ARTICLES

The University of Toronto: Can it survive sheer size?

It’s already too big, claims this graduate, and it’ll soon be bigger. But a searching look at its famous grads — and its current army of 14,000 students — suggests there’s little chance it will become an academic sausage machine

BARBARA MOON April 25 1959
ARTICLES

The University of Toronto: Can it survive sheer size?

It’s already too big, claims this graduate, and it’ll soon be bigger. But a searching look at its famous grads — and its current army of 14,000 students — suggests there’s little chance it will become an academic sausage machine

BARBARA MOON April 25 1959

The University of Toronto: Can it survive sheer size?

It’s already too big, claims this graduate, and it’ll soon be bigger. But a searching look at its famous grads — and its current army of 14,000 students — suggests there’s little chance it will become an academic sausage machine

BARBARA MOON

The daily commuter, southbound for downtown Toronto, is scarcely aware that the traffic thrusts around and through a seventy-seven-acre archipelago in the centre of the city. He races down Queen's Park Drive from Bloor Street right between the islands and sees only ambiguous outcroppings — a museum couching to his right, stony and composed; a Hick of iron fence; trees, slate roofs, towers; a glimpse of fairway and an episode of dingy late-winter snow; a grey building, and a line of greenhouses where the cars brake for the College Street traffic light.

The archipelago is the University of Toronto, the

biggest university in Canada, assailed by the ceaseless lapse and surge of Canada’s second biggest city. Two other throughways—Bay Street and St. George—force its margins, and one major crosstown tributary, Harbord Street, discharges morning traffic straight across it to join the main channel of Queen’s Park.

The university suffers these passages by retiring into polite anonymity. No sign anywhere about the place says that this is the University of Toronto and there is no such thing as a main entrance.

It is, in a way, symbolic that the university should be no tidy compound with encircling w'all and important

front door. It is not so easily contained or labeled.

Not long ago Dr. Claude Bissell, the dapper new president of the university, mused, “1 like to think of Vincent Massey as our perfect flowering.”

Massey, who was first a student and later a history teacher there, seems at first glance sufficiently comprehensive for the nomination. His report on arts and culture showed him to have a decent academic ability to deal with evidence. He attended every one of the one hundred and fourteen public'sessions and read each of the four hundred and sixty-two briefs. Furthermore. Massey was born a Methodist but became an Anglican as an undergraduate, which makes him a handy illustration of the university’s emphasis on thinking for oneself.

Approaching Massey, a writer once said, is like entering a Gothic cathedral—which makes him a fitting reminder of the solemn aspirations the university hopes each student has. And Massey has been by turns a soldier, a business tycoon, a politician, a diplomat, a writer and a viceroy, which are all proper publicspirited pursuits for a gentleman, a scholar and a good Varsity man.

Along these lines the university likewise boasts of having schooled two prime ministers, Arthur Mcighcn and Mackenzie King, a number of industrialists of the order of Col. W. E. Phillips of Argus Corporation, writers like Stephen Leacock and B. K. Sandwell, and twenty-five percent of Canada’s Department of External Affairs.

Yet Massey, with his faint air of aristrocratic forbearance, is scarcely a complete account of the university that produced two comedians like Wayne and Shuster, or a truculent scientist like Sir Frederick Banting, or an outspoken renegade like Dr. William Blatz, or a maverick artist like J. W. Morrice, or a poet who could be described as “a sort of versifying Bernarr MacFadden,” like Ned Pratt.

It’s questionable whether any single symbol can define the university’s disparate elements. When, a few years ago, the administration commissioned novelist Morley Callaghan to write a piece about Varsity the undertaking got right out of hand. He set out to define its tone and before he’d finished he found himself with a whole book. Yet, though he’d resorted to the convenience of novel form, he still couldn’t subdue the university into a single kind of place or its products into men of a unique stamp. Today he still insists, “It’s idiotic to try to pick the typical U. of T. man.”

It’s too big. This year the university has fourteen thousand undergraduates, and no place for four fifths of them to live. There aren’t half enough parking spaces for the students who commute. There isn’t room for the law school, which has had to move four and a half miles away to quarters in north Toronto. The school of architecture is billeted in an abandoned curling rink. The new campus library, only four years old, is already too small. In the basement of the zoology building the cloakrooms, the corridors, the caretaker’s quarters and

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THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO continued

These are the strings that hold it all together

the lavatories have all had to be turned into labs and offices — which flood periodically when the plumbing gets overloaded.

It’s too unwieldy. The university consists of four federated arts colleges with an arts faculty to teach them, nine professional faculties, five schools, three institutes and three theological colleges. It’s affiliated with the Ontario Agricultural College and the Ontario Veterinary College at Guelph, and with the Ontario College of Art, the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It operates an observatory on a hill north of town, a theatre on the campus, a publishing house that prints more books by Canadian authors than any other in the country, and the research laboratories that produce all Canada’s insulin and almost all its Salk vaccine.

Besides its more visible real estate it owns frontage rights for four blocks along College Street and up and down both sides of Toronto’s Head Office Row, University Avenue; and it owns two farms in rural Ontario, a forest, a survey camp and a steam bath.

People are always adding to its possessions. Sigmund Samuel’s Canadiana Gallery was a welcome acquisition, and so was one of Sitting Bull’s shirts, which is now in the museum. But the administration is still wondering what to do with two caps, two gowns and a hood someone gave them, and a music-publishing house, with a branch in England, that someone else left them in a will.

The world and its circumstances keep nudging the university. The registrar has had to stop Latinizing the names on graduation diplomas, for the current Kims, Rorys. Tabs and Karens resist translation. Sputnik has prompted a new honor course, Slavic studies, and a new three-year general course—a sort of special get-acquainted offer — in maths and the basic sciences. The faculty of applied science and engineering has stowed a new, sub-critical reactor in a concrete closet in the Wallberg Memorial Building for the use of its graduate students. The departments of astronomy and electrical engineering have jointly installed radio astronomy equipment at the David Dunlap Observatory north of the city, on the slopes of Richmond Hill, and can now tune in on the ancient thunders of Jupiter and the singing of galactic hydrogen clouds.

And by 1969 the university expects to be faced with an enrollment of twenty-three thousand. So in Simcoe Hall the property committees sit around a board, which represents a new thirty-five-acre campus west of St. George Street, and play Monopoly with toy models of new residences and new' faculty buildings. The expansion project will cost fifty million dollars and is to be launched this fall.

Is there any pattern to this sprawling, spreading agglomeration?

If you want to try your hand at deciphering you must, since there’s no front door, join the millrace on Queen’s Park Crescent and let yourself be jostled to its edge. Then you sheer off, drop through a discreet and unmarked tunnel and so are shot out into a placid eddy circling a patch of greensward piebald with melting snow. This is the front campus and physical core of the university.

Across on the southwest sector squats the great dome of Convocation Hall, and its cool, precise annex, Simcoe Hall, which houses the university’s household continued on page 55

continued on page 55

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The University of Toronto

Continued from page 20

staff and the university president. If it’s nine a.m. Claude Bissell, forty-three, Varsity’s eighth president, has just parked his grey Oldsmobile and entered the building.

As he climbs to the second floor and goes along the corridor to his airy, white-caroeted office he passes a résumé of Varsity’s history — rows of portraits, signed photographs and memorial tablets commemorating the men who helped shape the university. Bissell’s predecessors seem to have been a mixed bag: massive, shrewd Sidney Smith. Canada's minister for external affairs until this March, who told the students to greet him, "Hi, Sid:” gentle, courtly Sir Robert Falconer, who knew most of the undergraduates by name and called them “Miss” and “Mister"; shy, stiff-backed James Loudon, who had nothing to say to the students at all, and wound up so unpopular with them that he was asked to resign and ended his days a bewildered and bitter man.

But at least there is some sign of pattern—and an abiding principle.

Only Anglicans could apply

Here’s John McCaul, the second president, who in the 1860s insisted over undergraduate protest that a negro be admitted to a student society. Here’s Falconer, who, during the First World War, under pressure from his own board of governors, refused to dismiss three German professors from the staff. His successor, Canon H. J. Cody, under pressure from the Hepburn government of the thirties, likewise refused to dismiss one of his history professors, F. J. Underhill, who was actively campaigning for the CCF party. Sidney Smith, in his turn, backed Leopold Infeld — the brilliant Polish physicist who, with Einstein, had written the Evolution of Physics—against demands for his removal from staff on the grounds that he was a Communist. Infeld subsequently lit out for his homeland where he amused himself for a time by calling Smith “fascist.”

The tradition of complete academic freedom of belief doesn't quite date from Varsity’s beginning, however, since in the beginning was that canny, colorful, rockjawed bigot, Bishop John Strachan. who meant all the students and staff of his university to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles of the Anglican faith.

The educated son of a lowly Scottish quarryman, Strachan had come out to Upper Canada in 1799 when he was twenty-one to be headmaster of a new government school. He found the school a mere pious hope on the part of a few leading citizens, so he switched to the church, shopped around for one that promised preferment—it happened to be the Church of England—and carved himself out an episcopal barony from the muddy wastes of York. A willful, worldly prelate with a trick of whistling soundlessly when he wasn't talking and a thick Scots brogue when he was, he ingratiated himself with the Family Compact—that band of local aristocrats on the make—and wound up their leader.

But, perhaps by way of compensation for his first disappointment, he made a lifetime sideline of getting schools founded. It was Strachan who talked James McGill into the legacy of land and money that gave McGill University its start. Then he went to work on his own university, King’s College, which was to be a Church of England institution endowed by the state. He got a Royal Charter in 1827, spent sixteen years getting the doors open and then, after another six years, saw the whole project collapse.

Under fire from other religious denominations for favoritism to the Anglican faith, the government finally converted King’s College into a non-denominational provincial university, the University of Toronto. It was a scandal and a hissing throughout Upper Canada for most people then believed education had to go hand in hand with religion. Strachan called the new institution “a godless imitation of Babel,” and flounced off out to west Toronto to found a private Anglican university. Trinity.

The godless university graduated only one student that first year, but it slowly attracted supporters and, in 1859, after occupying a succession of makeshift quarters, got its own home, the building that is now University College.

University College, which faces Simcoe Hall across the front campus, is an obese Romanesque pile that is a hundred years old this year. Undergraduates, full of harmless poise, linger on its shallow front steps in the thin morning sunlight. finishing their cigarettes before the first lecture. They are a heterogeneous lot. University College, which once was the university itself, is now just one of the four federated arts colleges. But it is still secular, so it tends to attract the recusant, the uncommitted, the member of the minority group. Because of this, its sun-stained halls seem to echo more strongly than the rest of the campus to the painful derision and desperate idealism of youth.

These are qualities that can produce leaders of men, and pleasant suburban housewives; this year they also produced an Ed Lacey. Lacey, a fourth-year honor student, disciplined by a residence committee for an altercation in the residence dining hall, went on a protest hunger-strike and was asked to leave residence. The incident is curiously suggestive of some central fact about UC— not only because Lacey embarked on a one-man rebellion but also because he then went away and made a sonnet out of fresh memory. It read:

The yellow residence was not built of bile

But bricks, not bones but beautiful bequests.

Behold it, golden in the sinking west.

The lordly, godless and endowed pile;

Dons stroll its broad green lawns, bereft of guile

Kindly men, light of learning, free of jest;

And students dream by. clad in Ivy best.

And elm leaves tilt down softly all the while.

There was a time when I once roamed those halls

Innocent in my light and laughing morning,

Knew friendship, treason and autocracy;

But now I hear, without an unseen wall,

The soundless voice again of my first warning.

“All shalt thou have, who hast hypocrisy.”

© University College Gargoyle

Besides poets, UC has given Varsity the rowdy campus revue, with cheesecake and intramural gags, and the tradition of the campus newspaper editor who gets fired over a matter of principle. The first was James Tucker, a UC man and editor of the Varsity, who got sacked in 1895 when he refused to apologize for an anti-administration editorial. An undergraduate named William Lyon Mackenzie King led a boycott of lectures in protest against the administration’s action.

Here on the campus in front of UC the university seems all of a piece: students, teachers, administration; the stockpiled lore of the world across there on the east side in the new library; recreation and the time-honored bull session to the north here in the mullioned YMCA that is Hart House, gift of the Hart Massey estate, Vincent Massey executor.

But south from the campus to College Street stretches a thicket of sober buildings with their faces toward each other or toward the city’s traffic. These are the homes of the pure and applied sciences. of physics and chemistry, of botany and zoology and hygiene. The students, busy, practical young men with heavy loads of books and heavier lecture schedules, hunch along to a noon-hour class in casual squads.

Still further isolated, east beyond Queen's Park, medical students hurry through the tunnel under College Street that connects the Banting Institute with the Toronto General Hospital.

Hard work and horseplay

Along St. George Street, to the west, other students are entering converted Victorian houses, taking the front steps two at a time, to go to lectures in mathematics or geophysics.

The loyalties of these men belong to their faculties. Their traditions are hard work and horseplay, the good-natured feud between Skule (the faculty of applied science and engineering) and Meds, sundry stealings of each other’s mascots and kidnapings of each other's class presidents.

Then, along a great peripheral arc that stretches north around the far side of Queen's Park Crescent and west across Hoskin Avenue, stand the three denominational arts colleges, founded separately but now federated to the university. They joined, one after the other, between 1881 and 1903. to take advantage of the university’s growing concentration of staff and facilities, but they guard jealously their separate traditions.

St. Michael's, the Roman Catholic college, registers a trace of Ivy League drawl, for it has a heavy enrollment of U. S. students who want both a firstclass degree and a college of their own faith. Victoria College, the United Church establishment, has a wholesome collegiate air, and a history of zeal combined with liberalism. Early in the century Victoria produced the largest contingent of missionaries ever to leave a Canadian port; they sailed away for the Orient, so the college history records, singing On the Old Ontario Strand, the college song. More recently the college produced Liberal leader Lester Pearson, complete with bow tie.

And along Hoskin, staring unrepentantly south toward the back of the

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“One professor’s demonstrations included poetry, sleight-of-hand and the splintering of frozen fish”

“godless imitation of Babel,” stands Bishop Strachan’s second stab at an Anglican university, Trinity. The building is a copy of the neo-Gothic structure Strachan erected in west Toronto (though an added story spoils the proportions). Its constituency is still the Family Compact, though somewhat dilute now, and its flavor is still Oxonian, also somewhat dilute. The students wear gowns to lectures and meals, the dons dine at high table under the bishop’s portrait and, though the college doesn’t quite run to the vintage-port-and-nuts traditional at Oxford, the bursar has laid in a supply of Ontario Liquor Control Board sherry for the senior common room.

What can all these separate communities, with their separate histories and loyalties, have in common?

Well, they share some possessions: the tradition of their presidents; the undergraduate newspaper; Varsity arena and Varsity stadium and the Varsity football team, the Blues, which won the intercollegiate championship last year. The men share Hart House and, on specified occasions, share it with the women. They also shared it on one ««specified occasion this year when they invited Jay Macpherson, poet and lecturer in English at Victoria, to speak to them on Canadian poetry under the impression that she was a man.

All undergraduates also have joint ownership in the amiable folklore that inevitably enshrines such campus figures as the late John Satterly, professor of physics. Satterly's annual demonstration of liquid air to the first-year science

students was a scientific free-for-all that featured poetry, song, sleight-of-hand, the splintering of frozen goldfish and the detonation of bombs. And there was the late Leo Smith, composer, cellist and professor of music, who used occasionally to borrow' one of the Hart House violas da gamba for use in string quartets. The violas were museum pieces, so if Smith kept one overnight he put it in a bedroom of its own, drew the curtains to prevent drafts, covered it with an eiderdown and a Shetland shawl and. if he were going to be out of the house himself, called in a baby-sitter.

There was also Professor Coventry, bachelor zoologist, who lived in the attic of Hart House amid bowl after bowl of pipes and bow! after bowl of wooden matches; he occasionally received undergraduates while stark naked except for the smoke clouds from his briar. The current regime seems to be producing its own candidate for legend in R. Morton Smith who turns up everywhere on the campus, including his own lectures in Sanskrit, in kilt and plaid of the blue MacFarlane tartan.

To all undergraduates, also, belongs whatever satisfaction comes from certain milestones and certain possible superlatives. Pablum and insulin were both developed here and, this year at the institute of aerophysics, a revolutionary variation of the wind tunnel that will permit the study of satellites and rockets under space conditions. As for the faculty of applied science and engineering, one of its members, Professor J. E. Reid, designed the radiotelephone network used by the Ontario Provincial Police.

The definitive history of psychology was written here, by Dr. G. S. Brett, and some monumental studies of Canada’s economic history, by Harold Innes. One of the world’s half-dozen top historians, Dr. Donald Creighton, is on the staff; so is Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson, president of the International Union of Geodosy and Geophysics, which organized the International Geophysical Year; so is Dr. Charles Best, co-winner of a Nobel prize for the discovery of insulin.

Varsity trains forty percent of Canada’s dentists and more geophysicists than any other institution in North America. It has the best school of graduate studies in the country, and one of the top dozen on the continent. It has Canada’s biggest extension department, with some seventeen thousand adults enrolled last session for night lectures, correspondence and summer courses.

Oddly enough the superlatives have a significance for the university beyond vulgar boast. Sheer size, it turns out. has a quality beyond mere quantity. It attracts the eager people—just as the biggest city in a country attracts eager people. And. since there are exacting entrance requirements here, the concentrate is high. Varsity is a dense community of art and culture and commerce and sport and science and religion and entertainment and finance and incessant talk. Everywhere you go about the humming campus you sense the harmonics of passion and scorn and discovery.

Over at University College this afternoon Dr. Marcus Long, Irishman and professor of philosophy, is lecturing to one hundred and eighty first-year honor

students. They sit solemnly in the bright, bleached amphitheatre, which smells of varnish and Varsol and chalk. He is asking them bluntly to make up their minds about the justice of society’s unwritten law, which forgives a man the murder of his wife's lover.

In a basement room of the Royal Ontario Museum, beneath four stories of millennial loot, Dr. Ted Carpenter, outspoken professor of anthropology, is lecturing to one hundred and ten students in second-year medicine. He is telling them that, in many primitive languages, no first-person pronoun exists. He suggests that our western notion of man — the individual personality who can cause things to happen by making up his mind to do them — is not proved.

In his book-lined office over Victoria college library, Dr. Northrop Frye, Bluenosc, authority on William Blake, professor of English and newly appointed principal of Victoria, is conducting a seminar with half a dozen fourth-year English students. “All we know' for sure about Shakespeare,” he says flatly, “is that he once sued a man u'ho owed him half a crown. You cannot and must not deduce anything about a man’s personality from the poetry he writes.”

Frye remarked recently, "The role of education is to make people maladjusted.” Dr. Long, the philosopher, puts it another way. “People have to be shocked out of their prejudices and blind faiths before they can learn to think for themselves.”

Sometimes the shock comes not in the classroom but in casually impassioned argument with others. A group of as-

sorted undergraduates are discussing their own generation tonight in the Hart House cafeteria. The man in the blueand-gold Skule jacket says, “We're no different from our parents. There are just as many rebels on the campus now as there ever were. People don't change.” The third - year philosophy student says, “Yeah? Then how come that petition to Diefenbaker about the Avro Arrow had to be started by a professor? That generation, they’re still radicals. But us—none of us believe we can do anything to really change anything. That’s what’s wrong with us.”

The Skuleman looks thoughtful.

It may happen some evening when a student is working, with an assignment to complete and his own mind to make up. In the big, grubby puce-and-yellow smoking room of the campus library a student in an open-necked shirt dumps some books on a table and sinks into a chair beside a clean-haired brunette. “Y’know what?” he asks flatly. “I don’t like Cromwell. I’ve just decided.” Sometimes the mind suffers the soft

explosion to a new dimension in privacy. The maths-and-physics student, in an ill-lit third-floor room on Huron Street, browses idly through Hoyle’s Frontiers of Astronomy and chooses his life’s work.

Throughout the university, a thousand adventures . . . the Trinity man resolving not to join his father’s fraternity because he doesn’t like the values . . . the graduate student in English

realizing that what he really wants to do is act ... a girl who’s been cramming for an exam in her residence bedroom wandering next door and saying dreamily, “I hope I live to be eighty so I can read all the books I want to . . . ”

The daily traffic has long since ebbed out of the city, back up Queen’s Park Crescent past the brown Victorian houses, solid against the evening sky; back up St. George Street past the brown Victorian house; back across Hoskin to Harbord between the grey stone and the red brick, which is turning color in the dwindling light as a rose turns bluish when it fades.

Varsity is honeycombed with empty cells. The Toronto students have left for home with the commuters. The rest are in their residences or their roomswith-board. The professors are with their families, or preparing tomorrow's lecture, or snatching a few hours for what one has called, wryly, “our own hurried and furtive scholarship.”

On the little main campus the front of University College is bathed in thick orange light the color of marmalade. Darkness engulfs the building's marshaled rotundities, leaving nothing but this lurid façade. Convocation Hall floats in the eerie green illumination of mercury arc lamps. There are night lights on in the library, but everyone has left. Deserted, the campus is an accident of mismatched buildings, without grammar or sense.

But when it’s tenanted, this great ungainly university can be what a university ought to be—a place where people’s minds are stocked and shocked and teased and shaken out. A perilous place, ic