News / Calgary

Little — if any — booze consumed among Calgary's first Bermuda Shorts Day revellers: Founder

You were more likely to spot colourful students partaking in a three-legged race than raising a pint during the first Bermuda Shorts Day.

In fact, Alan Arthur, a retiree credited with kick-starting the annual University of Calgary end-of-semester celebration, said he simply wanted to reduce the stigma of men wearing shorts in public when he came up with a "ludicrous idea" and scrawled a notice on a campus announcement board advising students to don their finest flowered bottoms on April 1, 1960.

"When I showed up in Bermuda shorts, I was surprised at how many people also did because I thought they would believe it was an April fool's joke," said Arthur, who now lives in South Carolina.

The inaugural event was light-hearted in nature, according to its founder. Students would spend the breaks between classes playing marble games and taking part in other activities generally associated more with family picnics than raucous music festivals.

Flash forward to 2014 and a dispute has brewed between U of C student leaders and administrators after the latter group denied a request to boost the size of the BSD beer garden from 4,400 students to 5,000. Students' Union President Raphael Jacob said the additional space would actually help cut down on incidents in the long lines that tend to form to get into the garden and said his organization is being unfairly blamed for debauchery occurring elsewhere on campus.

But when asked Sunday whether the original intent of BSD had been lost in the shuffle over the years, Arthur responded, "It sounds to me like it has."

"It was more like being little kids than anything else — it was just a lark," he added. "It was kind of break from the tension of getting ready for exams and everything at the end of the school year. That was really it."

But Jacob said he believes the intent of BSD hasn't changed, even if the bulk of students partaking tend to spend their day partying in — or waiting outside — the beer garden.

Some organized groups do host "dry" Bermuda Shorts Day events and some students spend the day volunteering in the community.

"BSD is to celebrate the end of classes and there are many different ways to do it . . . you obviously don't need to drink to participate," he said.

The U of C said in a statement last week the decision against expanding the beer garden was made "in the interest of safety and security."

But Jacob said he believes the central party area was created in the 1980s to help corral students whetting their whistle with alcohol in areas around campus. He said, in general, there are few incidents especially given the size of the crowd taking part.

The Bermuda Shorts Day beer garden opens Monday at 11 a.m. Students must have purchased a wristband ahead of time to be granted access.

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