Queen's Debating Union

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The Queen's Debating Union is the largest and only English speaking debating society at Queen's University in the city of Kingston, Ontario. It was founded as Canada's first debating society in 1843 and became one of the four founding organizations of Canadian inter-varsity University debate. It continues to be an active club on campus and has a strong presence both domestically and internationally as a prestigious and successful competitive parliamentary debating club.

Queen's Debating Union
Queen's Debating Union Crest.jpg
The Official Crest of the QDU
Formation 1843
Type Student debating union
Headquarters Kingston
  • MacGillivray-Brown Hall, 218 Barrie St. Kingston, Ontario Flag of Canada.svg
President Julia Kirby
Affiliations World Universities Debating Council, Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate
Website www.queensdebatingunion.org


Founded in 1843, the Queen's Debating Union (or QDU) is the oldest student organization at Queen's University and the oldest varsity debating organization in Canada.[1] The Dialectic Society, the original manifestation of the QDU,[2] was responsible for founding in 1858 and initially administering the Alma Mater Society, the student government organization for the University.[3] Later the formerly all-male Dialectic Society incorporated the Levana Debating Society, the club’s all-female equivalent, to become the modern incarnation of the Queen's Debating Union.

Queen's debaters were highly involved in constructing and maintaining the first manifestations of inter-collegiate debate among Canadian institutions, in particular organizing a longstanding set of competitions with the University of Ottawa beginning at the turn of the twentieth century.[4] The club was also responsible for establishing initial links with debating societies in the United States. A 1908 debate between teams from Queen's University and Bates College is believed to have been the first international collegiate debate to have taken place in North America.[5][6]


The Queen's Debating Union is a member of the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate (CUSID), a national organization which governs and represents university debating across the country. Members of the QDU travel both nationally and globally to participate in competitive varsity tournaments where a broad set of intellectual issues, from bioethics to international political economy, are discussed and debated.[7] Canadian debate tournaments occur in two primary styles of debate. British Parliamentary and Canadian Parliamentary, which involve four and two pairs of debaters respectively, both emphasize a style of debate using a combination of facts and rhetoric to achieve persuasive argumentation.

These tournaments and opportunities give Queen's students the opportunity to increase their knowledge of current issues, foster their public speaking skills and enhance the ability to think on their feet. Members of the Queen's Debate Union have achieved notoriety at public speaking events across Canada.[8] The club is also highly active on campus, organizing show debates, inviting guest speakers, and running a high school outreach program to teach local students about debating and public speaking.[9][10]


The Queen's Debating Union routinely hosts national and regional title tournaments as a member of CUSID, including the 2013 Women's National Championships, 2012 Leger Central Canadian Championships, the 2008 British Parliamentary Championship, and the 2004 North American Debating Championships. The QDU also hosts a popular invitational debate tournament each fall, the Queen's Chancellors Cup.

In the spring, the QDU hosts the annual Queen's University High School Debating Championship, a well-known tournament that attracts hundreds of high school students from across Canada.[11][12][13][14]


Union Executive Council, 2013-2014 Academic Year

  • President: Katherine Fu
  • Critic: Adam Kovacs-Litman
  • Treasurer: Jake Roth
  • Secretary: Julia Kirby
  • Chancellor's Tournament Director: Tavish Logan
  • High School's Tournament Director: Michelle Polster
  • Socials Director: Stephen Smith
  • Sergeant-At-Arms: Kate McNeil
  • Communications Officer: Michael Layzell


  • Equity Officers: Gabriel (Christopher) Swioklo and Holly Longair

Campus and Community Involvement[edit]

The QDU is a highly active club on the Queen's University campus and the wider Kingston community, participating in monthly show debates and providing semi-weekly meetings that are open to all interested students on campus.

The Debating Union is responsible for organizing many debate-related events on campus, including a highly publicized twentieth anniversary recreation of the famous 1988 Mulroney-Turner debate,[15] and a public debate about surveillance of urban areas that was hosted with the local Agnes Etherington Art Centre.[16]

The Debating Union also provides adjudicators each year to the highly prestigious Queen's Intercollegiate Business Competition.[17] The club has strong ties with Alumni organizations like the Toronto Over 50 Group[18] and publishes an annual newsletter for Alumni readers called 'The Mace'.[19]


The members of the Queen's Debating Union consistently attend dozens of tournaments every year, and have achieved many notable successes. Queen's achieved finalist status at the 2011 Central Canadian Championship, and successfully held the regional title from 2006 to 2008.[20]

In 2003 two debaters from the QDU, Nicola Matthews and Michael Saposnik, were semi-finalists at the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC), hosted by Hart House (University of Toronto). In 2004, Kevin Massie and Michael Saposnik were semi-finalists at the WUDC hosted by Nanyang University in Singapore. In 2009, Christine Wadsworth and Sheldon McCormick achieved octo-finalist status at the WUDC in Cork, Ireland. In 2010, Christine Wadsworth and Sheldon McCormick again achieved octo-finalist status at the Koc WUDC in Turkey.[21][22] In 2013, Kaya Ellis and William Gibson achieved octo-finalist status at the Berlin World's Debating Championship.

In 2012, Jake Roth and Kate McNeil won the MacMaster Pro Am Tournament. Robert Embree and Tavish Logan were the champions of the Seagram Invitational.

The QDU is officially ranked 3rd in Canada and 20th out of all Universities in the world by the International Debate Education Association.[23]


The Queen's Debating Union has developed a number of longstanding traditions that continue to the present-day. The club's motto “Experientia Docet” is both a reference to the value of gaining knowledge and practice, as well as a reference to the ironic observation made by Aldous Huxley in his novel 'Antic Day' that experience doesn't teach in the vast majority of circumstances, humans being resistant to breaking bad patterns.[24][25]

The Union has many traditions common to debating societies, such as holiday celebrations and in-house tournaments, as well as traditions unique to the club, including a secret initiation ceremony and the maintenance of a large golden gown. The club is also the only institution in Canada to enforce something called the "Queen's Rule", an injunction that prevents any member or guest from insulting the Monarch of Canada. A tradition of performing a Gaelic song and dance native to Queen's University called the "Oil Thigh" [26] has been adopted for external tournaments to express solidarity and historical continuity with the club's tradition of excellence. A related activity is the Queen's song, which references past exploits and future resolve, both in the context of academic debate standing as well as social vigour.

The end of every academic year is marked by ceremony known as the 'Closing of the House', which occurs in the historical Hand Purvis Room of Dunning Hall [27] and involves a public debate of graduating members, internal award ceremonies, and a symbolic concluding ceremony.

Notable Former Members[edit]

Ted Hsu, currently the Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands[28]

Robert Sutherland, the first known University Graduate of African Descent and the first man of African descent to practice law in Canada.[29]

Cora Taylor Casselman, Liberal member of Parliament for Edmonton East 1941-1945, she was the fourth female representative elected to the Canadian Parliament.[30]

Johsa Manzanilla, the first Filipino, first female ethnic minority, and youngest rector of Queen's when she took that position who was named the most outstanding Filipino-Canadian of 2006.[31]



  1. ^ Neatby, Hilda (1978-12-01). Queen's University, Vol I: Volume I, 1841-1914: And Not to Yield. ISBN 9780773503366. 
  2. ^ "Queen's Encyclopedia - Dialectic Society of Queen's College". Queen's University. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  3. ^ "Queen's Encyclopedia - Alma Mater Society (AMS)". Queens University. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  4. ^ "Prohibition: Debate between Ottawa and Queen's College. Latter won.". Ottawa Citizen. Jan 26, 1907. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  5. ^ "There's no argument here! Bates College celebrates 100 years of debate". Sun Journal. Sep 20, 1996. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  6. ^ "Bates' Year rich in work: Pres. Chase's annual report to the College Board". Lewiston Evening Journal. Jun 24, 1908. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  7. ^ "News in brief". Queen's Journal. 2009-11-10. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  8. ^ "ISAI 2010 - Realizing Technology's Promise: Debate". McGill University Health Centre. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  9. ^ "Queen's University". 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  10. ^ "Tournaments". Queen's Debating Union. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  11. ^ "Burnaby Mountain debate team off to international contest". Burnaby NewsLeader. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  12. ^ "WOSS debate team arguably on a winning roll". Inside Halton. 2011-03-10. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  13. ^ CUSID :: About CUSID[dead link]
  14. ^ "Tournaments". Queen's Debating Union. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  15. ^ nurun.com (2008-10-24). "Students tackle 1988 free trade debate". Sault Star. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  16. ^ nurun.com (2010-03-03). "News Briefs | Local News". The Kingston Whig-Standard. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  17. ^ "Inter-Collegiate Business Competition". 2012-05-09. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  18. ^ "Events". Queen's University event listings. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  19. ^ "Be it resolved that...". Queen's University News Centre - Queen's Alumni Review. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  20. ^ Journal[dead link]
  21. ^ "World Debate Website". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  22. ^ "Nanyang Technological University, Singapore". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  23. ^ http://flynndebating.net/
  24. ^ Sion, Ronald T (2010-07-01). Aldous Huxley and the Search for Meaning: A Study of the Eleven Novels. ISBN 9780786447466. 
  25. ^ "Queen's Debating Union". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  26. ^ "Queen's Encyclopedia - Oil Thigh". Queens University. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  27. ^ "Queen's Encyclopedia - Dunning Hall". Queens University. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  28. ^ "Ted Hsu, MP". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  29. ^ "JDUC - Queen's University". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  30. ^ "Cora Casselman, Edmonton MP makes history: First Liberal woman elected to federal House". Edmonton Journal. Jun 20, 1941. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  31. ^ "Winnipeg’s Johsa Manzanilla joins roster of 2006 Most Outstanding Young Filipino-Canadian". Filipino Journal. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 

External links[edit]