Thursday, September 14, 2017

RYERSON'S UNICORN AMONG HORSES REVIEWS

RYERSONIANS HAVE UNIQUE HISTORY

Often for a writer the subject wilts under examination. Back in the 1970s when I poked around in the history of Ryerson University, I was prepared for disappointment.
But I found more gold than brass.
I had come in 1955 to the crumbling complex on Gould St. After being a campus editor and student president, there had been lecturing and a decade of serving on boards and committees.
When I was commissioned to write its history, I knew nuggets about the past from the pioneers. Yet as I sifted myths, anecdotes, clippings and reports, like panning for gold in the Yukon where I had my first newspaper job, what I gleaned was a grand story about an old downtown square that had been the key nursery in education and culture.
So I produced Ryerson University - A Unicorn Among Horses. The book, for strange reasons, languished as a bowdlerized mess in the archives for years until I resuscitated it this spring.
What fills me with pleasure is not just readers who say they didn't know its rich past, but those who were at the early Ryerson too and savour again those days from reading my pages.
 David Crombie has a Ryerson history as rich as his municipal service as alderman and mayor and his federal service in several major portfolios before being waterfront royal commissioner and troubleshooter and mediator in countless disputes.
Crombie was a Ryerson lecturer, administrator and first chancellor. And he still loves to lunch with colleagues from the old days when it all began.
He wrote me about "your outstanding book. The people and events chronicled by you brought back so many warm memories that I found myself mentally and emotionally reliving those days.
"It also underscored for me the extraordinary role Ryerson has played and indeed continues to play in Ontario's history. Those of us who were lucky enough to be part of it owe a great debt of gratitude. "Your book needs to get around. It's an exciting sometimes rollicking saga about how some ordinary but unorthodox people were given the freedom and opportunity to invent solutions to emerging practical needs and problems in post-secondary education, and in the process created a unique institution dedicated to serving both the market place and the changing needs of community."
My book details how Crombie took over from David Sutherland as director of student services, a position they invented for Canada using an American booklet. Sutherland coined that felicitous term of "unicorn among horses."
He became founding president of Sir Sandford Fleming in Peterborough - Ryerson was the model for the colleges - and married a Ryerson grad, my colleague from the old Tely, Sylvia Sylvie, who went on to become Peterborough mayor and member of the important Ontario Municipal Board.
Sylvia Sutherland wrote on Facebook: "For all the old Ryersonians out there - and there are a lot of us - here is a 'must' read. It is John Downing's history of Ryerson."
After 50 years of writing, after thousands of columns, editorials, books, and articles, I feel comfortable declaring that Ryerson really is one of a kind and its history makes an interesting read.  . 

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