Sunday, September 25, 2011



In September, 1955, little knots of nervous students gathered outside a battered wartime building to sniff each other before classes began.
It was the Graphic Arts Building of something new called the Ryerson Institute of Technology. And we were about to begin three strange years in the two courses taught there in Journalism and Printing Management. We didn't quite grasp that we were really pioneers.
It was a pleasant day. The ripe heady aroma of brewing beer swirled around us from the O'Keefe Brewery just across Gould St.
The brewery is long gone into the golden mists of vanished brews. And so is RIOT, having evolved through various names and elevation in status to the present title of Ryerson University, which doesn't catch the founding principle of hands-on education.
We were a small class by graduation in 1958. Some I've never seen again. But the class heart, I like to think, of Barrie Zwicker, Terry O'Connor, Al Sokol and me, are still around Toronto and so made it through Saturday turmoil to the Royal York for a Ryerson reunion dinner.
Migawd, we said, it's been 56 years since we met. So that must be the reason for the grey hair, wrinkles, aches and the fact we couldn't hear all the good and the bad as we shouted over the din about half-a-century of life. (Classical 96.3 FM is on a campaign for quieter restaurants. A wonderful cause I supported before either I became harder of hearing or my friends lost their voices.)
Once upon a time, Zwick was an acidic media critic and tilter at turbines, O'Connor the Ryerson information guru, Sokol a thoughful sports reporter, and me on the treadmills of columnizing and editing.
We had good careers, we like to think. And our wives have done even better. Remember that behind every moderately successful man stands a very surprised woman.
School reunions are a mixed bag. You don't recognize most of the crowd and end up greeting warmly faces you never really liked. But it's a victory lap for those who have survived. And some of us, like my trusty associate Don Hawkes, didn't even come to jog the lap because when you husband your energy, downtown Toronto and a big hotel are more gauntlet  than party.
The huge screens that are now a feature of such banquets set the mood by flashing pictures of the campus past and future. Except the campus we went to was demolished long ago except for the facade of the headquarters that Egerton Ryerson constructed in 1851 when he began his educational innovations for all of Canada..
The talk from the university brass was of huge crowds storming the doors to get in. Apparently Ryerson is more popular than a nubile Marilyn Monroe.  Pictures flashed of coming architectural gems. We marvelled because back in the Fifties we would have been satisfied with any new building grander than a brick outhouse.
All in all a fine time! Wine, even a glass of bubbly, was part of the $75 cost. The salad was excellent, the beef mediocre and the desert a chocolate marvel. I remembered back to the campus dinners I chaired as student president when we were grateful for anything resembling something you could get in a restaurant from the students in Hotel, Restaurant and Resort Administration.
Back then, of course,  wine would have got you expelled. I had to fight the administration to save six students from being expelled because they got mildly drunk on the train on a football weekend.
I wonder whether beef will still be legal (considering the forces of political correctness in food ) when our quartet gather for the 60th anniversary of the institution where we didn't know we were the lab rats running the maze in an eight-year-old experiment in education.
Come to think of it, for the $600 our tickets cost in total, we could have quite a private banquet. And we would actually hear what everyone has to say.
I would miss the pretty pictures on the big screens, of course, but the campus of today might as well be on the moon for the survivors of the early Ryerson.

No comments: