Colleges in a Jam
Meet the new '49-ers. They are the peace-swollen college class of '49, digging for learning in army huts, RCAF barracks, even old war plants
IN MID-JANUARY, 1945, Tom Brandon, Regina, was in Stalag 8B at Lemsdorff, eastern Germany, when the guards shouted, “March!” and thousands of Allied prisoners of war set off on what was to he a four-month, 600-mile trek ahead of the advancing Russian Armies.
It was at the end of a day’s footsore shuffling, weeks later, that Brandon saw another fellow in RCAF battledress reading a slim pamphlet.
What s that you ve got there?” he asked, and took the proffered booklet.
By the fading afternoon light he peered at the title, Back to Oivil Life, and then strained to read the finer type inside, where one heading recaptured a Forgotten ambition of high-school days:
University fraining - Provision is made under benefit Number 5 of the Postd ischarge Re-establish-
ment Order for the continued education of students . . .
“I don’t know how he came by the booklet,” says the 26-y'ear-old ex-navigator, “but that was the first time it ever occurred to me I really might be able to go to university. I’d thought of it before, but I was tired of school by the time I got my matric, in 1937, so I got a job—and worked till I joined up, in April ’41. But with the Government offering to pay fees and $60 a month to discharged servicemen it began to look like a good idea . . .”
In mid-January, 1946, just a year after the trek began from Stalag 8B, Brandon boarded a bus in Toronto with half-a-hundred other recently discharged servicemen and drove 24 miles east on the Kingston Road. At a boldly lettered sign —“University of Toronto, Ajax Division”—the bus turned south along a snow and gravel road, passed through a
Wartime Housing settlement labelled “Ajax Village,” rolled over a bridge above main line railway tracks, and ground to a halt.
Brandon and his new companions, from late teens to mid-twenties, clad in civvy topcoats, ski jackets and remodelled service greatcoats, climbed from the bus into a flurry' of falling snow. The drab collection of grey frame buildings which confronted them seemed to be lost and alone in an endless waste of white fields.
“It certainly didn’t look much like the movie idea of a university—ivy-covered walls and quiet cloisters,” laughed Brandon, as he lounged on his bed in a comfortable residence a few days later. “Instead we were going to university in an old shell-filling plant! But when you have a look around and see how they’ve fixed it up . . .”
The Ajax property is
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Colleges in a Jam
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four square miles of onetime farmland, sloping down to the shore of Lake Ontario. Over it are scattered more than 350 low, rambling buildings in a spider web of connecting corridors, rushed to completion in six urgent months of 1941 by 2,400 workmen. At Ajax 9,000 warworkers filled and capped 40 million shells in under four years.
Now, the fighting over, the University of Toronto has leased 450 acres of Ajax for 5 years from the War Assets Corporation. In four months another 450 construction men have worked a postwar miracle.
The network of a dozen buildings which used to comprise “No. 3 Production Line” (6,000 75-pound antiaircraft shells a day) has been transformed into chemical labs, classrooms, ! drafting rooms and faculty offices— better designed, equipped and lighted than anything on Toronto Varsity’s old Queen’s Park campus.
In another 50-building settlement, camp-style barracks have been turned into college residences more attractive than those in most hallowed university halls, and a bright and modern cafeteria set up which can serve 1,800 meals an hour. The parent university’s faculty offices in dignified Simcoe Hall find their counterpart in “York Hall,” a two-storied frame building which till recently housed offices of Defence Industries Limited.
And out of a bare-raftered structure j with all the exterior glamour of a barn ] has been conjured an elegantly fitted students’ club as a branch of Toronto’s famous Hart House, and the copy need nod to the original in little but its handsome Gothic stonework.
This is Ajax—U. of T.’s answer to ! the biggest boom in higher learning in the history of Canadian universities, j created by a mass migration of Cana| dian servicemen out of uniform into cap and gown.
Twenty-two thousand of them have left planes and ships, slit trenches and camps to invade labs and classrooms. And this invasion has skyrocketed registration at the Dominion’s universities from 36,343 a year ago to an all-time high of 62,820.
Every college from coast to coast is bulging like a football stadium on a fine October Saturday afternoon. Because it’s Canada’s largest university—almost double the size of any other, with 5,000 ex-servicemen boosting enrolment from 7,000 to 13,000 in the past year—Toronto’s problem is the biggest.
Tom Brandon and 1,345 other j students—80% of them discharged j sailors, soldiers and airmen—arrived at i Ajax in mid-January to register in a special late-starting first-year course in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. Varsity heads were at first fearful that the roughhewn, openair atmosphere at Ajax might nettle these emancipated victims of barrack i life. But the dons breathed a happy
! sigh when the ladsafter one suspicious j look at the drab exterior of the new j j campus—took spiritedly to life in the ! comfortable residences, the modernly 1 styled classrooms and posh lounges. In no time they were chanting “ToikeOike” as proudly as any other band of Blue and White engineering students in history.
You Can Take Your Wife
None of them was better pleased with the new situation than Jim Findlay, a Toronto man, who was a lieutenant with the 48th Highlanders in Italy until he was knocked out of the war by a burst of shrapnel in his leg.
Findlay didn’t get out of Christie Street Hospital, in Toronto, until last fall. Because of the housing shortage the life of a happily married man wasn’t quiteall that he’d dreamed of overseas. And he’d missed getting started with the regular first-year engineering class on the main Varsity campus in September.
Then everything broke at once. He was accepted for January registration at the Ajax division, and what’s more, got a home of his own in Ajax village, where departure of some of the former shell plant employees had left a few | vacancies. Jim and his wife became the j pioneer settlers in this novel Varsity colony for married students.
By the time the newborn Varsity j opened its classroom 32 students had settled down with their wives (and in some cases children) in Ajax village, and another 66 were on the waiting list. The 600-house village is filled with families whose breadwinners commute daily to Whitby, Oshawa and Toronto due to the housing shortages in those centres. The Findlays and other student couples pay $22.50 and $25.50 monthly, water rates included, for the “little four” and “large four” roomed bungalows.
Across the tracks the 1,306 bachelor students are as comfortably, if less romantically, situated, two to a room, in 40-room double-winged residences. The one-story wings are linked across the front by a spacious common room decorated in cheerful pastels and furnished with leather chesterfields and mass-manufactured but attractive chair and table sets acquired from the previous tenants and locally known as “I). I. L. Maple.”
Each residence has baths and showers, study rooms, and a housemaster who keeps a fatherly (though usually youthful) eye on house activities run by a house committee elected by the residents. The block of 21 residences is close to cafeteria, recreation hall (lectures by day, bowling, movies, basket and volleyball by night), laundry, Hurt House and other conveniences.
Girls started invading the traditionally masculine science courses a few years hack, and Ajax has its proud quota of eight coeds. They live in a residence shared by secretaries and other female employeesthe only one whose outside door is kept locked.
“We’re doing all we can to establish the university atmosphere and help the lads to overlook Ajax’ superficial resemblance to an Army camp,” explained J. Roy Gilley, science grad and last war veteran, who is director of Ajax.
“The company streets have been renamed University Avenue, Queen’s Road and King’s Road, and we make it clear that U. of T. has now two campuses—Ajax and Queen’s Park.”
After the first few days most students were calling their billet a “residence,” with only a barely perceptible pause to recall that the word is no longer “barracks.” Switching from
service to campus nomenclature is somewhat complicated for the men by the hang-over from production days of certain war plant signposts. The building prominently labelled “Ladies Change House” is really the entrance to the faculty offices—and that isn’t orderly room either, Joe.
Ajax sprawls, and students get enough foot slogging to make their feet wonder why their lapels wear discharge buttons. They find buses waiting after breakfast to transport them, 100 to a bus, three quarters of a mile to classes. They file through the “Ladies Change Room” to the “Academic Area,” where they can route-march to their hearts’ content through the full mile of corridors linking the various classrooms and labs.
War Hazards Gone
The corridors are actually outdoor passageways, scantling tunnels with sheet-metal walls and hardwood floors, slanting up and downhill over the rolling Ajax terrain from building to building. Hardwood floors are everywhere at Ajax, where cleanliness was a necessary obsession to prevent loose powder from sifting into crevices. At that, flooring and baseboards of entire buildings were torn up and destroyed in the process of decontamination before the students moved in.
Ajax has its own bookstore (best seller: “Inorganic Quantitative Analysis”), laundry (100,000 pieces a day), theatre (two movies a week), and hospital, and is in practically every respect a not-so-miniature replica of the parent campus in town.
When at one of the first movies the title was flashed on the screen, “What a Woman!” the darkness of the recreation hall gave back a roar, “What! A woman?” Females, the lack of, is Topic B at Ajax. In addition to the eight coeds there are perhaps 100 women and girls among the staff of 500, but it is planned to import coeds from the city campus, by bus, for occasional dances.
Topic B might constitute a more serious problem were it not for the preeminence of Topic A—“This course is going to be a stinker!” Never a cinch, the chemical, engineering and mathematical subjects which engage the Ajaxites offer a particularly tough challenge to men who have burned no midnight oil for two to six war years. The ex-warriors seem clearly aware that learning to master the pen again will make their former sword drill look easy.
Says ex-seaman Lloyd Saunders, “I think being at Ajax is a better idea for me and most of the ex-servicemen. A big problem is going to be settling down to hard work, and that should be a lot easier here with the lack of city distractions.” Most of the ex-servicemen would agree with him.
The Ajax course in first-year engineering is neither condensed nor concentrated; it will run a full seven
months to August, with 10 days off at Easter between terms. The successful exam writers will be all set to begin their second year at Ajax at the more normal Varsity opening date in October.
Topic C for common room debate— and Item 2 in favor of life at Ajax— is the matter of money. Every month dischargees attending university receive a cheque from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs—$60 if single, $80 if married, with other additions for children (up to but not more than six!).
For Ajax’s average bachelor student the basic budget works out like this:
Seven months at $60 gives him $420. Room and board take $272, but his meal ticket leaves off after Saturday lunch and doesn’t start again till Monday breakfast. There are no Saturday lectures, giving the ex-soldier a “48” every week end if he cares to take it. But if he stays on campus week ends and during Easter, extra meals will cost him $46. Books, slide rule, drafting instruments, etc., run about $60. These fundamental items total $378 of his $420, leaving him $42 for such incidentals as tuckshop coffee, cokes and smokes—$70 in seven months in the cigarette department alone for the pack-a-day man.
If he goes off on week ends and at Easter, expenses will run a lot higher than on camp, of course, but the boys still figure they are better off financially than they would be in Toronto, where shows, dates and dances are a constant threat to the pocketbook.
The DVA grant was never intended to provide more than subsistence, though the ex-servicemen would be very pleased if the rate were upped to $80 for single men, $100 for married, as per current instigations. The ex-fighting men at Ajax have so recently left service that so far they haven’t become vocal about their problems, but a strident minority on Toronto’s old campus have been making themselves heard in favor of the proposed increase in veterans’ grants, reforms in student government, etc.
While Ajax takes care of nearly 1,500 of Toronto’s record crop of students, the other 11,500 are still left to fight for seats, beds and a place to eat on or about the old campus in the shadow of Ontario’s Parliament Buildings.
Classes in Chapels
College chapels, Hart House theatre, even the solemn hush of the University’s Convocation Hall, have been invaded by lecturers and their recordsize classes. One 29-man residence now accommodates 40 students; even the tastefully feminine accommodation for coeds in Whitney Hall has been modified to includedouble-decker bunks; and the university’s rooming house service now operates far beyond the immediate campus area. The Varsity, student daily, has outgrown the facilities of the University Press and has gone out of town past Ajax to get its 12,000 copies
printed by the Oshawa Times-Gazette, whose own circulation is only 10,000.
Next year will be worse. Varsity’s new president, Sydney Smith, wonders where he’s to sleep, teach and feed Toronto’s estimated enrolment for next fall—17,000 students. Ajax will double its capacity to help solve the problem, for “Production Line No. 2” and another block of residences are now being remodelled so that both firstand second-year science and engineering will find a home there.
University presidents Canada-wide share Dr. Smith’s headache. Showing the greatest proportional gain of any university, Acadia, Wolfville, N.S., has trebled its population from 250 to 750— 217 of them ex-service folk.
Big McGill has boomed bigger, from 3,700 to 6,300 (2,500 dischargees), but the University of British Columbia has more than doubled its size in a year, to oust McGill from second place among Canadian universities, with an enrolment of 7,000 students—3,400 of them just out of uniform.
Designed to accommodate but 2,000 students when it opened in 1925, U. B. C. is tackling its expansion problem with the army hut. Fifty of them have been set up right on the campys and transformed into lecture rooms, labs and snack bars. Another 62 huts, in two near-campus settlements, provide comfortable living quarters for some 350 single ex-service students and 45 married couples, including 15 children.
Montreal’s “Old McGill,” like Toronto, has opened a new and separate branch called Dawson College, 20 miles southwest of the city, at St. Johns, P.Q., in a renovated air observer school. Dawson is attended by 900 first-year science and engineering students. It also accommodates some 35 students’ wives and 10 children, in attractive suites of rooms.
Two enterprising chaps at McGill recently organized Univet Enterprises, to hunt odd jobs for their impecunious brethren. This, incidentally, is one drawback to life at out-of-town spots like Ajax and Dawson—there is scant opportunity for part-time work.
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont., has tightened entrance requirements in face of the overcrowding problem. At least 60 students who possessed therequired upper school credits, but whose grades were low, were turned away last fall. All students—veterans or otherwise—will have to leave to make room for others, it has been announced, if they flunk a single subject.
The Universities of Alberta and Saskatchewan have both taken over former Air Force properties to provide additional space. Alberta now occupies 13 barrack blocks, 120 prefabricated huts and four vacant hospital wards at Edmonton’s big American air base; other huts were shipped in all the way from Dawson Creek. Efforts are being made to secure jeeps to rush U. of A. professors five miles from the old campus to the airfield, and help them keep up with Alberta’s 14Rour day and 12-month year.
Manitoba University’s Winnipeg “junior division” and Fort Garrv “senior division” are both veteranjammed. In Halifax Dalhousie students fill two new buildings right on the campus, originally built for the Navy. The University of New Brunswick has opened “Alexander College” in a former basic training centre. Mount Allison, at Sackville, has requisitioned a hotel while a new residence is being built.
At all these universities the veterans are active in campus affairs. A questionnaire at Toronto indicated that the veterans prefer merging their interests with those of the general student body to having a separate organization of their own.
That the new-type students don’t invariably take to all the traditional campus activities was suggested by a conversation U. B. C.’s president, Dr. Norman MacKenzîe, had recently with an attractive coed.
“I can’t understand the servicemen at all, sir,” explained the girl in baffled tones. “When they ask me for a date they say, ‘We can go over our history notes together or else swat up some chemistry.’
“Now that sounds like thinly disguised wolf talk—but it isn’t. When we get together we DO go over our history notes and swat up on our chemistry!”
Anyone who knows ex-servicemen will be as baffled as the coed, though the veterans’ $60-monthly subsistence cheques will obviously cover few dates.
How Are the Veterans Doing?
It’s still too early to report reliably on the scholastic prowess of the servicemen turned students. Professors generally are loud in their praise of the veterans’ interest and industry, and feel that the long layoff from study will be offset by their serious determination to make good.
Toronto points proudly to the exprivate, three years out of school, who last season headed the first-year course in sociological and philosophical studies.
At Saskatchewan 40 demobbed men registered in arts and science for the 1944-45 season; none of them had more than one failure and 85% had no failures at all. Only 62% of other firstyear students passed all subjects, and many had from two to five failures.
The student veteran will work the harder because he knows DVA will cut him off without a cent if he fails a year. If he has less than the required amount of active service time to see him through “on the Government”—28 months for most courses—he’ll have another spur to success, because DVA can extend the benefits if he gets firstclass standing.
Only exam time will measure the final scholastic victory of Canada’s ex-fightingmen. But certainly Tom Brandon and his comrades are being given a warm welcome in all of Canada’s institutionsof higher learning. None will fail for want of a fatherly professorial hand—and the profs are betting solidly on the Brandons to make good.