When Guelph auctioneer David Moore begins his rhythmic chant Nov. 24, he’ll be as nostalgic about the University Centre (UC) event as the bidders who’ve come to buy one of the retro orange lights going up for sale. The Danish design, pendant-style lamps lit up the UC seating area for 38 years until they were replaced this summer by more energy-efficient fixtures.

Moore remembers meeting his U of G friends for lunch under the cluster of orange lights, and the UC courtyard is where he got his start as an auctioneer. It was 1981; Moore was a first-year student in Guelph’s agricultural diploma program; and the “leg” auction was a United Way fundraiser. This Saturday’s auction of orange lamp shades will benefit the University’s 2012 United Way campaign.

Seventy-five of the iconic lights will go on the auction block at 7 p.m., but the evening begins in the Brass Taps at 5 p.m. with 1970s music, cocktails and food. United Way co-chair Prof. Stuart McCook, College of Arts, invites you to dress in a 1970s vibe or just hang out and watch everyone else model their purple velour pants, bottle green shirts and orange mini-skirts.

“Bring your friends and reminisce, then buy one of those University memories and enjoy it in your own home,” suggests McCook.

The orange lights went on when the University Centre opened in 1974. “Everybody remembers those lights,” says 1979 alumna Chris Boyadjian, now a U of G staff member in Student Housing Services. “We used to say ‘I’ll meet you under the lights,” and the courtyard was like a campus concert hall.” She remembers a particularly interactive show in the late 1970s by a young stand-up comic from Hamilton named Jim Carey.

Sam Baijal, University Centre Programming, arrived on campus as a student in 1981 and over the years has helped to stage numerous UC concerts by performers who would become big names in the music industry: Loreena McKennitt, K.D. Lang, Great Big Sea and the Tragically Hip, to name a few. Baijal recalls, “When the Barenaked Ladies played here in the 1990s, the UC Courtyard was filled to capacity with people lining the stairways all the way to the top.

“We also had Elton John here for an afternoon when he happened to be in the area.  He didn’t perform but answered questions and talked to students for a couple of hours.”

More recently, the University Centre has rocked to the bands Metric, Corb Lund and Sheepdogs.

It hasn’t all been music. The orange lights glowed during all sorts of student events: club days, election campaigns, talent shows, political panels, lectures, pep rallies, craft sales, fashion shows, egg drop competitions, poster sales and, yes, auctions. “A snowstorm blew in during one College Royal ball and a lot of students slept on their coats on the courtyard floor because they couldn’t get home,” says Baijal.

In November 2010, several Guelph students stripped to bathing suits and danced under the orange lights to draw attention to how the Canadian government’s Climate Change Accountability Act was dropped in the senate.

Every Guelph grad and student has a memory of those lights, says Moore. He thinks about those who participated in the 1981 leg auction, where bidders would buy a date for the evening by judging their bare legs. “Men were part of the fun, too, he says. “They’d shave their legs, wear high heels and, like the female contestants, cover their bodies from head to thigh with a black bag.”

Auctioneer David Moore

Moore was asked to help with other charitable auctions on campus before he graduated in 1983. Then he went to auction college, where he mastered the auctioneer’s lingo, and started his business in Guelph in 1984. David Moore & Associates provides both live and online auctions as well as appraisal services to clients across southern Ontario. From his original focus on farm auctions, Moore’s business is now much more eclectic, selling everything from construction machinery to used cars, antique jewellery, pinball machines, art objects and collectibles of all kinds, including the UC’s orange light shades.

All bidders are welcome Nov. 24, he says “whether they come for sentimental reasons, they like the retro 1970s décor or they just want to support the United Way.”

Images of the Past:

The University Centre was opened in 1974, almost 10 years after it was first proposed. After delays in planning, financing and construction, the campus News Bulletin reported: “It certainly has been a long time comin’ but the University Centre has finally arrived.” And with it came the distinctive orange pendant light fixtures.


This 1975 black and white photo doesn’t do justice to the UC's orange lights.


A Student Week event in 1981.


They weren’t as well known as Jim Carey, but American comedians Joey Emonds and Thom Curley entertained at U of G and 2,500 other university and college campuses in North America. Yet, their unique focus on the college scene earned them several appearances with David Frost and Johnny Carson. Photos from U of G Archives