Students Pay For Paint Job — The Sarnia Observer
“WATERLOO (CP) —William James Stephens and Michael Matthews, both Waterloo College students, Wednesday were given suspended sentences and bound over to keep the peace for painting a beer slogan on a Public Utilities Commission water tower.
Magistrate J. H. Kirkpatrick ordered the pair to make restitution for damages estimated at $100 and pay court costs.
The youths climbed the tower and clambered through the interior of the tank on a catwalk before one of them was lowered outside the tank to do the paint job.”
This article was also published under the following headings:
Waterloo Jokers Pay for Painting — Peterborough Examiner
Students Get Over Beer Paint Slogan on PUC — The St. Thomas Times
Painted Slogan On Water Tower — The Daily Times Journal, Fort William, Ontario
Waterloo Jurist Berates Students Over Tank Prank — The London Evening Free Press
The London Evening Free Press added the following lines to the article:
“You could have been injured,” the magistrate told them, “or fallen into the water and drown.”
“I’d hate to think Waterloo’s water supply would have been contaminated then. We’d mourn your loss but would also suffer a loss of our water supply.”
The Brandon Daily Sun
“WATERLOO, Ont. (CP) - Waterloo Public Utilities commission’s “beer” advertisement has been eradicated. The black-lettered sign atop the commission’s 125-foot-high tower, painted last week by engineering students of Waterloo College for a prank, has been blanked off with red paint.”
An article speaking to the aftermath of The Great Water Tower Caper
Waterloo Water Tower Repainting Costs PUC $509
Repainting Waterloo’s “beer” bestooned water tower cost the PUC $509, commissioners learned last night.
Two Waterloo College students who painted the word “beer” on the tower haved been billed for $100 of the cost. The rest will be paid by the commission, plus $700 for work inside the tank.
Howard Scheifele, chairman, said the PUC migh be involved in a controversy for pressing charges against the two culprits, but “we are custodians of public property” and practical joking notwithstanding, “we can’t condone the act.”
“We took all precautions necessary, but entry was forced and property defaced,” he said.
He said he is going to write to J. G. Hagey, college president, saying that the PUC “cannot condone acts of this nature.”
Kitchener-Waterloo Record — June 20, 1958
“What many remember best is the great water tower caper, when three engineering students scaled the city’s water tower on Lester Street to paint the word BEER prominently near the top of the tower. The students who had started at Waterloo in October 1957 were frustrated that their university seemed to be virtually unknown. “When we went home,” one of the students, Mike Matthews, recalls, “people would ask, [referring to co-op] ‘what’s this silly thing about you working in a factory every other semester?’” The students wanted to do something to draw attention to their university and in a brave and daring adventure, in the dark of night, three of them climbed the Lester Street water tower, with Matthews hanging over the side in a quickly devised harness, to paint the word beer in large letters in red “rustoleum” metal paint. Having successfully completed their task, they were disappointed the next day when they saw their handiwork and discovered that because of the curve on the face of the water tower the BEER was not as visible as they had hoped. Not to be deterred, the class as a whole decided that there should be a record of the achievement. Since some of the students were trained pilots, they decided to rent an airplane and have the adventurers go to the top of the tower and stand there, shaking hands, while the airplane flew over to photograph them for posterity. The airplane failed to appear and the students came down to find a crowd of spectators, including many from their engineering class, as well as several police officers. The students were arrested, photographs taken, and as Matthews recalls, the officers were “giggling the whole time.” Two of the students were charged with public mischief, which was then reduced to trespassing. When the case was heard the magistrate spoke severely to the two, saying to them, “you could have been injured or could have fallen into the water and drowned. I’d hate to think of how Waterloo’s water supply would have been contaminated then. We’d mourn your loss, but we would also suffer the loss of our water supply.” The students were to pay the cost of repainting the beer section of the water tower, and a “water tower fund” established by Vera Leavoy, a university staff member, raised more than enough to pay the cost. In the end, everybody was happy. The local newspaper ran a photo of the beer tower and national notoriety soon followed as the incident caught the imagination of Canadians coast-to-coast.”
Out of the Shadow of Orthodoxy Waterloo@50, Kenneth McLaughlin, pages 153-154, 2007
Painted “Beer” On Water Tower — The St. Catherines Standard
“WATERLOO (CP) — Two first-year engineering students at Waterloo College said Wednesday they were responsible for painting the word beer on the public utility commission’s 125-foot-high 500,000-gallon water tank.
Bill Stephen, 20, and Mike Matthews, both of Toronto, returned Tuesday afternoon to pose while classmates spelled out “Eng 63” on the grass at the base. A plane was hired to fly over and take the picture.
Police and spsectators arrived first. A policeman climbed up the ladder and told the students to come down.
No charges have been laid nor has the college taken any action.”
This article was also published under the title “PAINT ‘BEER’ On BIG TANK” in The Sarnia Observer on June 6, 1958
A different account of The Great Water Tower Caper:
“In June of 1958 two students, Mike Matthews and Bill Stephenson, took a hard look at the huge City of Waterloo water tower which adjoins the campus and is visible from almost any part of it. It does not require a great deal of psychological insight to follow the thinking of these two men on their way home from either the Waterloo or Kent Hotel, in a German community with a large brewery in it, as they regarded this large container for liquid. With skill and ingenuity which still baffles the best research minds at the University these two procured paint and brushes and rope, got to the top of the tower, and while Matthews at its apex held the rope Stephenson dangled down the side and in large bold letters painted “BEER”. Inexperienced as they were in the ways of publicity they wanted a permanent record of their achievement and the next day hired a private plane to take pictures of their handiwork. Had it not been for this bit of vanity it is doubtful if they ever would have been caught. And it was completely unnecessary. As soon as the word got around and the solid burghers of Waterloo saw what had happened to their water tower, press photographers we on the spot and the picture was carried in almost every major newspaper in Canada.
An astonishing number of people heard of the new University of Waterloo for the first time as a result of the picture. No one has attempted officially to reward Matthews and Stephenson for the most spectacular publicity the University has ever had but their names will never be forgotten on that campus.”
(James Scott, Of Mud and Dreams, pages 17-18, written in 1967)
[Editor’s note: It was later revealed that a third student participated (George Thompson). He was never caught and his involvement in the prank was revealed well after the publication of this retelling.
Also interesting is the inconsistency of Bill Stephenson/Stephen’s name. Further investigation will be done to determine the correct name.]
We’re going to start this blog off with perhaps the oldest of the Waterloo pranks. In my books, it’s still one of the greatest.
The Great Water Tower Caper (1958):
The University of Waterloo (then called Waterloo College Associate Faculties), having been just created the previous year, was having a hard time being taken seriously by the youth of the day and in the academic circles. Many felt that the focus on coop made them more like a trades school than a college.
Out of the frustration of attending a relatively unknown school, three students (Mike Matthews, Bill Stephen, George Thompson) decided that they needed to do something big in order to put Waterloo on the map.
Early morning on June 3, the three broke into and climbed up the Waterloo water tower (It was on Lester street). Using ropes, they lowered one of the guys (Bill) out over the edge of the tower and painted the word “BEER” on the side of the tower.
The media had a field day with it and TheRecord got the great shot that you see above. The three had accomplished their goal and Waterloo was well on it’s way to becoming the place it is today.
Two of them were arrested (Bill and Mike) but thankfully received only minor charges as well as a fine to cover the cost of repainting the tower.
The full story, can be read here:
http://www.engineering.uwaterloo.ca/news/publications/WEAL38.PDF [Gah! Broken link. :( ]
and an abridged version here:
I love this one for its simplicity and its scale. Also impressive: According to Mike Matthews, they came up with the prank only one day in advance!
That’s quite the feat. Thanks guys for starting the university off on the right foot.