Founded in 1843, the Queen’s Debating Union is the oldest club at Queen’s University and the oldest debating society in Canada. Originally the Dialectic Society of Queen’s College, the club served as both a forum for inspiring academic discussion and as a de facto student government until the formation of the Queen’s Alma Mater Society as an offshoot of the club in 1858. Later on, the formerly all-male Dialectic Society incorporated the Levana Debating Society, the club’s all-female equivalent, to become the Debating Union that we know and love today.
Ledgers surviving from the 1800s offer us the chance to look back into history, and see how the club has evolved over the last 170 years. While we may no longer be interested in discussing whether it would “be beneficial for England to throw off the Colonies” (1851, affirmed), or whether we “approve of the dancing style of the day” (1853, also affirmed), certain questions, such as whether “mankind [would] be better without intoxicating liquors” (1857, denied) remain relevant to this day.
Past prominent members of the QDU include Robert Sutherland (Treasurer, 1851-52), the first known Canadian university graduate of African descent.
While the structure of our meetings has changed somewhat since 1843– we no longer begin each meeting by reading and analyzing a literary essay, or with a passage from Scripture– the activities of the Queen’s Debating Union have remained fundamentally the same since the club’s inception. Our Union continues to be heavily involved in both the Queen’s and Kingston communities, conducting public debates on a range of contentious issues for various departments and organizations on-campus, working with high school students to introduce them to the rewards of public speaking, and representing both of these communities competitively to the rest of Canada and to the world.