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Long Service Awards at Concordia University - A Brief History

Concordia University's Long Service awards began in 1963, as an initiative to recognize the service of members of the faculty and staff who had been associated with Sir George Williams University for twenty years or more, and to pay tribute to their contributions to the institution. After the 1974 merger the awards included service to Sir George Williams, Loyola, and Concordia University.

Although the first awards were given in 1963, the numbering became somewhat disrupted because there was no awards ceremony in 1969, 1971, and 1973. Because of these three missed years we celebrate the fortieth Long Service Awards ceremony in 2005.

The first awards were given at a "Recognition Banquet" that was held in Birks Hall in the Norris Building on Drummond Street, which also served as a large gathering space and gym for Sir George Williams at that time. Thirty people were honored and presented with scrolls on April 6, 1963. The years of service of those first inductees came to 865 person years in the service of Sir George Williams, an upstart institution that had provided education to Montrealers for many decades but which had audaciously begun conferring university degrees in 1936-37 more than a decade before it received its provincial charter authorizing it officially to do so. Money and other resources were scarce but SGW faculty and staff were a loyal group of people who were dedicated to the institution that put into practice the philosophy of education as a life-long process, accessible to all. At Loyola, SGW's rival sister institution across town, dedicated faculty and staff also worked with limited resources.

It's not clear whose idea it was to recognize long service but the senior administration and the Board of Governors of SGW were very enthusiastic about the awards from the beginning. They believed that it was important to recognize the contributions of dedicated staff who often worked under difficult conditions. The first festivities in 1963 included a toast to the Queen, a toast to the long service members, and a reply to the toast from a new inductee. The event was a huge success and it immediately became an important annual social event at Sir George. It was initially a cocktail reception followed by dinner. The location of the reception has changed many times. Besides Birks Hall, at various times it was at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and in 1966 and 1967 it was in the newly-opened Hall Building.

By 1967 there were a total of 57 employees or retirees who had twenty or more years of service and they all gathered for the annual celebration. By the 1980s the numbers of inductees and the costs had risen dramatically and the format was changed. Employees with more than twenty years service were recognized in five-year increments at a cocktail reception held on the mezzanine of the Hall Building. In those days the mezzanine was a large open space that was often used for receptions and other social gatherings.

The formalities did not change much over the years although the original "Toast to the Queen" was replaced by a "Toast to the University" by 1970. Through the years the tradition of a toast/salute to long service members and a reply to the toast/salute from a new inductee have been preserved.

The menu of the first dinner in 1963 is undocumented but the second dinner included hors d'oeuvres, fruit cocktail, roast beef and potatoes, green peas, ice cream and petits fours , followed by coffee. The dinner menu varied but it featured roast beef, lamb, or turkey with different accompaniments and the desserts were then-popular staples such as baked Alaska, peaches Melba and in 1965 crème de menthe parfait. The first cocktail reception in 1986 included cold canapés, cocktail sandwiches and hot hors d'oeuvres catered by Concordia's own food services provider, Saga Foods. The mezzanine was decorated with plants borrowed from the thirteenth floor Greenhouse and Concordia banners provided by the Registrar's Office. The 84 new inductees received corsages or boutonnières, a Cross pen, and a certificate of recognition. That same year unaccountably the three music students who played during the May reception were not paid until a reminder was sent by the Music Department nearly three months later!

Professor Robert A. Fraser organized and orchestrated the long service recognition dinners between 1963 and 1974. He was the Secretary of the Sir George Williams University Council, which was the equivalent of today's University Senate. The Office of the Rector assumed the responsibility for the event in 1975, and it is now organized by the Protocol staff in the Office of the President. There have always been great efforts made to ensure that the list of honorees was complete and correct. Although information was solicited and double checked not only from official payroll records but also from individual departments, there have inevitably been occasional embarrassing lapses and mistakes.

The long service recognition awards have grown and changed since the first certificates were awarded but in more than forty ceremonies held since 1963 there has been one thing in common: the University has been pleased to create a special occasion during which it recognizes and celebrates the contributions of employees who have given twenty years or more of service to Concordia University.

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