King's Quad and vowed to occupy their icy fortress of anti-solitude 24 hours a day. A sign outside the doghouse proclaimed their occupation as a protest against the university's strict and unsexy policies. They rigged up an alarm system in case of avalanche.

This made the front page of the paper. And they even enjoyed the splendid company of the ladies of King's, who---mind out of the gutter, folks---arrived in the morning with breakfast.

The boys held strong for several days until the doghouse melted. It was not long after that the first elected student council was brought in at King's and the visiting rules were changed.

DeWolf recalls that his Dalhousie rivals weren't really known for clever pranks. "We regarded Dal as a rather dull place. The only thing they would have thought of doing was panty raids," says DeWolf, further noting that the Dal raiders often withdrew, pantyless.

While the Dal boys may have been fairly inept at pranking, the Dal girls certainly held their own during the following year's winter carnival. According to the Chronicle-Herald, Dalhousie girls kidnapped folk hero Gordon Lightfoot and held him for ransom, extorting canned food for charity in exchange for his safe return. A national treasure-napping that would put Nic Cage to shame.

DeWolf says the best pranks are subversive, gentle rule breakers. "Do no harm, shake things up a little bit and give people a good laugh."

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