Wednesday, December 4, 2019



I have been a fan of flu shots even when it has been difficult to get one.
The family history indoctrinated me early. Uncle Lou, who came to help my father, the first John Henry Downing, had been a doctor out west during the flu epidemic that devastated the world in 1919. He almost died from flu and overwork and had to recuperate for six months in a Vancouver hotel before returning to Saskatchewan where a street is named after him in Lanigan.
So the Downing doctors took flu very seriously in their huge family practice around Gerrard and Greenwood. And they taught their kids.
So when flu shots became available, I got one, and moved the motion on a hospital board that any doctor, nurse or worker who didn't get a flu shot would not be allowed to work during flu epidemics, and would not be paid.  I wrote columns and editorials attacking paramedics and other city personnel who refused to get flu shots.
I couldn't have agreed more when Women's College refused to let me see two grandsons in incubators,  each only 40 ounces when they were born, until I could prove I had had flu shots.
Which brings me to the last few years and the great drive by government and drug chains for everyone to get flu shots. Of course! Hallelujah!
I am in my Shopper's Drugmart at Royal York and Bloor several times a week. When you stand at the back of the store (and remember when it was the headquarters for the world's first pay-TV experiment) you watch all the men and women over 80 who are turned away because the ordinary flu shot is not recommended for them.
Last year elderly people in Etobicoke, and perhaps much of Ontario, were faced with waits of weeks if not months to get the special flu shot if they were over 80. Ironically, or maybe it's tragically, even though I'm one of the Downings who didn't struggle and become a doctor, I would say the elderly are the most vulnerable in our city to damage or death from flu.
Right now the walk-in clinics in the giant suburb of Etobicoke have no special flu shots for those over 80. (Drugstores don't give the shots to the elderly.) The walk-in clinic at Six Points, one of the largest around, may get more shots for the elderly next week while other clinics don't even expect repeat deliveries.
I haven't had the flu for years, even though an encyclopedia of other ailments have struck me. I think the flu shot program is a great PR and smart health move by the provincial health ministry.  But this annual stupidity is just dumb even for a ministry that certainly knows how to screw things up.
As a veteran hospital board member and, damn it, a consumer of health services far more than I want to be, I am baffled that such an important ministry seems to spend more time on reorganizing than actually helping patients get better medical service.
I have known 15 health ministers, mostly on a professional basis but some have been social acquaintances. Generally the ministers have been among the best in cabinet. The current minister, Christine Elliott, is so competent that I have written she should be premier. So I just don't understand why we continue to have huge glitches like this even in a program that everyone supports except for some stupid people who get their wisdom from fish entrails.
Perhaps if they spent less on advertising the need for flu shot and more on actually providing them, more of the elderly would last to spring.

Saturday, October 19, 2019



CJRT is celebrating its 70th anniversary this Halloween although the scramble at the birth of both the station and the university that launched it actually produced two openings.
The first words on the ceremonial opening broadcast on Nov. 1 were nothing fancy, just student Bob Leitch saying “this is your educational system CJRT broadcasting from studios in the Ryerson Institute of Technology, 50 Gould St., Toronto.”
After H.H. Kerr, Ryerson's founding principal, spoke cautiously, novice instructor John Barnes broke from the straight and stuffy to become almost lyrical at 7 p.m.
“Today is Nov. 1, known in the church calendar as All Saint’s Day. And so last night was Halloween. You were no doubt visited by certain ghosts who introduced themselves to your home in spectral fashion. Tonight we bring up a new ghost, using radio waves to knock upon your door and enter your home. Like last night's visitors, this one is also useful and the first of its kind in Canada. That infant ghost is Station CJRT, Canada's first education broadcasting station, a new venture in this country...We are licensed to program a wide variety of broadcasts with the only exception of nothing commercial.”
It was a humble start, symbolized by the oddity that the first staff member was a teacher of English who was insisting he return to teaching his subject. The station would stay at Ryerson for half a century and then become the popular non-profit jazz station in Liberty Village which was then just an expanse of factories.  It leaned on music at the start, too, but mostly classical. It was the cheapest format for radio, first 30 minutes of recorded music as a dinner concert, then when it finished at 7 p.m. a 15-minute documentary on broadcasting and CJRT’s history. For the next 45 minutes until sign-off came recordings by little-known composers. You didn't get to hear the big hits of the year like Blue Moon or Baby, It's Cold Outside.
Everyone at Ryerson was proud of the station even if they didn’t really know what FM was. The institute listed it on its official letterhead (CJRT-FM 88.3 meg Education's Own Radio Station) because after all it was a first even if it was unknown.
It was the early FM days and no one then predicted that eventually FM listeners would dwarf those of the AM giants like CFRB. There were few home receivers because legendary media entrepreneurs like Roy Thomson in Timmins and Ted Rogers in Toronto had not yet hit on the strategy to sell FM receivers at cost and gain more listeners. Still, it was rare for a school to operate an AM station for even a few hours, so there had to be an official opening.
Or two!
The bureaucracies of education and politics fiddled the calendar for the public ribbon cutting and finally decided on Nov. 22. Premier Leslie Frost and Education Minister Dana Porter agreed on that date just to get it out of the way because it really wasn't important. Yet Frost did have more than a casual interest since he owned the radio station in his lair of Lindsay.
It all began at the CJBC station just up Jarvis St. and then moved to the historic but uncomfortable gem of an auditorium in the main building surrounded by military prefabs that had been used by the Normal School and even Egerton Ryerson for almost a century. There the equipment that supposedly put the station on the air was activated, although insiders knew the station had really been operating for three weeks.
Then the modest festivities moved to the primitive plywood studio for the station that had been fashioned out of a weird room built originally to train fighter pilots. Mini documentaries and canned dramas were broadcast to show how it would operate.
Kerr didn't want to pick fights with the big Toronto radio stations so he emphasized to anyone who would listen that CJRT was aimed at supplementing existing radio fare by offering a distinctive  service for listeners who were not being served, either because of small numbers or minority tastes.
The station had limped into an early life before Ryerson evolved to an institute of technology after its rehab days for veterans returning from World War Two. A few vets, coached by local radio personalities, ran what was really a major ham radio operation. Then Kerr and his key assistant, Eric Palin, who had laboured to keep the station going after the rehab days that ended the previous year, went before the governing board in Ottawa and were granted a licence because there really wasn't any competition.
Kerr told me for my book Ryerson University A Unicorn Among Horses that Ryerson perhaps wasn't the first in Canadian education to get a broadcasting licence."I think Queen's may have had one for AM and there were one or two out west but we were FM and the first to run a station on a completely professional basis."
The broadcasting industry had big hopes for the station because it worried about what organization would do the training if the expected boom happened. As proof, A. Davidson Dunton, a famous broadcasting name as chairman of the CBC's board of governors, came to the bureaucratic opening. No need to give him one of those rare FM tuners but Ryerson presented one to the premier and one to the minister because it was important to keep them happy. After all, the premier was in the business even though he generally was baffled by anything that Ryerson did, and Porter was the local MPP.
It would be years before FM radios were common even in cars. On some nights, the rookie announcers from the Radio and Television Arts course were heard mainly over the loudspeakers hung in the battered halls outside the studio. Now they are remembered in the CJRT call letters that stand for Journalism, Radio, Technology.
There are many grads in Canada from CJRT/RTA, including some working at the station today. One famous one is Glen Woodcock whose Sunday Big Band show is one of the oldest radio programs in the known world. It goes back so far that Glen claims that Eve was the first Big Band singer.
The Ryerson of today has few traces, other than the facade of the famous building from Egerton's day and pioneer names on buildings, of the historic jumble of buildings and courses  that the early grads like me survived.
Yet it has climbed rung by broken rung to become a major university, and its radio station that started because there was some left-over equipment after a war has climbed even higher to broadcast from the top of the CN Tower and earn an international reputation.
Happy Birthday, CJRT,  let me buy Woodcock and other stars there many beers at Steele's. Oh darn it, it's gone, isn't it, under the Ryerson footprint, and the days have vanished into nostalgia when Lightfoot and Hawkins romped there with Sam the Record Man promoting next door. Lucky days for me when I still had enough money to drink there or at the Edison.
At least I have 91.1 to keep me happy as I contemplate the mists before Ryerson became famous and everyone had several FM radios.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019



I don't pretend to be an expert at many things but after moderating dozens of political debates at every level in forums ranging from Nathan Phillip Square to TV studios, I really do understand how the best debates come to be.
Let me declare without expecting any valid objection that what we're experiencing is so inane it would be a miracle if they helped one voter.
That farce involving what was billed as the political "leaders" of Canada was so bad that I kept flipping to other channels but then coming back to see if this verbal mess had sunk even further into a swamp of horrors.
Then we have the American versions featuring most of the registered Democrats and a media desperate to fill the endless news cycle.
Too many candidates! Too many moderators! Too much emphasis on timing! As a result you have candidates under the pressures of the clock and the others talking over top of them resorting to the talking points that they can recite in their sleep.
If you have more than four candidates in a debate, you have a problem.
If you have more than one moderator for  a debate, you have a problem, especially if each moderator wants to show off how clever they are with words. A moderator should be like a traffic cop at an accident: Keep the vehicles moving and not give preference to any lane.
The smart candidates are going to talk about what they want to get across so the question from a moderator is really not a probe but just a trigger for the topic. Any moderator who wants to make a rep should realize they are the least important person and the voters don't really give a damn about them.
Don't give me guff about fairness, democracy and all that because the blunt reality is that what most of the audience wanted the other night was to compare the Liberal, Tory and NDP leaders because they are the only ones who have the remotest chance of forming a government.
The other three aren't even window dressing on the process. It's just a waste for us to listen to tales about an unrealistic world of electric everything where one of the great economic drivers of our country, oil, should be sacrificed on the international altar of activists.
What we need is depth to the arguments because currently even a fish pond is made to appear an ocean. It benefits the shallow actor, like the drama queen from the stage world of costumes, makeup and sincerity in a can who is the latest gLiberal to try to spend their way to our popularity.
A good debate has the only candidates with a real chance debating issues for more than a minute a pop. It should take several hours. Any time a electronic device detects two people talking at the same time their microphones should be shut off.  The leaders can even sneak in their five-minute stump speech at the end just in case any voter hasn't heard it already. This would be a reward for them actually baring themselves publicly to the slings and arrows of outrageous opposition in an assault that lasts longer than a quip.
Of course it will never happen. And so I will never watch one completely since I no longer have to.
Oh no, the CBC would have a hissy fit, along with the sanctimonious Star, and myriad commentators and PC professors would trumpet that it is more important to have a garbled debate that really isn't watched than a lean version that might reveal something about the leaders.
All hail the politically correct political process in North America where anyone who can mouth a trite slogan about the environment and saving seals and banning drink straws and the joys of bike lanes can shove their way into a debate in front of an audience which then mentally heads for the exit.
So we have 28 people run for mayor of Toronto, and most of the known world competes to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. president, and people are so revulsed by these phoney debates, histrionics and posturing in today's shallow politics that we have blithering fools running the States and Britain.
One reason for the revulsion is all these people who think they should run for office because they can run for office. What we need is more critics who don't suffer fools gladly. If public resources are going to be used for a debate, the public has a right to demand that only those who really have a chance should be included.  Let the chuckleheads go argue in a bar or lineup to be interviewed by the CBC.
Right now, the admission bar requiring some glimpse in the polls or number of candidates in a party has been set too low. So the debates are crowded with more clamouring to get in. The chaos on the stage means you're lucky to hear even a coherent boast. So I spend my time instead watching very old reruns of M*A*S*H.
At least there they get a chance to operate on each other!

Monday, October 7, 2019



In the days of power and glory that was the Davis Government in the 1970s, Tom MacMillan stood head and shoulders above all the backroom players in ministers' offices.
I'm not sure when I became aware of him as a force behind the powerful provincial treasurer but it may be the day he was lounging at the big wooden table in the (illegal) bar just off the Legislature's press gallery and announced pleasantly that I was full of shit in my column that morning and gave such an impressive analysis of my errors that I used it the next day after subtracting the sarcasm.
And for nearly 50 years I listened to anything TeeMac had to say, other than any golf tips with his buddy Andy Donato, because not only did he always think outside the box, he could kick the crap  out of anyone who took refuge there.
He was agreeable with sharing his torrent of ideas that he had on every imaginable topic as he participated 120% in life.
I have read comments about his passing and think it should be made more obvious that he could be essential to any political party or club or newspaper if given an opening because his mind was so quick.
He wasn't a believer in bureaucracy with its forms, protocol and the way things were always done. It was a very minor thing, perhaps, but I've never forgot his mini rebellion when he tired of renting the Syd Silver tux on all the occasions where he had to represent his ministry and bought a tailored tux and saved the government money in the process. The auditor refused to pay but by some mysterious process the story was leaked.
He was the ideal committee man. I am sure that Saint Peter has already put him on the harp board because he was always at the head of the line when it came to committees for charities and reunions and where should we go for drinks.
The refreshing part of his volunteering was that he always did more than his share and was quick to harvest any suggestion from the rest of us if it wasn't too lame.
So if we were honouring the doctor for our informal club of friends, and Bernie Gosevitz loves to flaunt colourful socks (he does it with more class than the PM) and I suggested that we make that a  features of the fund-raising dinner, then TeeMac's committee would seize the idea and even Donato's invitation told all the men to flaunt really wild socks.
He could seize any gimmick, large or small, and incorporate it into the event, as fast as any trout rising for a lure.
The rejigged politically correct cliche is that behind every successful person stands a surprised spouse. I have found that behind every good leader in politics and business stands an assistant or two  capable of dealing with any situation from a crazy man in the reception lobby to a gift for the wife on the forgotten anniversary.
Behind Bill Davis as premier stood Clare Westcott, behind Paul Godfrey as Metro chairman stood John Kruger and Ray Biggart, and behind Doug Creighton as publisher and president were a handful of trouble shooters, especially TeeMac, no matter what his formal title.
Believe me, I studied the symbiotic relationships with more than casual interest having turned down being an assistant to Creighton and Godfrey because of the hectic life. But TeeMac thrived.
In the early Toronto Sun, a few of us were expected routinely to do myriad chores far outside our job description (not that there were job descriptions.)
Nothing quite captured the complicated relationships between Creighton and his key people better than the night that TeeMac as Albany Club president was presiding over the annual Sir John A. dinner at the club that is the Tory holy of holies.
Creighton had just had a brainstorm at dinner at his "club", Winstons, then one of the best and most famous restaurants in the country. So he sent for TeeMac to immediately take action. TeeMac explained that he was chairing a dinner that had several past PMs and premiers in attendance but Doug insisted. So TeeMac left the dinner, talked at length to Doug and then returned to a puzzled head table.
I sympathize with those labouring in the beleaguered Toronto newspaper market today when the old farts and Sun Day Oners reminisce about the knuckle wars between the Star and Tely and the glory days when a tabloid upstart of overworked journalists followed the Pied Pipers of Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington from stunt to scoop to adventure.
These are tough times for Toronto newspapers, but please forgive and allow the diminishing corp of old timers to boast about how great it used to be because it keeps us warm as the sun goes down. And we certainly are growing fewer with Tom MacMillan and others going on before us. Yet I am sure that he has advised Saint Peter that the Golden Gates would look a lot better if there was a Sun box just outside and each and every day the paper should get a little fatter.
Not that it ever could grow to match our nostalgia of the little paper that grew and grew and then ....

Monday, September 30, 2019



When I see some jerk wearing torn jeans, I curdle inside with rage, since once I had to wear ripped pants because I was poor.
It's not fashionable but offensive to the many in Canada and millions in the world who are forced to wear torn clothes or even to go without and shiver through the night.
Thank heavens that none of my relatives or friends or neighbours think it's really great to show strips of their flesh with fluttering strands as a frame because I would have to fight the temptation regularly to tell them to smarten up.
What exactly is the appeal? To say I want to demonstrate to everyone that I really can afford to buy jeans that haven't been torn or beaten but I've decided not to even as I climb into the latest hot car that cost more than many families make in a year.
Now I confess that my hatred of this dumb attempt to be fashionable was born that day in Grade 5 when Miss Thompson asked me to stay behind when the class broke for lunch. She said that I wasn't decent  and I couldn't come back to class unless my grandmother fixed the crotch of my breeches because various parts were in danger of swinging in the wind.
So I trudged home wrapped in a cloud of mortification. I didn't dare tell my grandmother because she probably would slap me for being too rough on my clothes. So Joyce and Joanne, my sisters who also had embarrassing clothing when they went to their grades just ahead of me, came to my rescue with some scraps of cloth that they wove into a form of basket with clumsy stitches.
So I waddled back to school (there was no cafeteria) and the approval of Miss Thompson who stood at the class door and inspected me, apparently not noticing the threads and unmatched cloth that sprouted below the military grey breeches.
It was an awful few months with me waddling around with a scratchy crotch and the resulting stubborn rash. I only had one other pair of  breeches. which are the worst form of clothing ever to be inflicted on a boy, but that pair was for church. Then came spring and the freedom of short pants which were a lot cheaper than breeches so I actually had a second pair. And in the fall the grownup joy of long pants.
You learn to be careful with clothes and money and just about everything else if there is no cash around when you are a boy. Indeed in all of Chesley money was tight as the town limped out of the depression only to be hammered by war.
So I can't shake that past when some of the nostalgia is more sour than sweet, especially when I see some plump teenager lounging on the subway with flesh bulging out of the slashes at the knee as she ignores the pensioners standing around her.
The idea of paying $70 or $250 for jeans that have been cut in the very latest style, or so the ad says, or buying jeans that have been bashed by stones and washed within a thread of their useful life, is so offensive to me that I list it as one symbol of how screwed up a wasteful society can be when trashy fashion survives even when it is offensive to common sense.

Sunday, September 22, 2019



Once upon a time, say 70 years ago, minstrel shows flourished as church and various social groups rushed to blacken their faces and sing Stephen Foster songs as they repeated the old lines and verbal gimmicks that had clustered like barnacles to the shows over the decades.
It was one of the traditional ways to make money for a club. The only question about them in the communities like Chesley or Peterborough was whether you would go this year because it was an annual event that wasn't blessed with much change...or new jokes either.
There was one giant adult Bible class that drew members from throughout the GTA to Parkdale that had an annual minstrel show that was reviewed in the newspapers.
And then the shows went away, more from indifference and changing times than hostility. And then as a young reporter I found in my rounds that Stephen Foster songs were now considered bad and the entertainment world looked back on the popular Amos 'n' Andy radio show with white men acting with contrived black accents as cringingly embarrassing.
As a young father riding shotgun as my sons solicited on Halloween I ran into the occasional tot with a blackened face and thought that the family probably couldn't afford a mask. I didn't see anything terribly wrong about that because my first costume as a kid when I had to squeeze a nickel hoping to make it into a quarter was an old sheet and a face darkened with burnt cork. I'm not sure what I was supposed to be but I won a prize.
I suspect that there are many of us with similar histories. There has been an appropriate evolution in sensitivity and discrimination so that we now know that darkening the face with brown or black makeup is hated by minorities and even when we think the country has gone far too far in politically correct language and action, the ban on such makeup is appropriate even if we grew up in a gentler time when minstrel shows were fun and not anti-Negro.
I use the language of the past because I never heard the word black even from my aunt who was a missionary in Nigeria for several decades. And we called them Indians (the legislation still does) and anyone who used the word indigenous was an anthropologist in a lecture.
Back in the days when I was in charge of the entertainment department of the newspaper - although Glen Woodcock and his critics treated me as an interloper - Mary and I went to every opening night of theatre, even the experimental theatre when you squirmed on old pews.
So you will pardon me if not all my memories are sharp. I recall a Broadway revival at the Royal Alex when in the middle of something that may have been called Sons (or Songs) Of The Desert the actors gathered around a campfire had their faces painted green.
"Wotinhell?" I asked our theatre critic the next day. He explained as if I were a backward child that it was illegal in Ontario theatre to paint your face black so this had been the Mirvish solution to an essential part of the plot. Everyone in the theatre world knew that.
He then went on to scorn my love of Stephen Foster songs and minstrel show jokes. We then engaged  in a lively debate when I said I had grown up not hearing anyone slagging blacks but there were those whispered digs at Catholics and Jews and the most pervasive dislike of minorities had been the grumbling about Indians wasting all the money they got from us.
"But they do," he said, and for a minute I was back in my first newspaper job in the Yukon when just about everyone on the muddy main street of Whitehorse grumbled about that the day after the welfare cheques came.
So I had mixed emotions when it came out that the PM was stupid enough as an adult with a theatre background not to know that it was illegal on the stage and improper on any occasion with more status than a bar brawl to paint all his visible skin with ugly brown and then to drape one coated hand above the no go area of the attractive woman that he had in a death grip.
I'm not sure exactly when it became illegal and socially unacceptable to blacken your face but it was probably before Justin was born in contrived circumstances on Christmas Day in 1971. Now I realize that he didn't exactly have normal parents when it came to sexual rompings and go screw yourself attitudes but you would have thought that he would have picked up some clues since 1971 that theatrical oratory, groping and constantly playing ethnic Mr. Dress-Up would eventually catch up to him and leave him with a very red face.
But then that's the Liberal colour!

Saturday, September 21, 2019



It would have been difficult to have had a more confused and humble beginning when something called Ryerson Institute of Technology opened its historic and battered red door over two days because the politicians were busy the first day of classes when maybe 210 students launched the future university on its way.
Now there are 40,000 students and nearly 3,000 doing post grad, numbers so fantastic that back on Sept. 21, 1948, you would have been trundled off to 999 which old Torontonians will recall is what we called the Insane Asylum before it was, thank heavens, renamed.
It is very much the old city that we uncover when we poke at the entrails of a university that survived more perils than the heroine in any Saturday afternoon movie for kids in the 1940s and 1950s when Rye High kept clawing for life.
All it had on its side was a glorious (but publicly ignored) history because its home of St. James Square had been the nursery for more innovations in Canadian education and culture than snooty U of T that did its best, along with the other universities, to make sure the insult of Rye High flourished as if Ryerson was just a souped up high school.
I came along in 1955 when you had to be nuts, considering the general wackiness, to enrol. But I'm glad I did get sucked in by the glossy calendar that made the place look like a cross between MIT and Harvard. We survivors got a great education, especially for the rough world of Toronto newspapers,
I wrote the history of the early days on Ryerson's dollar but then had to publish it myself as Ryerson University A Unicorn Among Horses because as student president and member of many board advisory and search committees I often saw what the Ryerson administrators wanted hidden in a censorship frenzy.
One former president said the university was looking forward, which was a polite way of admitting that many, including him, wanted to forget the first years which were a mix of BS, high school, gifted and innovative profs, failed teachers marking time, and a despotic regime which would made old Russia look like a summer camp.
So the university turns a frigid shoulder towards my book - which you can get through Amazon in the various versions of Kindle etc. - not realizing that old grads like me think the young Ryerson was the equal of any university because it taught us that  survival and even success was up to us, not some tenured prof mumbling into his politically correct lecture notes.
My original manuscript was chopped and mangled and survives, barely, in the university archives, and the hours of tape with the pioneers such as H.H. Kerr were shunted to some nook when taping technology moved on. Yet the nostalgia is golden when my fading classmates gather in a flurry of remember whens.
Even H.H., the first principal/president, is remembered for his accomplishments rather than his stupidities like when he put our entire class on probation because the mother-in-law of a major reporter complained to the premier about us. (But that's another story.)
For almost a century, there had been a teachers' college at the Square. And one of the first public museums in Canada. And art school. And art gallery.  Various government ministries had started there. Air crew trained there for war, and when the war ended, the veterans came to patch their CVs. Then came the apprentices. And now, what? Everyone wondered.
Ryerson had to wait a day for even a modest opening ceremony for the unveiling of the next step towards newfangled technology because it wasn’t important enough to command immediate attention. It was a careful occasion but not a splashy one because the public wasn’t quivering with anticipation. Two weeks later, there was a brief mention in the Legislature about institutes in general but Ryerson wasn’t mentioned because skepticism was common and the Opposition indifferent because not much money was involved.
 So no band played, no bunting waved, and no one cut a ribbon when students walked to the first classes on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Just how many were there? Estimates ranged up to 250, with 210 as Kerr’s best guess. No instructors bothered much with Admit-To-Lecture cards and roll calls, just happy some had shown up.
The next day, the premier and an entourage of civil servants gathered at 3 pm. in the auditorium, then the largest space available because the biggest air force buildings were chopped up by partitions. Many didn’t realize the old hall was one of the most historic in the city.
 It was a cool, clear afternoon that made people hope that Indian summer would arrive soon before winter. Ironically, considering the delays it had caused Ryerson, the big news was the Berlin blockade. Kerr had had his staff beat the bushes for an audience of students. They were only at Ryerson because of the promise of new courses and must have been perplexed when the premier spoke as if the rehab programs for veterans were just continuing.
(George Drew probably was preoccupied with leadership manoeuvres but he never lost his blissful ignorance about the institute that he had allowed. Kerr remembered Journalism students interviewing him later in Ottawa and becoming upset when it became obvious that Drew was still hazy about what Ryerson taught and was surprised to find a Journalism school there.)
 It was left to two provincial officials to stress the new aims, to bring underlings in support, and to arrange for telegrams from well-wishers, including principals, in an attempt to convince the premier there was wide support.
 For Kerr, the stars of the occasion were in the audience, not on the old stage. Kerr thought fondly of the first students because “they were the real pioneers. They were taking a chance on a type of education of which they, and the outside world, knew very little.” For years his instructors talked about these “special” students, like the first student president, Tom Gilchrist, who became a CBC star as Gil Christie.
The second president also was remembered, because he was the biggest character there, among the students that is.
 Honest John Vail, as he liked to be known, used a top hat, stunts and a refreshing confidence to become a legend. Inevitably, when H.H. called in for a chat the new Students’ Administrative Council president — the preferred name at first because that was the name at U of T — he would mention Christie and Vail while the student sat nervously across the desk that had been used by Egerton Ryerson.  (I still remember his wintery smile while he tried his awkward best to put me at ease.)
 Vail also figured in an early problem which was a hint that campus newspapers would always give Kerr headaches. The first paper was just a mimeographed sheet but it infuriated him with its attacks on the administration. He figured his student leader was the best bet to unmask the ungrateful writer. Vail kept reporting he was getting close but he never found the culprit. Or so he told Kerr, who found out too late that Honest John, using Ryerson equipment, had been the secret critic.
 The students found after the first days stretched into routine that despite all the talk about new courses, there were no dramatic changes from the past. Rennie Charles had come from war to the rehab confusion which taught thousands and said it was a gradual transition “from some of the things we had been teaching.” There were also older faces besides the staff because there were still some veterans. They qualified because under Kerr’s rules, anyone qualified whom he wanted to admit. Besides, he thought it safer to keep them at the Square than have them go to the last rehab operation in Hamilton where they might be dissatisfied and complain to an MPP. Their presence also helped boost the numbers.
 Eventually the Square became a routine stop for celebrities and leaders. They would receive honourary degrees, open buildings and speechify. But none of this mattered as much as that humble opening ceremony when even if the premier was, in the language of students, clueless as to what really was going on, at least Drew brought his prestige. So the Conservative newspaper, the Evening Telegram, responded with a big layout on Page 3 which had the familiar picture of the Normal school but also, for three cents a copy, Helen Hutko fitting clothes on a dummy and H. Perryman repairing a clock.
 The feature began: “There isn’t a football team at the new Ryerson Institute of Technology on Gould St. There is no school tie and there are no dormitories. But apart from these few minor differences, Ontario’s most modern poly-technical school, officially opened this afternoon by Premier George Drew, has all the earmarks of a full-fledged university.
 No doubt U of T profs choked at that imagery. After all, some upstart with no campus and an aged complex surrounded by huts was called a full-fledged college, even if it was in the Tely and not that real paper for the academic world, the Globe.
The feature was speckled with errors, such as Ryerson was modelled after the Rochester Institute, and had 150 students and a staff of 60. It was also useful because it said there was room for 600 students, and practical experience would be considered in admission. The hours may be from 8.30 to 4.30 with no spares but there would be little homework because the system stressed the practical over the theoretical with little textbook work.
 It didn’t matter that Kerr had only one day of operation under his belt because he told the reporter Ryerson was a success because of all the promises for summer employment. He boasted that Electronics was the most popular course because it had “what is believed to be the first television camera in Canada, only part of the costly equipment needed in the course."
 Great publicity because it touched every point in his\ standard sermon: uniqueness, practicality, good equipment, industry support, and lots of jobs afterwards. Unfortunately it also left misconceptions about Ryerson being the right hand of industry with little use for textbooks. After all, Ryerson’s founding principles were that no industry could dominate and that every student had to take compulsory academic courses.
 Many students must have wished Ryerson really did have “little use” for textbooks as they made the annual costly September foray into the A and A store on Yonge. It served as Ryerson’s first bookstore, even keeping copies of the book lists for various courses behind the drawers of 78 records. And in the back, there was a soda fountain.
 The complexities of the novelty of Ryerson also proved slippery for a smaller Globe article the same day, but Kay Sandford fortunately hit on the angle that invested the new institute with traditions.
 “The Toronto Normal School, the seed plot of the Ontario educational system, will take on a new look and a new future today. The old buildings on Gould St., which have nurtured the spirit of Rev. Egerton Ryerson for 100 years, will be the home of the Ryerson Institute of Technology. As Ontario’s hub of the latest development in technical and vocational training, it may be a far cry from the famous educationist’s idea of higher learning, but it will be a lasting monument to the man who used his whole life teaching others how to live.”
 The Globe also said Ryerson would be “the right hand of industry” because it had training equipment worth $1.5 million. (A fortune in 1948 but probably a Kerr exaggeration.) The province’s only “polytechnical” school would have “60-odd courses,” the feature said. Another misconception that would haunt because there were actually 15 courses with 37 options, all supervised by the education department. What fed the confusion was that in the same buildings the same instructors gave shorter apprenticeship courses supervised by the labour department.
 The apprentices certainly helped Kerr meet his budget but their presence nurtured a PR disaster that tainted the main occupant of the Square as a trade school and hurt grads hunting employment. They certainly bugged Ryerson students who paid tuition when the apprenticeship students were paid an allowance to take the free training.
 Despite any confusion and flaws, the main coverage was that a bustling different school had opened where you could learn all about the chores of industry and then get a job. Ryerson was to enjoy a favourable “press.” Saturday Night was the first magazine to demonstrate this, devoting three pages and 14 photographs. It was helped later with all its grads in the media. But in 1948, most journalists had come up the hard way, climbing from copy boy to reporter to editor, and then they went to war. So Ryerson with its pragmatic history was more to their liking than the universities, which were just starting journalism schools.
 There were no major problems in the first year, although the lack of students hung like a pall. Kerr said: “It was quite an experience after the thousands upon thousands of rehab students. But it was expected because we knew that unless we were given six months to acquaint the public, enrolment would be small. So we had far too many teachers for the number of students.
 The largest class was in electronics, which had been popular in rehab days with a great demand and everyone getting jobs. The smallest was in printing, because school training in this area was new. The course wasn’t threatened because there was all that equipment and vets who had trained there earlier were now supportive voices in the industry.
 Everyone knew that they had to get the numbers up. Still, the happiest people in the first year were the instructors. It was a blessing for the survivors just to have a job. They knew they could handle anything that Kerr or the department or fate could throw at them.
And they handled it for 71 years as the student number grew 190 times even as the new barons of Ryerson ignored that it had all started with one old building that they rushed to destroy surrounded by dubious military buildings that no one wanted.
There was no hint as fall came in 1948 that this simple ceremony for something called RIOT would mark the beginning of the grandest accomplishment for a Square that has no rival in the country for what it has contributed to education and culture.
Why the guest of honour didn't even quite know what was being launched. Which, come to think of it, made it a typical political ceremony!