A Dive in the Past: Dawson college in the 70’s
Photo via Montreal Gazette
Dawson College officially opened its doors in the fall of 1969. André H. recalls the campus initially being located at 350 Selby Street; a converted pharmaceutical factory in Westmount. André is a Dawson alumni, who was part of the Electrical-Tech program, first stepped foot into Dawson in 1972, before graduating in 1975. His reasoning behind choosing Dawson was relatively straightforward; to him, the college was, at the time, the only available option to his hometown of Granby, which he describes as a “hick-town” in comparison to Montreal.
While he attended Dawson, about 3000 students also frequented the College, which amounts to almost a quarter of the College’s current population. He personally did not feel like the school was overpopulated nor dense, a statement with which many Dawson students today would not agree. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that, during his years at the school, Dawson consisted of several buildings in addition to the main campus on Selby street; similar to how the college currently utilizes the Forum as an alternative location for classes. Chemistry and Physics were held in the main building, while smaller classes, such as Humanities, took place in an apartment block on Saint-Antoine Street, about two blocks East of the main campus. Computer courses were given at 4333 Saint-Catherine Street, commonly known as the Air Canada Building. However, André states that it was more like a Reader’s Digest building, due to the sign in front. For André and the other students in his program, Electrical-Tech classes were held in a building on Couvent Street. The current distance between Dawson College and the Forum is nothing compared to the distances between the primary and secondary campuses back then. André recalls students complaining about the classes being far from one another.
Concerning student life on campus and extracurricular activities, André kept to himself — although, recollecting that there was not much room for social gatherings nonetheless. The cafeteria was where most social gatherings would take place, making it a popular spot on campus. The cafeteria was rather small, and standing in an enclosed space with a 12-foot ceiling merely was not of his interest — for which I cannot blame him for. André also shared that during his time attending Dawson, drugs, marijuana, and dope were the people among the youth, which is something that he was not interested in, giving him another reason to keep to himself and his tight circle of friends.
The 3000 students making up Dawson at the time came from all over the province of Quebec. André recalls meeting a friend who came from a region far up North, a region which he was not even aware of prior to that exchange. According to André, there was not as much diversity at Dawson compared to the current student demographic. There were no international students to André’s knowledge — if any, there were very few, since he never heard about any attending the school. André remembers a high number of Italians students, but very few Black or (especially) Latinx people. He described the students at Dawson who constituted the majority of the population as the "typical North-American white man or woman." There was very little cross-culture in the school's environment, which is not the case anymore as the college has a variety of events throughout the school year celebrating an array of cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.
One of the downsides or unfortunate things about Dawson for André was the lack of outdoor spaces — a “lousy campus,” as he describes it. For instance, there was nowhere to sit under a tree. Most students had no other option, but to hang out inside of the building. The Selby campus was shaped like a square, with plenty of buildings surrounding it, leaving little to no room for outdoor campus space.
When asked if he would do anything differently, André stated that, if he had to do it all over again, he would try to be more outgoing and more receptive to other people's ideas, exploring them rather than shying away from them.
As words of advice for any current or future Dawson students, André emphasizes the importance of not being afraid to ask questions in class. If you don’t understand something: ask, do not pretend. “Don’t pretend to understand because that’s where people go wrong. People go wrong because they think they understand. They are not quite sure but they go about it as they see it, but that might not be the correct way to go,” he says.
Even though 350 Selby Street, once known as the first home to Dawson College has now been turned into a luxury residential complex, it still remains a crucial part of the memory of many of Dawson’s first students. I am sure many alumni, like André, remember this time as synonymous with new experiences, newfound independence, growth, and impactful — just as we will decades after we graduate.