Campus Traditions: Painting the Cannon

Like many universities, Guelph has some long standing traditions and interesting stories that are very special to us. One such tradition is painting the cannon. If you’ve come on a campus tour or had your student walk you around campus, you’ve likely already seen our cannon in the heart of campus. However, what you might not be aware of is the long history surrounding him.

The cannon is fondly named Old Jeremiah and is an antique British naval run that is rumoured to have seem action in the War of 1812. After World War 1, the barrel of the cannon was plugged and it was brought to campus in remembrance of those who lost their lives during the war. After being brought to campus, The Cannon was exposed to the rivalry between the Engineering students and the Agricultural Science students (also known as “Aggies”). As a result, Old Jeremiah travelled across campus many times, the central piece of many practical jokes. During this time, he ended up on top of MacNaughton building on campus, and even disappeared, only to be found the next day at the University of Waterloo.

Eventually, the administration got fed up with Old Jeremiah being constantly moved and decided to cement him to his current place in Branion Plaza. In a final act of defiance, students shifted the barrel of the cannon to face the fourth floor of the University Centre, the home of the university’s senior administration where it still points today. However, students never leave well enough alone and since that time, the tradition of “painting the cannon” has evolved.

You won’t find an official rule book on how to paint the cannon; however, the rules are well understood by students. Anyone is allowed to pain the cannon, typically it’s done by people in residence, on sports teams, or in clubs, however, nobody is excluded. When a group (or an individual) wants to paint the cannon, they’re responsible for getting to the cannon before dark to stake their territory. After sunset, the group can begin to paint the cannon however they want (though profanity and coarse language are prohibited). However, other groups of students are able to paint over the cannon if it’s left unguarded, so it’s important that the group of students guard the cannon overnight to ensure their message remains until the next morning. As soon as the first student arrives on campus for class, the cannon cannot be painted anymore. Quite frequently, the cannon has messages regarding upcoming events on campus, but has also had many birthday announcements, a few wedding proposals, and some cannons that can’t even be described.
I always like to say that painting the cannon is an “unofficial prerequisite for graduation” and that every student should try and paint it prior to leaving the university. If your student hasn’t painted the cannon yet, there’s still a lot of time! Plus, waiting until warmer weather isn’t a bad idea either!