General Articles

WATCHDOG OF THE OLD SCHOOL TIE

Harry Griffith, headmaster and coach, runs Ridley on the theory that "progress” can be poppycock but boys will always be boys

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN March 15 1948
General Articles

WATCHDOG OF THE OLD SCHOOL TIE

Harry Griffith, headmaster and coach, runs Ridley on the theory that "progress” can be poppycock but boys will always be boys

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN March 15 1948

WATCHDOG OF THE OLD SCHOOL TIE

Harry Griffith, headmaster and coach, runs Ridley on the theory that "progress” can be poppycock but boys will always be boys

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN

DR. HARRY C. GRIFFITH has been part of Ridley College, Canada’s largest all-residential school for boys, as long as it has been in existence and almost as long as he has been in existence himself. When he was a rusty-haired moppet of 10 he made the 32-mile trip from his home at Hamilton, Ont., to the new school at St. Catharines. Except for seven years as a student, and later a professor at Trinity College in Toronto, he’s been there ever since.

Today, at 70, a ruddy, cosy-looking little man with a quick mind, a cream-colored mustache and a nose like a tough headwaiter, he is a wistful memory to thousands of Canadians—businessmen, writers, actors, sportsmen, lawyers, professors and an occasional bum. He is more than Ridley’s headmaster: he is an institution, a one-man rebellion and a way of life.

There are radicals who rebel against the old and there are those who rebel against the new. Doctor Griffith is one of the latter, not because he is oblivious to change, or opposed to it on principle, but because he has looked many of the sacred cows of progress in the eye and decided they were as phony as the flying saucers.

He knows exactly what he believes and what he doesn’t believe. He believes that much modern psychology is (a) something sensible people have known all along or (b) nonsense; that children should do not as they wish, but as they are told; that it is better to do a good job than to make a lot of money; that cricket is a good game and baseball the pastime of nitwits; that courage, honesty and fair play are still worth-while values; and that maxims like “It’s not who wins or loses, but how you play the game” express sound, practical principles.

One day, at a dinner, a woman asked him what he thought of progressive schools.

“If you mean, Madam, schools that are making progress,” he said, “I’m strongly in favor of them. But if you mean those idiotic places where everyone is allowed to do exactly as he pleases, I have no use for them.”

Cricket and Birchings

RIDLEY COLLEGE, founded in 1889, is a place of discipline, tradition, scholarly isolation, lovely maples, well-kept playing fields, cricket, prefects, napkin rings, morning chapel and an occasional birching. It is located amid vineyards and peach orchards in the gently rolling countryside outside St. Catharines, Ont.—“away from the distractions and temptations of the city” as the Ridley prospectus points out—a group of picturesque, vine-covered buildings surrounded by 80 acres of trimly kept lawns, playing fields, graveled driveways and wooded slopes.

Ridley’s 330 boys, all boarders except for a very few of the youngest, are divided into a lower school and an upper school, which roughly correspond in age and curriculum to public and high schools. Upper-school boys live in four houses—School House, Gooderham House, Merrit House and Dean’s House—each supervised by a married master who has his own suite or attached residence. Most boys sleep two to a room, but each house, including School House, where all classes are held, also has several eight-boy dormitories for younger boys and a few three-boy rooms.

In every house there’s a common room and library where the boys can whack up on their studies, as well as a playroom, shower bath, dark room for photography, little theatre, music room and a locker room.

Facing the Upper School buildings across a lawn so expansive that, on a day of faint mist, the nippers are indiscernible from the Upper School windows, stands the imposing new Georgian Lower School building, a Continued on page 56

Watchdog of the Old School Tie

Continued from page 21

complete unit with dormitories, classrooms and dining rooms, all under one roof.

The other Ridley buildings are a hospital; a covered skating rink; a Gothic chapel built by five OldCountry stonemasons and a gymnasium, a big, fireproof, air-conditioned brick building with two gymnasium floors, a stage, three full-sized squash courts with spectators’ gallery, four badminton courts, rooms for boxing and fencing, cadet squadron armory, miniature rifle range and a tiled swimming pool, 75 feet long by 25 wide.

Ridley is unapologetically conservative, taking as its general pattern the English public school; and there’s no nonsense about who does what who says.

Anyway, says Dr. Griffith, boys welcome authority. It makes them feel that they know where they’re at. He

likes to cite the story of the confused little girl at the school of free expression, who asked, unhappily, “Mummy, do I always have to do what I want to do?”

Attached to Gooderham House is the headmaster’s house, where Doctor Griffith lives: a mellow, friendly place of Oriental rugs and drowsily ticking clocks, with a smell of books and furniture polish. Mrs. Griffith, a softspoken, kindly little woman who drives a car like a New York taxi driver, says it’s impossible to keep clean, but manages to keep it gleaming. Doctor and Mrs. Griffith raised their son and daughter there: Adam, now a master at Ridley, and Joan, who tried to atone for being a girl by playing on unofficial Ridley rugby and hockey teams and who is now a teacher at Moulton College, a girls’ school in Toronto.

Doctor Griffith administers to his boys from a study that, over the years, has taken on an aged, cluttered atmosphere as impossible to simulate as the sediment in fine old port.

“My wife tells me it’s the untidiest Continued on page 58

Continued from page 56 room in the world,” he says without apology and leans back comfortably amid tiers of dimly titled books, cricket cups, statuettes, gilt-framed photographs, yellowing prints, papers, penholders, ash trays, a tin of Herbert Tarey ton tobacco and a gouty Pekingese called Chin-chin. Never having quite gotten over his curiosity about boys, he frequently peers out the st udy window over his low-perched spectacles at something going on outside. His expression at these times is about the same as that of a boy watching a steam shovel. He often roams around the buildings and grounds, a small, stooped figure in a smooth grey suit and fawn - colored knitted vest, saying things like: “How’s that knee coming along, John,” or “Watch that racket, Peters. They cost money.”

It’s “Sir” Here, “Sir” There

Ridley boys are well-schooled in courtesy and Doctor Griffith, on his rounds, is treated with a degree of respect that is the dream of every man with a family. Boys watching a basketball game will stop almost in the middle of a school yell to see that he is properly seated. A lone swimmer in the gymnasium’s big tile pool, seeing Doctor Griffith watching him from the gallery, will tread water, puff “sir” and go back into his crawl. Nippers, with faces as free of wrinkles as a 10-cent balloon snap “sir!” to him from stair landings, from beifind books and peering damply from showers.

There are two major interests in Doctor Griffith’s life—boys and sports. Every boy at Ridley is required to take part in some form o f athletics.

Doctor Griffith coaches the boys’ football and cricket teams himself and has been doing it for 48 years. As a football coach, particularly, he is wellqualified. In his university days, he played quarterback for Toronto Varsity and many old-timers still recall him as a darting redhead, so small that he was able to get up there close behind the snap, take the ball, which had to be banded back in those days and rocket off like a terrier without a red hair of his head showing above the line. He was honorary coach at University of Toronto for four years, 1907-11, and during that time guided Toronto Varsity to three consecutive Canadian championships and acquired the reputation of being one of the best coaches in the Dominion.

His “fire-drill” technique is a tender memory for many of Canadian football’s big names who trained under him. The idea is to keep things happening so fast that the other team gets dizzy.

He is probably the only coach in the world who, once the game is about to start, says to his players, “watch your tackling,” dons a peak cap and disappears among the spectators.

“I like to see the game,” he explains.

Ridley teams still wear an old-style rugby uniform with attached canvas jacket that laces up the front, but whether this is because of Doctor Griffith’s conservatism or because they are harder than a sweater to hold onto is still being argued among the boys.

He not only believes in sport, but he believes in sportsmanship. He tries to teach it to his boys. “If you lose, say little; if you win, say nothing,” he tells them. He has no use for big-time organized sports or professionalism. He thinks the idea, too often, is to beat the rules instead of the other team.

He flatly refuses to permit baseball to be played at Ridley. “It’s a game consisting of trying to beat the umpire,” he says. But whenever a World’s Series game is being discussed I he can give a detailed description of any

play in any inning and, during the World’s Series broadcasts, he usually turns up late for football practice muttering something about “a few things that had to be attended to.”

Ridley College is wide open to everyone. Even to be asked whether any family background is required for admission is enough to make Doctor Griffith a bit snappish. The fee of $950 per year, everything included, ($900 for lower school) might stop people who find it tough meeting the mortgage, but, considering the cost of feeding, housing, teaching and generally caring for a boy for a year, it is as attainable to the many as Doctor Griffith and the laws of mathematics can make it.

Ridley boys range from about eight to 18, they come from all over the world, including China, Japan and South Africa. Right now there are boys at Ridley from 20 different countries.

Ridley teaches all the subjects required for entrance to the Canadian, English and American Universities; R.M.C., Kingston; and the Royal Canadian Naval College. Matriculation forms are inspected by the Ontario high school inspectors and full certificates granted by the Ontario Department of Education. Although as much attention as possible is given vocational guidance, Ridley is principally a school of academic learning, with perhaps an extra measure of art, music and dramatics thrown in.

On this educational fare Ridley old boys have gone in diverse directions, some of them quite far. They include businessmen like Ross Gooderham, president of the Manufacturer’s Life Insurance Co., and J. C. Patteson, European general manager ot the CPR; lawyers like Laddie Cassels, famous Canadan football player and now of the firm of Cassels, Brock and Kelly ; actors like Hume Cronyn, now of Hollywood; soldiers like Lieut.-Col. Trumbull Warren, aide to Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery; diplomats like Hume Wrong, Canadian Ambassador in Washington, and many another successful man in business, the professions or the arts.

There are about 31 members of Ridley’s staff. With the exception of a matron and a nurse in both upper and lower school, they’re all men. Doctoi’ Griffith teaches French himself. He also deals out practical, homely advice that he hopes will help keep his boys on a solid footing.

Doctor Griffith believes there aren’t any bad boys—at least they are very, very rare—buthe does think that the road to hell is being slicked up for boys these days by movies, beauty parades, trashy literature and general overemphasis on crime and sex.

He hasn’t much use for girls, regarding them as a rather necessary nuisance and a hazard to young Ridleyans; and Ridley’s annual dance, a stiff-backed, rigidly chaperoned, redfaced affair, is something he likes to get over with as quickly as possible.

Dice in the Chapel!

Ridley boys are allowed off the grounds only one afternoon a week, when they are allowed to spend a few hours in neighboring St. Catharines. Does being sheltered from the seamy side of life handicap the boys when they go out into the real world? Perhaps, perhaps, he says, “But if you were walking along the street with your son, and you came to a house placarded ‘smallpox,’ would you let your boy go in on the principle that he could only learn by experience? Yet there are worse things than smallpox of the body. There is smallpox of the mind.”

Occasionally a bit of worldliness is

smuggled into Ridley, however, like the time one youngster dropped a pair of dice in chapel while Doctor Griffith was leading in prayer. Three hundred pair of eyes watched the dice turning up snake eyes, boxcars and craps as they clattered along the stone floor toward Doctor Griffith. The prayer was finished amid a silence that was due as much to horror as to reverence. When the service was over Dr. Griffith told the youngster to report in his study, in his pyjamas. That night, in his room, the youngster bent over proudly while his roommates, lighting matches, counted the stripes on his fanny.

A charge that is apt to be levelled at Ridley, along with other private schools, is that it causes snobbishness among the boys. This Doctor Griffith denies hotly.

“There’s nothing snobbish about boys,” he says, “unless it’s inculcated by snobbish parents. Left alone, they’re not concerned with class levels. What they do care about is what the other boys think of them.”

The Correct Attitude

One thing that Doctor Griffith drills into his boys is that work is its own reward. He blames much of the attitude of “how much will I get out of it?” on parents.

“What does the average conversation around the supper table consist of? How much the father shot at golf or how much money he made that day.”

He thinks he was given a pretty good insight into today’s attitude toward a job the night when, returning to the college, he fell in step with a workman and got to talking about this and that. The man eventually asked, “What’s your job, Mac?”

“I’m a schoolmaster.”

“Yeah? What’s your hours?”

Doctor Griffith had never thought much about hours. He said he supposed about 8.30 in the morning till 10 at night.

“How many days a week?”

“Seven.”

The man stopped in his tracks. “What’s the matter—ain’t you got a union?”

The right attitude toward a job is that of the five Old-Country masons who built Ridley’s chapel by hand. “I thought they’d never get finished,” Doctor Griffith says. One day, years later, he noticed a man wandering around the chapel and went over to talk to him. It turned out to be one of the masons who’d “just dropped by to see how it looked.”

Doctor Griffith mingles his ideas of old-fashioned thoroughness with an eye for business that has few equals. He is a born salesman and has a way of getting people to sign cheques for Ridley buildings that leaves anyone he deals with slightly bewildered. He raised most of the funds for Ridley buildings singlehanded.

“I hate to see him come into my office,” said one well-heeled businessman. “I know he’s going to walk out with $20,000.”

Those who have streamlined educational ideas may not make Ridley the school of their choice. A few may class it with the feudal system and the Bank of England. But at least a few things stand out as uncontroversial. Doctor Griffith knows what he wants and where he’s going and so do his boys. It’s a state of affairs that goes far toward serenity, not to mention progress. His boys know the meaning of good manners, sportsmanship and are aware that there are such things as moral codes and religion. They study, behave themselves and stay healthy.

And that, to Dr. Griffith, makes sense.