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Illustrations: Francis Blake/ Three in a Box
Illustrations: Francis Blake

First Impressions

Alumni recall their initial days at U of T

Nude Arrival
We were taking a tour of Hart House. As the guide was explaining the history of the building, he told us that women were normally not allowed in the area and we were lucky to be seeing it at all. That point was really driven home when we turned a corner and ran into a group of young men returning from the gym or the showers – or somewhere – completely naked. Both groups froze. I don’t know who was more embarrassed. We turned and fled and the guys did likewise, giving us another interesting view before they rounded a corner and disappeared from sight. High school had never been this exciting.

Sandra (Currie) Beacock
BA 1966 NEW
Perth, Ont.

Swingin’ in the Rain
It was pouring rain on the first day of orientation. I was extremely nervous and had no idea what to expect, but fortunately I’d remembered to bring an umbrella. On the way to my first orientation event, I noticed a beautiful young lady walking a short distance ahead. I quickened my pace and offered her shelter under my umbrella. That same day I got her phone number, and later that week we went to the St. Michael’s College dance. After graduation we got married, and this year we’ll celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary – all thanks to an umbrella!

Rev. Barry Jones
BA 1973 VIC, BEd 1974
Grimsby, Ontario

Boy, Interrupted
Frosh week’s phys-ed-pub run (yes, run, not crawl) was a lot of fun until I realized it was last call and I didn’t recognize anyone from my faculty. Where had they all gone? I was new to Toronto and didn’t have a clue how to get back to my residence. I searched frantically for a familiar face, and happened to spy the upper-year student who’d given me a tour of the university almost a year before. As luck would have it, he was engaged in a long and passionate dance-floor kiss. Undeterred, I marched over and tapped him on the shoulder. Imagine my surprise when he insisted on walking me home – said something about me doing him the favour. It turned out he was a fourth-year phys ed student, and he later talked me into being a sparring opponent for the U of T wrestling team. But that’s another story.

Steph Charlebois
BPHE 2003

Secret Switch
I met Ron at a party during the summer just before starting at Scarborough College in 1966. He’d apparently been quite smitten with me, but I didn’t know this. On the first day of classes, as I crossed the “meeting place” in the main building, I bumped into Ron. I was looking for my locker, so he offered to help me find it. He escorted me straight to it, then said, “What a coincidence, I have the locker right next to yours!” I was amazed by this, but years later he told me that he’d arranged with the person who actually did have the locker next to mine to switch! Ron and I started a friendship that day that soon became a romance. We’ve been married now for 34 years.

June (Lindley) Mewhort
BA 1969 UTSC, BEd 1970
Woodville, Ont.

Five Days in September

I’d thought that staying at Victoria College during frosh week would be a great opportunity to meet new people, but the first couple of days were miserable. I didn’t know anyone other than my two roommates, whom I never saw. I was too shy to begin a conversation. I wanted nothing more than to catch the GO train back to my parents’ home in Oakville, Ont. But then someone invited me out to Greg’s Ice Cream and a residence party. I met more people, and began to feel less inclined to take that train home. By the end of the week I was dismayed at the thought. Even though I’d lived at Vic for only five days, I’d already learned more about myself than I ever would in a classroom.

Allison Modesto
BA 1998 VIC
Oakville, Ont.

Pitcher of Health
On my first day at medical school in 1948, the dean addressed our class, admonishing us to “uphold the dignity of the faculty at all times.” We did – most of the time. One day, however, some of our classmates decided to play a joke on one of our professors by pouring a full bottle of gin into his water pitcher. The professor (of neuropathy) arrived, turned out the lights and began to project microscopic slides of the brain on to the screen. You’d never seen 200 medical students sit so quietly! At long last, he poured a full glass from the pitcher, took a great, long swig, turned back to the screen and resumed lecturing. The class was dumbfounded. After about five minutes, he paused, turned to the class and said, “This has been a very good year for our city water!”

Dr. Joseph Wagner
MD 1954
Los Angeles

Go Ahead. Punk
I was one of the few teenage high school grads who began at U of T in 1946. Returning servicemen outnumbered us four to one. At the time, incoming students were expected to wear a tie denoting their faculty affiliation. Mine was red, for medicine. It was the custom for second- year students to haze frosh in their faculty by cutting off their ties. Soon after enrolment I was walking across campus when I noticed some secondyear students stopping three of my exservice classmates, and threatening to cut off their ties. They didn’t get far. “I was a commando,” growled one of the servicemen. “What did you say you were going to do?” End of hazing.

David Watson
MD 1952
Rosseau, Ont.

Talent to Burn
My lifelong friend Mary Kevin Foley and I packed up my VW bus and set out for the University of Toronto from Omaha,Nebraska, in the late summer of 1970. I’d brought my two guitars, two mandolins, banjo, autoharp, several boxes of books and records, and stereo. Mary Kevin had her bed, a sewing machine and the wig her mother gave her as a going-away present because she was sure everyone would hate her long frizzy hair (which was a lot like my long frizzy hair).

We spent two days on the road talking, arguing and singing along to Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan and The Doors. Arriving on campus at St. Mike’s college left us speechless; we were in awe. I checked into Elmsley Hall, piled everything into my room and went about canvassing my floormates to find out who else was a musician. Then I signed up for that night’s orientation talent show.

As my first day came to a late end, I recall dancing down the dorm hallway in my nightshirt playing my autoharp when our don, Father Findley – phlegmatic, corpulent and possessing a dry, cutting wit – pronounced, “This boy has talent to burn. Let’s start a fire!” I never did develop an illustrious music career, but my band, Red Dworkas and the Opal City Polka Chips, did play enough around campus to keep beer in the fridge.

Larry Cimino
BA 1973 ST. MIKE’S

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  1. 2 Responses to “ First Impressions ”

  2. Phillip Ernest says:

    I first got to know the campus when I came to Toronto from Northern Ontario as a homeless 16-year old in 1986. At first I didn't realize that the peculiarly austere and monumental part of town that I sometimes found myself walking through on my way between the Scott Mission on Bloor Street and the Toronto Reference Library was a university.

    The first university building I came to know was the St. Michael’s College library, which I wandered into by chance, not realizing that this strangely, comfortingly silent and dark place was a university library until, a few weeks afrer arriving in the city, I met my friend Jiva Das, a published poet who was now homeless and living in Philosopher’s Walk, and who had taught himself Sanskrit in the Robarts library (yes, really). He introduced me to other libraries on campus, and to the world of literature they could open to me -- most importantly Sanskrit literature. (I would later complete a BA in South Asian Studies at U of T and go on to earn my doctorate in Sanskrit language and literature at Cambridge.)

    The experience of being thrown out of university buildings from time to time by the campus police, and out of Hart House by its keepers, made a very strong and formative impression on me, and taught me an important lesson about life. Years later, when I possessed the legitimacy that was supposed to make Hart House my “home”, I found its insolent and confrontation-seeking staff hardly less unpleasant than they had been when I was officially an intruder. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I do not return to Hart House when I return to campus now on visits home from India.

  3. Theresa O'Connor nee Hennessy says:

    Hart House had just opened to female members, so another girl and I went exploring during orientation -- up closed off stairs, to the next floor, into lovely guest rooms, out the window and up on to the roof. (As you do). There we scratched our initials into the slate roof tiles with the date. If they haven't replaced the tiles, our initials are there still.