Written in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, the song called Dolly Gray caught the public’s fancy years later during the Boer War; historians say the song became the Boer War anthem, meaning I assume that it generally expressed the feelings everyone had about the current war.
Actually, the song is the melancholy farewell of a soldier who feels it’s his duty to answer the call to arms and is leaving his sweetheart. As harmless as it is then, why did the singing of Dolly Gray on Wolfville streets agitate people – and lead to a group of female college students being censored?
That’s exactly what happened reports the Acadian in a February 1902 issue. The Acadian reported that there was much rowdyism in Wolfville at the time. According to the newspaper a group of young ladies attending the Acadia Seminary were fined five cents for loudly singing and whistling Dolly Gray. The Acadian noted that rowdyism of a like nature was also being displayed at the local rink and should be also be dealt with by fining the perpetrators.
The Acadian gave other examples of rowdyism in Wolfville, condemning it harshly as a matter of course. In one case the fine levied was more severe than in the Dolly Gray incident. Acadia University students again were involved, apparently a “gang” of them four abreast walked through the town singing derogatory songs, blowing horns and refusing to disperse when order by the town’s sole policeman. The fine levied was two dollars per student; a stiff fine, but in the late 1890s and early 1900s, this rowdyism was almost a high crime.
Yes, the Acadian editor used the word “rowdyism” in the paper’s pages, applying it to such “improper actions” as littering, driving bicycles on the sidewalk and generally acting up at the local rink; and as you’ve seen, singing loudly on Wolfville’s streets and at hockey games.
Some things haven’t changed over the years. As you probably noticed, a wee bit of toned down rowdyism today by Acadia University students, harmless as it usually is, makes the pages of our local papers. But in 1894, when the police chief had difficulty dealing with a parade of 75 college students, the people of the town weren’t amused. The students were probably low key boisterous; even so, the Acadian’s editor sternly suggested that this was not to be tolerated and fines should have been levied.
The microfilm collection of the Acadian newspaper at Acadia University contains numerous accounts of rowdy students and rowdy spectators at events such as parades and hockey games. This wasn’t tolerated in those times, but today we sometimes find most of this mildly amusing.