When Simon Fraser University was being built in the summer of 1965, word spread about a new and exciting place full of possibilities on Burnaby Mountain. For many people, the new university was an opportunity not just for education, but for employment as well.
While many staff members at SFU spend their whole careers here, until earlier this year, Margaret Jones was one of the few current employees who had been here since the very beginning.
“I came [to SFU] because the university first opened and I wanted to get into the workforce,” Jones explained. She mentioned that she has been on a leave of absence due to some health concerns. She is unsure if she’ll return to work again, but her dedication saw her continuing to work even after retirement.
Jones noted that she was originally meant to begin her career in the Reading and Study Centre, helping with a non-credit course in reading and study skills. But the office wasn’t quite ready, so she worked for the registrar’s office registering students.
From there, she soon moved to Recreation and Athletics, where she stayed for the remainder of her career, helping set up new programs and finally becoming the Special Projects Coordinator.
With the energy of a place full of new employees, there was a strong sense that SFU was a place that could be shaped into what you wanted it to be — that was the appeal for many people.
“Since it opened, people had to work together and help one another — they were always looking towards where they could work well together,” Jones explained. “I met a lot of people up there. I didn’t find anyone complaining about things.”
She described the unique environment of open-mindedness that existed at the time — if you didn’t like something, you could always propose a better way of doing it, and people would consider it. Unlike some of the red tape and paperwork one might encounter today, in those days, Jones said, if you needed something done, you could call someone up and they’d come and do it.
There was also a strong sense of community on campus, and it had a small town atmosphere where everyone knew each other. Those who drove up the mountain were aware of the failings of the public transit system, and took pity on students.
“I drove up at the beginning, and I sometimes took people up. At the bottom of the hill, I would always stop and pick students up who were waiting for the bus. People would stop if there were people waiting there. I know I did.”
The early years at SFU were also known for radicalism, protests, and a great deal of student activism, but Jones said it was important to note that not everyone was involved, stating, “I didn’t find it overly radical.”
Decisions by the administration at SFU were often made without much discussion or debate in the early years, and Jones said she felt that the administration always seemed flexible and open to new ideas. Everyone had to work together to get the job done and make sure the university was running as smoothly as possible.
“We were making things up as we went,” she said. Things have changed, as Jones notes, “nothing stays stagnant all that time.” Just like any new venture, “it doesn’t necessarily stay the way it was intended.”
However, over the years, one thing has stayed the same — the attitude of fellow staff members. “People [at SFU] were the type that you could discuss things with, and there was never anyone saying ‘no you can’t do that.’”
One of Jones’ lasting legacies, and perhaps the one seen most by students, is the naming of our mascot, McFogg the Dog. “It was President Patrick McTaggart-Cowan’s nickname,” Jones explained, “and ‘McFog’ was what it was like at the university when you were in the clouds.”
McTaggart-Cowan, SFU’s first president who served from the school’s conception until 1968, earned the nickname while working as a meteorologist during World War II. He was in charge of determining whether or not the weather would allow aircrafts to fly safely, and the aviators dubbed him ‘McFog’ after repeated reports of bad weather. “I wrote a letter to him and asked if he would mind us using that name. He wrote back saying he’d be happy to have that be the name of the mascot,” said Jones.
It’s clear however that her legacy extends far beyond that of naming the mascot. Earlier this year, SFU Athletics added the Margaret Jones Lifetime Achievement Award to the Annual Clan Awards Banquet in honour of her service at SFU.
“I really have enjoyed it,” said Jones, when interviewed for the 40th anniversary by the SFU Retirees Association. “I think it’s just been great for me and seeing the dramatic changes from the hustle and the bustle and people not knowing what to do or where to go or what was happening at the very beginning to what it’s passed on to now. It’s just been wonderful.”
Although Jones may not return to work on the mountain, this August marked her 50th anniversary as a proud staff member. Her dedication and loyalty to SFU is consistent with the many stories of retired faculty members spending time on campus and retired staff members returning for contract work or remaining involved through volunteering or with the Retirees Association.
Whatever it was that kept her coming back to this mountain for 50 years is probably similar to what has a hold on so many people who come to SFU — the sense of community, the atmosphere of open-minded thinking, and the view of the mountains on a clear day.
I know that’s why a lot of us are still here.