The University of New Brunswick has a longstanding history of welcoming international students from all over the world. There are dozens of societies, associations, and clubs that are geared specifically towards international students – the UNB International Student Society, the Bangladesh Student Society, the Indian Student Association, the Overseas Chinese Student Association, and UNB Persia to name a few. But there used to be another group for international students called the Caribbean Circle.
UNB has, for many years, had strong ties to the Caribbean. There are Anthropology courses offered specifically on Latin American and Caribbean ethnography, History courses on the influence of African culture in the Caribbean, and, in the past, the faculty of Kinesiology has offered joint degree programs with the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill in Cave Hill, Barbados. There are international students at UNB from countries all over the world – but the university’s history with students from the Caribbean runs deep.
Founded in 1961 as the West Indian Society (and re-named in 1974), the Caribbean Circle was a club dedicated to forming bonds between students of Caribbean descent, Caribbean international students, and the general student population. The group ran monthly meetings, held socials, and were very active in university culture throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. The club was still active in the 1990s but slowly faded out and is no longer active on UNB’s Fredericton campus.
However, while the group was active, they were in charge of one of UNB’s biggest social events – the Big Bamboo Night. Labelled in an ad in The Brunswickan in the ‘70s as “The Big Bamboo Nightclub,” the event included musical performances by local bands such as the Topical Knights, a “live West Indian band,” and Prince Oscar, a band from Trinidad and Tobago that performed at Expo ‘67 in Montréal. There were performances by traditional dancers. The social was a big deal – it ended in one of the biggest dances of the social year. It was a ballroom event, fully catered, with drinks available. There was even a limbo contest. Now the only true ballroom events on campus are held by S-Club, but in the ‘60s and ‘70s, even into the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Big Bamboo Night was a Big Deal. Everyone turned out.
What makes the event even more unique, beyond the fact that it was a social event that survived for decades, is the fact that it was meant to celebrate the culture of UNB’s international students, and it was a campus-wide event that was looked forward to by the entire student body. It was a celebration of the culture of the Caribbean, and for many UNB students who grew up in small New Brunswick towns, it was their very first introduction to that rich history and culture. The group actually expanded in the 1970s, admitting Latin American students, as well as Caribbean students, into the club’s membership.
It was an active celebration of Black culture and history formed in a way that was participatory for everyone. What brings people together more than song, dance, and drink? The Caribbean Circle was an amazing student group that brought people together for over thirty years. It’s a little bit sad that the club faded out, but its legacy remains in the hearts of UNB alumni who were club members and who participated in the club’s social and cultural events.