The Plumber’s Philharmonic Orchestra, notoriously known as the PPO, is one of the most mysterious and familiar groups in the faculty of Engineering. Formed in the 1950s, this storied group of engineers is constantly visible at engineering events, where its members can be seen sporting intricately decorated lab coats. Though the PPO is now known as a huge charitable force on campus, raising thousands of dollars annually for various causes, it wasn’t always this way.
From its inception onward, the PPO was involved in countless pranks on campus, often at the expense of arts students. These antics escalated steadily from the mid-1970s through the early-1980s, when they reached their peak with such pranks as stealing a gorilla from the Redpath museum, painting the dome of the Arts Building orange, water bombing arts students in Leacock 132, and replacing the front cover of the McGill Daily with an article describing why the Daily sucks. The PPO’s final and most infamous prank was, of course, on the arts majors, with the unbolting of all 800 seats in the Leacock 132 auditorium.
This prank ultimately led to the cancellation of class in the auditorium until the seats could be fixed, which led to both a hefty repair invoice and the shutdown of the PPO. Other than the consequences of the prank and the general idea of what happened, the details surrounding the Leacock 132 incident were thought to have been forgotten in the decades since the escapade.
After the publication of this year’s Frosh edition of the Plumber’s Ledger, in which the article “The Search for the Plumber” was published, a froshie contacted the Ledger concerning the Leacock 132 prank. It turned out that the froshie’s father was actually one of the orchestrators of the fabled caper. With his assistance, it was possible to piece together one of the most prominent events in McGill Engineering history.
At the time of the prank, E-Week was still referred to as Engineering Week and featured a prank competition as one of the events. This prank competition was the motivation behind many of the pranks previously mentioned in this article, as well as the dangling of a Volkswagen Beetle from a bridge, taking a public bus hostage, and locking a police officer in his car in front of Concordia. The year of the Leacock 132 prank, a group of students was trying to find a new way to target the arts students, known as “artsies” at the time. Much similar to the present Leacock building, Leacock 132 was a prominent symbol of the Arts faculty.
The idea behind the unbolting of chairs was appealing to the group because of its simplicity and nonviolent nature. Initially, the proposed prank involved removing all of the seats from the auditorium. That idea was quickly vetoed, as it was clear that students would leave as soon as they saw that there were no chairs. However, if the bolts were just loose enough, it would cause the seats to swing below people as they sat. This ensured a prank with much higher impact.
In the days leading up to the prank, the orchestrators scouted out the entrances and exits to Leacock, looking for the best nocturnal entrance. The decision was made that the best entry point would be through rear windows of the Arts building, which lead to an empty room.
The night of the prank, about fifteen people gathered under the cover of the night to put their plan into motion. One person was sent into the building through the window, which they had propped open earlier that day. Everyone was extremely efficient and militarily precise—however, some people simply loosened bolts, while others actually removed seats, as was originally planned. The completion of the task resulted in the filling of a box 8 inches long by 6 inches wide and 6 inches deep with nuts.
Having completed the prank, they realized that they had no way to claim the glory they had earned. Like any good prankster, they had to leave a calling card. In the years leading up to the prank, the Wombat had become the de facto mascot of McGill Engineering. Using this mascot as inspiration, they wrote on the blackboard an acrostic message to the arts students: War On MasturBating Artsie Thalidomide Scum. In retrospect, the orchestrator acknowledged the poor choice of acronym. However, time was running short and in the heat of the moment, that was all that they were able to produce.
The aftermath of the prank was significant—all classes in Leacock were cancelled the day of the prank, which worked out to approximately 10% of all McGill classes that day. The prank was taken so seriously that it was never formally submitted to the Engineering Week prank contest. Fortunately, the bolts were returned to the porter in Leacock shortly after the prank. Furthermore, a bill of $1003.95 was delivered to the Engineering Undergraduate Society, which totals to more than $4000 in today’s money. This incident led to the disbanding of the PPO for several years, until it was revived with a new, charitable mandate. This is the mandate upon which the beloved PPO still operates today.
The history of the PPO and McGill Engineering pranks is long and colourful. The Leacock 132 incident is but one of many epic pranks of yesteryear, but it remains significant—it truly marked the end of an era for McGill Engineering. Gone are the days when engineers could get away with almost anything. In contrast, today’s engineers are known for their positive influence on the McGill community, through their continued presence on campus in various volunteering and charitable capacities.
The spirit of McGill Engineering allows us to push for further equity, inclusivity and diversity, while always remembering how to have a good time. This positive attitude can be seen in the countless apartment crawls, lively Blues Pubs, as well as the creation of the Engineering Adventure Committee. No matter what your idea of fun is, there is always something happening in the engineering community. While some may say that the “Golden Era” of McGill Engineering ended with the decline of pranks, I contend that we are now entering a new Golden Era. This is an era where rowdiness and inclusivity can coexist, and even have the capacity to enhance and strengthen each other.