By: Jennifer Low, Features Editor
Who decided that SFU was going to be represented by an anthropomorphic, tartan-wearing terrier mascot? Why on Earth does he have a moustache and why is he Scottish? What kind of name is McFogg? Is that just because it’s foggy at SFU and rhymes with “dog”? There’s just so many unanswered questions!
Turns out all you need to do to find most of your answers is look at the history of a very important SFU figure, founding president Patrick McTaggart-Cowan.
McTaggart-Cowan was born in Edinburgh in 1912, emigrating to Vancouver a year later. Studying math and physics at UBC, he went on to study natural science at Oxford.
He served during the Second World War as the chief meteorologist for the military unit known as RAF Ferry Command. In this role, McTaggart-Cowan determined when the weather conditions would permit safe journeys for the planes travelling from North America to Europe. McTaggart-Cowan earned the nickname, McFogg, due to his seeming ability to always accurately predict the weather for the pilots flying across the Atlantic.
In a 1996 interview with SFU News, McTaggart-Cowan addressed the extended period of poor weather conditions that gave him his nickname. “Air crews began referring to me as [McFogg] after a 40-day spell of bad weather,” he said.
McTaggart-Cowan joined the university in 1964, and he was an unlikely choice for the school’s president, considering he was a well-known meteorologist and director of the Meteorological Service of Canada and lesser known in the world of education and academia.
Nevertheless, he was recommended by Gordon Shrum, a key figure in building the new university. McTaggart-Cowan was well known for his work ethic, enthusiasm, and energy, all of which enabled him to help develop the new university.
His unorthodox mandate was “to ensure SFU did things ‘differently’ from other universities,” says SFU News in their 2016 feature on him. McTaggart-Cowan did many things differently indeed.
While born in Edinburgh, the Capital of Scotland, the Scottish theme of SFU was actually initiated by McTaggart-Cowan to honour someone else, SFU’s namesake. Explorer Simon Fraser is descended from the Scottish Frasers of Culbokie and the Frasers of Lovat. Fraser’s Scottish ancestry inspired McTaggart-Cowan to commission SFU’s coat of arms which is based on the arms of Fraser Lovat. Several of these traditions are still celebrated today including the use of ceremonial bagpipers and the name of the Clan sports teams. Even the university’s motto, “Nous sommes prêts,” references Fraser’s Scottish lineage as it is a variation of Clan Fraser’s traditional motto. Unfortunately, the school no longer runs the annual cricket matches or president’s ball which had also been initiated during that time.
In 1996, a year before McTaggart-Cowan’s death, SFU Athletics unveiled its new Scottie dog mascot, named after McTaggart-Cowan’s WWII nickname, to replace SFU’s retiring mascot, a gorilla named Joe.
“I’m very flattered that you’ve chosen to share the name [McFogg] with me,” an 84-year-old McTaggart-Cowan said in an interview with SFU News, published September 19, 1996. The new mascot also paid homage to Simon Fraser’s Scottish heritage, calling back to the theme McTaggart-Cowan initiated through its Scottish Terrier breed and traditional attire.
SFU’s gorilla mascot officially retired at an October 18 basketball game in 1996. Local mascots came to play a half-time soccer game to celebrate the reign of SFU’s long-serving though, technically, unofficial mascot. McFogg made his first appearance at “A Dog’s Breakfast” at the Diamond University Club on the morning of September 5, 1996.
Since then, good old McFogg has proudly been a symbol of SFU’s sports team, the Clan, and has gone on to star in many articles for The Peak as well as in an award-winning 1950s-style earthquake preparedness video.
While not the most intimidating of mascots, and despite petitions that seek to change SFU’s mascot to a raccoon, McFogg the Dog still continues to represent the friendly, approachable SFU student population.
Some Fun Facts about McFogg the Dog:
- The SFU Athletics website features a piece of historical fiction that details some of McFogg’s background. For example, it describes the mascot’s long hiatus (arguably due to a low interest in the new mascot) as a transformational event in McFogg’s life when an incident involving UBC and its Thunderbird mascot left him with a tail injury and an existential crisis. It didn’t help that his chihuahua girlfriend, Lulu, had just dumped him!
- During an SFU Open House in 2008, McFogg accidentally flashed the crowd when his kilt fell down!
- The 1996 design of the McFogg costume featured a fan inside the suit to help McFogg keep cool.
- The identity of the first person to don the McFogg costume was kept secret.