After hearing President Moore speak at our high school Commencement in 1953, I told myself, “I want to go to university wherever he is!” So I went to Vic! And the college more than lived up to expectations.
So did Dr. Moore. On Freshman Weekend he met the new arrivals in groups of eight or so in his office, chatting about our backgrounds and plans. Whenever he met any of us on campus thereafter, he could call us by name. In the 1950s, his personality symbolized what made Vic more than simply an educational institution.
Freshman Weekend was also an event unique to Victoria College. We roomed in the men’s dorms and got to meet future classmates. We were harangued by the various clubs and organizations, urging us to join in their endeavours. We even had a social get-together with the young women in their dorms up on Bloor St. (I remember playing the piano for dancing while the 11:00 Saturday evening news interrupted the radio ballroom program.) And we stopped traffic on Bloor for the snake dance. It was all pretty innocent 1950s-style stuff, but it served to make us feel at home in our new surroundings much more quickly than our colleagues in other colleges could.
I answered the call and took part in a number of college traditions over the years. The first, of course, was the Bob Revue, since it had to be ready for the Hart House stage by the first week in November. I had one speaking line in 1954 but by 1957 I was writing a good portion of the music and even a few lyrics. During our time, the Bob, which had just added “Revue” to its name a few years earlier when it merged with the Scarlet and Gold Revue, wasn’t a revue at all. It was a “book show” with a plot and all the trimmings of a Broadway musical, still written, produced and performed entirely by students. Our 1957 offering was set in Cobourg in the days just prior to the move to Toronto, with Robert Beare as one of the leading characters. We produced an Lp recording of the songs and I still enjoy listening to the encore-inducing laughter and applause for “The Opposite Sex,” a country and western showpiece for Pat Coulton’s amazing raucous high notes.
Pat, Dick Dean (who co-wrote the show with Bob Remnant and also sang this number as a duet with Pat) and I were all graduates of Scarborough (later R. H. King) Collegiate. Dick and I would go on to write the All-Varsity Revue show at the U. of T. the following year and would co-author four more shows for the Kew Beach Bible Class in the 1960s. They have been revived a few times by community theatre groups in the east end, and I was able to produce one of them with the students at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate, where I taught for 35 years. Without the opportunities at Vic, none of that would have happened.
Of course, the Music Club was another attraction, with its annual Gilbert and Sullivan production, also at Hart House, in late February. I sang in the chorus each year and eventually served on the executive. As with the Bob, we often rehearsed in Alumni Hall. Godfrey Ridout was the musical director and Geoffrey Hatton, who had been a member of the D’Oyly Carte company in England, was the stage director. In 1956-7, we took the unprecedented step of asking Bill Metcalfe, an undergraduate who had starred in previous productions, to take over the musical direction. Bill had little “formal” musical training, but handled the vocal rehearsals and then conducting the orchestra (on one rehearsal!) like a pro.
Elizbeth Auld, an outstanding pianist, was our rehearsal accompanist. But she also wished to be in the show onstage. The music director (whom she would marry a couple of years later!) relented and let her rehearse the actions enough (with either no accompaniment or a substitute - sometimes me! - at the piano) to carry the day. In 1957-8 we completed the “takeover” by asking Terry Shiels, who had graduated the year before, to be the stage director. Terry and Bill were both Lawrence Park grads, so they worked well together - and brought the G & S show into the same student-produced realm as the Bob.
Gilbert and Sullivan had been part of my background at high school, and it would become part of my experience in the first years of teaching. Dick Jolliffe, another notable Vic grad, headed the music program at Thomson and produced two G & S shows in the school’s first three years. Later I would become the rehearsal and show accompanist for a Gilbert and Sullivan society in Scarborough for about 35 years. My wife sang in the chorus and later made and supervised costumes. Our three children and their spouses were all cast members (and leads) at one time or another. Our oldest son became the music director for about nine years. And in the last few years before the group disbanded, I arranged the overtures for two pianists so that our oldest grand-daughter could play them with me. Again, a Vic activity that became a major part of my post-Vic life.
(As a side note, Bill and Liz Metcalfe have resided in Burlington, VT since Bill joined the faculty of the University of Vermont in the early 1960s. They are both very active in the musical scene there and beyond, including the annual Vermont Mozart Festival (discontinued in 2011) at which Bill often conducted the orchestra and Liz was piano soloist in concertos or harpsichord continuo for baroque compositions. Each year the Festival included one semi-staged Gilbert and Sullivan performance. So the tradition continued internationally.)
The Music Club did actually explore switching from G & S to Broadway during the 1956-57 year, producing a report on the implications, artistic and financial, of such a change. Oklahoma!, the show we explored, seemed just too daring a venture at the time. But, for those fond of Broadway music, we did set up The Broadway Group, singers who got together once a week to try their hand at chorus numbers from that tradition. Bill Taylor was a Math, Physics and Chemistry type who had produced the Broadway report, and he volunteered to lead the music. Bill was probably close to tone deaf, and his lyrics for the 1956-57 Bob required a mathematical formula for rhythm that frustrated the efforts of most of us to set them to music. But somehow his leadership worked.
I volunteered as the pianist and, because I could play by ear, we didn’t need the expense and complication of actual written scores, for the most part. I just listened to the original cast recordings and played a version recognizable enough to pass. The singers had printed sheets of lyrics, but had to learn the music by rote. We worked towards a performance fairly late in the academic year at one of the regular weekly noon-hour concerts in the Wymilwood Music Room, organized by the Music Club. We came up with titles like My Fair Pajama Game and tried to string some sort of story line around the songs we had chosen to sing, thus anticipating by a few decades a recent trend on Broadway itself. A narrator would read the story line between choruses.
Bill Taylor died in the fall of 1957 falling into a window well in the Burwash residences while trying to scale the walls to climb through a window as a prank. For most of us, young and expecting to live forever, it was a first encounter with the death of a contemporary. Like the much happier activities I have recounted, it too has stayed with us since. The Broadway Group did decide to carry on in Bill’s memory and was now led by his former assistant, David Silcox, who has gone on to much greater fame in a different area of the arts.
I will admit that the memories from “extracurricular activities” tend to outnumber those from my academic studies, but I was fortunate in choosing “Latin - English or Italian option” as my course of study. (I chose the English option.) First, being the only student enrolled in that course at the U. of T. from my second year onwards, I had little difficulty finishing first! Secondly, language students got to attend the vast majority of their classes at Vic itself. (Some Classics courses were already campus-wide.) I felt truly Victorian in enjoying the faculty and the atmosphere of what is now “Old Vic” for my entire four years.
My career would centre on Classics; so it is not surprising that I have stronger feelings for my experiences in that field at Vic. I certainly remember Principal Bennett, who kept his hand in with a first-year course in Cicero’s and Pliny’s letters, laughing uproariously at his own bons mots, so that all three floors of the building could hear him. Dr. Robson did not “wish to be dogmatic but...” And young Gordon Keyes was simply an outstanding scholar and teacher. Social evenings at the homes of our professors often began awkwardly (In the 1950s we still knew our place!) but lightened up as we began to appreciate and enjoy each other’s company.
The Classics Club met monthly in the most distant back room on the upper floor of Wymilwood. The room seemed dark, and the scholarly atmosphere almost funereal. Speakers often seemed to be aiming their discourses to impress their fellow faculty members rather than to enlighten us lowly undergraduates. But suddenly the December meeting arrived, and each year was responsbile for preparing and presenting a thoroughly irresponsible skit in keeping with the impending holiday season.
One final aspect of life at Vic remains bright in my memories: morning chapel “from 10 to 10 to 10:10.” I always made a point of being there for the first session, led by Dr. Moore, and the second, at which Harold Bennett traditionally had the honour of preaching on Vic’s ivy-covered scriptural assurance that “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” I have returned for a few memorial services and even had the honour a number of years back of playing the organ for the wedding of an ex-student of mine who was also a Vic grad.
As a Latin teacher, I made sure my students learned Vic’s motto: abeunt studia in mores. Literally is has been translated as “Studies determine character.” But studia can mean anything which inspires your interest. As I look at the way Vic’s various programs inspired my interest and contributed to the kind of person I became, I remain indebted to a college that has more than lived up to the expectations embodied in its crest.
Submitted by: Stanley Farrow 5T8