When speaking about Guelph heritage and all its many facets, it’s pertinent to speak about the institutions that have helped shape the very structure of our community; whether it be “The Welland Hotel”, which dates back to early 1878, or “The Silver Creek Brewery”, which later was taken over creating “The Sleeman Brewery”, creating one of Guelph’s longest standing and highest grossing business’. Although amongst all the hustle and bustle of a city in the process of growing, it’s easy to forget the very important symbols and ideas that make us who we are as a community, and no better is this represented then with Old Jeremiah “The Cannon”.
Although most of us know the icon in our own intimate way, whether it be from painting it yourself or just appreciating the work painted on it, not much is known about where it originally came from and why it’s such an integral part of Guelph as a whole. In this quick biopic you will have a chance to learn what it means to be a Guelphite and all that it entails.
The Cannon also known as “Old Jeremiah” has developed traditions that are strictly followed by all people who either work or live around the community, and as all traditions the origins have no real concrete history to suggest how it managed to so thoroughly ingrained themselves into the community. The Rules were created long before they were written down and it was just a social acceptance of what was supposed to happen, it was later adopted by the university and has since created guidelines to help make.
The most well known and historical rule is that there are 24 hour waiting period to be able to paint the cannon. It all started pre-sixties and has continued as a tradition to this day. Students must stay and wait by the cannon all day planting their flag letting the public know that the figure is already taken for the night to be painted. The message is to be left for the entirety of the next day until the sun has set in which the ritual begins again.
Although the idea of defacing an expensive antique may seem strange to most, those type of practical jokes not only are easily accepted in the community but heralded as a right of passage. There’s no better example of this then in 1998 with several graduating engineers, this is best explained in the Engineering Alumni Association Newsletter”
“One of the biggest pranks in recent memory occurred in 1998. Members of the classes of 95, 97, 98, 99, 00, and 01 combined their skills to relive an old tradition – moving the cannon. While Old Jeremiah had historically been re-located around campus on occasion, this practice became significantly more onerous in 1973 when it was concreted into its current position in Branion Plaza. Onerous, yes, but not impossible to a group of imaginative engineers. Applying the principles of mechanics as learned in their studies, the group constructed a sturdy wooden cart complete with car axle and pivoting castor wheel. On a cold March night, the cannon barrel (weighing in at 6000 lbs!) was slid from its existing base to this new base using only two hydraulic jacks, several hundred feet of rope, and the elbow grease of about a hundred students. Once the gun was on its new base, the cart was wheeled down to the front of the Engineering building (just outside Bill Verspagen’s shop), and the wheels were removed. At the same time, close to eighty other engineers created a snowball-fight distraction amongst the residences at the north end of campus while a second unit released fireworks on the rugby pitch, activities designed to divert the attention of any law enforcement personnel who may have desired to intervene in the Branion Plaza activities. The prank was completely successful and employed no motorized device of any kind.
The following morning, several large lecture halls were diverted to the vicinity of Engineering 100 at the same time, to show off the relocated cannon. Over the next few days, rotating teams of engineering students worked to remove the numerous layers of paint from the cannon as it sat in front of the engineering building, eventually succeeding in getting right down to the cast iron. During this time, the cannon and base were repeatedly vandalized by groups of students who were apparently of the opinion that the Engineers had no business moving the cannon as they did. This culminated about a week later, when some representatives from the OAC student body attempted to drag the cart, without its wheels, back to Branion Plaza. It is rumoured that they destroyed two truck transmissions in so doing, while leaving the cannon dangling several feet from its old home. As this situation was somewhat dangerous, the university brought in a crane to put the cannon back onto its base. It is with some degree of pride to note that the specific mechanics and design process behind the cannon prank of 1998 are annually taught to the frosh class in the first year mechanics course.”
Although it seems that the cannon is nothing more than an installation with no more significance than a bush, there is nothing further from the truth. In recent years, it has changed roles to become a type of message board for students attempting to voice either their opinion or to try and promote an event or belief. This change proved massively successful and has become so popular that there is usually a queue of people waiting to paint it. The Cannon is a well respected monument by Guelphites, and when someone goes against its rules people tend to feel as if they have been disrespected as a community.
Although the Cannon may be lacking a historical past due to lost records and little evidence. It has become a huge part of Guelph’s culture and has become a tradition that has been adopted by not only university students, but also, the entire Guelph community as a whole. The Guelph community sees the Cannon as a very important monument, in which they treat it with dignity and respect. The cannon is seen as an icon which represents Guelph and it will continue to represent it, as well as be a part of Guelph’s culture for many years to come.
Benjamin Lampel, Matthew Rusak, Madeleine Levesque