When U of T Mississauga first opened, deer and rabbits easily outnumbered the beautiful woodland campus’s 155 students.
Ken Luckhurst was among the very first to register at Erindale College, as UTM was then known, in the late summer of 1967. When he and friend Rick Robb crossed the threshold of its one and only building, they found a school that was so new, its administration didn’t have registration forms to hand out. “The registrar had to write all of our information down on the back of a Rothmans cigarette carton,” he recalls with a laugh.
Today, with about 14,000 students, UTM has beefed up its operations considerably – and there is no shortage of forms. But as Ishveer Malhi (BCom 2016 UTM) tells it, the school still retains its small-town feel. With the ability to connect to almost anyone through social media, Malhi says she always felt part of an intimate community, even though the school is much bigger than it was in Luckhurst’s day. “In a strange way,” she says, “it was like we all knew each other.”
On a sultry day in late June, Luckhurst (BSc 1970 UTM) and Malhi take a stroll along UTM’s bucolic paths and engage in some comparative reminiscing: Summer of Love vs. the Instagram Era.
“Here’s a peaceful spot, where you can go to de-stress,” Malhi says, passing a well-lit enclave in the Innovation Complex, a hub for business education. A finance specialist who majored in economics and now works for KPMG, she muses on the paradox of UTM: a highly competitive school, but one located in the most serene of places.
Much has been made of the increasing pressure on modern students, but Luckhurst – who majored in math and now runs his own business development company – surmises that things were just as tense in his day. “I’m still having the nightmare that I haven’t prepared for the exam!” he exclaims as we pass the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre, aglow with computer light.
Not that his shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed cohort spent all of their time working. “We horsed around, drank, chased women,” he says. “But we got one of the best educations you could have.”
Another constant: the sense of friendly competition with U of T’s other campuses, particularly UTSC (the other “other” campus). Both recall looking for a book at the library and being repeatedly told, “Sorry! It’s at St. George.”
Malhi suggests stepping inside the Communication, Culture and Technology Building, where she took first-year sociology. The auditorium is large enough to fit all of Luckhurst’s class, with room for their families too. In the past decade, UTM saw the opening of eight new academic buildings and is still expanding. Luckhurst’s original stomping ground, the North Building, was recently demolished and a massive six-storey complex is rising in its place.
The Erindale of 1967 offered two degrees – bachelor of arts and bachelor of science. Courses consisted of lectures and labs and not much else, and after class, says Luckhurst, athletics ruled the day. Today, students can choose from 14 degree programs – many of which involve off-campus experiences – and an extracurricular smorgasbord of more than 100 clubs and 160 recreational sports teams.
“One of my favourite times was a trip to Montreal with my gender studies class,” Malhi recalls. She also worked hard on behalf of Lifeline, an organization that raises awareness about blood and stem cell donations. And she remembers student elections as, invariably, the school year’s most frenzied time. But she and her fellow students could always repair to the Blind Duck Pub for a beverage, or play games online in the Student Centre. “You worked hard, you played hard,” she says. “Sometimes it was stressful, but what academic experience isn’t?”
In the late 1960s, of course, “online” wasn’t even a word. There were only 28 professors at UTM and Luckhurst knew most of them. In fact, “we’d eat with them in the cafeteria,” he recalls. Once, students were invited to Principal J. Tuzo Wilson’s residence to look at moon rocks from the Apollo 11 mission; Wilson, a world-famous geophysicist, made the school a centre of scientific importance.
Back in the present-day food court of the William G. Davis Building, Luckhurst bemoans the plastic fork he’s been given. “We had flatware in our cafeteria, and china with the U of T logo on it,” he says, tucking into a plate of jambalaya. “However! I can unequivocally say this is the best meal I’ve ever had at Erindale College.” Half a century ago, the cafeteria served up mac and cheese and tuna casseroles, he recalls, not the tandoori chicken and quesadillas it does today.
Suddenly, Luckhurst puts his fork down. “Hey, you know what I just thought of? I was at Erindale just after Sgt. Pepper came out!” he says.
Malhi looks quizzical. “What’s that?”
When the elder alum tells her it’s only, in his opinion, the greatest album of all time, she writes it down. “I have heard of the Beatles,” she says apologetically.
“Well, if I’ve accomplished nothing else today,” says Luckhurst good-naturedly, “I’ve introduced you to Sgt. Pepper.”
Outside, Malhi and Luckhurst compare how campus pranks have changed (Then: streakers racing through the nearby golf course. Now: students interrupting classes to record YouTube videos). A large deer suddenly bounds across their path – as common a sight now as it was 50 years ago.
“One thing I guess we’d both say?” says Luckhurst. “We’re both pretty proud of this school.”
Cynthia Macdonald (BA 1986 St. Michael’s) is a Toronto journalist.
Got a funny or interesting story about the time you spent at Erindale College/U of T Mississauga? Tell us about it in the comments below!