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UC Gryphon
Photo by Michael Visser

On Guard

The University College gryphon

You come across this banister and wonder if you’ve suddenly been transported to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School.

Will this monster, with a wave of a wand, come alive? And what on earth is it doing in the east wing of University College? Of all the mascots associated with U of T, few are as well known as this coiled creature, designed by architect D.B. Dick, and for many alumni it remains a vivid memory of their time here. In fact, Colours in the Dark, the autobiographical drama of famed playwright James Reaney’s life (first presented at the Stratford Festival in 1967), includes a slide of the UC gryphon. “I certainly was terrified the first time I saw it,” recalls Reaney (BA 1948 UC, MA 1949, PhD 1958). “I was just a poor boy from a farm outside Stratford, and we didn’t have gryphons there.” With the snarling head of a bird, the body of a lion and the tail of a serpent, this fearsome hybrid (don’t call it a dragon) is hardly the most welcoming of figures, but it is typical of late Victorian architecture. And before you refer to it as grotesque, please remember that architectural historians would prefer you use the word whimsical. But it’s obvious not everyone is repelled by the creature. Run your hand down that gnarled back and feel how thousands of hands have rubbed it pebble smooth over the years.

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