The versatile college with the concrete campus

The Ryerson Institute of Technology is a flourishing puzzle : * It acts like a university but it grants no degrees * It teaches everything from electronics to cooking, printing and dressmaking — but it’s not a trade school * It squats in a slum but its students dress like executives

EARLE BEATTIE November 10 1956

The versatile college with the concrete campus

The Ryerson Institute of Technology is a flourishing puzzle : * It acts like a university but it grants no degrees * It teaches everything from electronics to cooking, printing and dressmaking — but it’s not a trade school * It squats in a slum but its students dress like executives

EARLE BEATTIE November 10 1956

The versatile college with the concrete campus

The Ryerson Institute of Technology is a flourishing puzzle : * It acts like a university but it grants no degrees * It teaches everything from electronics to cooking, printing and dressmaking — but it’s not a trade school * It squats in a slum but its students dress like executives


In the last weeks of September and early October, young Canadians in every province repeated a long-established autumn ritual—the return to college. They flocked back eagerly to dear old alma maters that still resemble, with few exceptions, the fond image that parents hold of them: ivy-covered walls, tree-shaded campus, chalky classrooms, professors in billowing black gowns and casually dressed students strolling on undulant green lawns.

One exception to this pleasant stereotype awaited those who arrived at Canada’s only “career college,” the Ryerson Institute of Technology in downtown Toronto.

Nestled behind a high spiked fence and guarded twenty-four hours a day by uniformed commissionaires because of its location, Ryerson's campus is seven acres of concrete and asphalt set in a crumbling slum and vice district. Its halls of learning are six weather-beaten prefabs —former barracks, drill hall and hangar used by the air force in World War II—and three grimy stone buildings, the biggest of which was once Ontario’s first Normal School and the office of public education pioneer, Egerton Ryerson. a century ago.

The institute grants no degrees, although it provides education three years beyond the highschool level. Its instructors wear no academic gowns in class and shun the lecture system. Its students are not found in open-neck shirts, jeans or windbreakers. They wear suit coats, suitable trousers and collars and ties, on the principal’s order, to look like natty young executives.

Nor does Ryerson enjoy the serenity usually associated with a college campus. The chatter of rivet guns and pneumatic drills on nearby building construction and street repairs continually bombard its walls, while a yeasty smell of brew from O’Keefe's beer vats across the street scents the campus when the wind is northerly. A block west is a busy amusement section of Yonge St., sporting six cocktail bars, a dozen restaurants and several movies. A block east is Jarvis St., Toronto’s much-publicized sin strip.

In spite of this, Ryerson Institute has some enticing features and a bouncy way of life that draws an increasing number of students every year. It has a million dollars’ worth of electronic, chemical and mechanical equipment that includes a radio station, TV and movie-making studios, a printing plant and teletype machines that bring in world news daily. Its radio station broadcasts six hours a day and a semiwcekly newspaper, for years a daily, comes off its presses.

Its instructors supplant the traditional lecture system with a learn-it-yoursclf approach that includes lively class projects and excursions into the industrial and business world of Toronto and other cities. Students have their choice of a vocational career from the widest and oddest range of courses on any Canadian campus—as far apart as Childhood Management and Metallurgical Technology. Each graduate receives a technological diploma, issued by the Ontario government, testifying to his semi-professional standing. These diplomas have assured some thirteen hundred graduates jobs at starting salaries of from $175 to $350 a month.

It is probably the fastest-growing college in Canada. When the Ontario Department of Education first set it up in 1948, registration was a hundred and eighty. Today about two thousand students strain its old joists. They arrive each fall from every province—for many of the courses can’t be found elsewhere in Canada — from the U. S., the West Indies and South America.

Another forty-five hundred take evening classes from the first of October to the end of March, making Ryerson the largest school of its kind on the continent, according to a recent survey taken by the Rochester, N.Y., Institute of Technology.

Just what kind of college Ryerson really is still baffles most people, chiefly because there’s only one of it in Canada. It’s similar to some sixty “career” or “community colleges” in the U. S. where young people get technical and academic education. Far more advanced than technical high schools, Ryerson accepts only high-school graduates for entrance, but falls short of university professional requirements.

Where the university graduates engineers. Ryerson turns out “engineering technicians” in the chemical, mechanical, electronic and electrical fields to work on the management side of industry. They work with the professional men to form what the Engineering Institute of Canada calls ’’balanced engineering teams” in which the engineer is released for more important work. The graduates from other courses become managers and assistant managers for stores and offices, research assistants, supervisors, laboratory technicians, designers, draftsmen, reporters, editors and radio-television personnel.

All students receive some liberal-arts education in English, history, mathematics and the social sciences, but in actual practice some departments have timetabled this down to one subject as technological courses make increasing demands on time.

Because Ryerson breaks the rules of the wellbrought-up college it’s often called a trade school. Each day people phone in asking for such short courses as bricklaying, bartending or radio repairing, while registrar D. G. W. McRae explains with a rising inflection, "We don’t train skilled workers here.” As Ryerson thinks of itself as almost-but-not-quite a university, the trade-school tag is like a red flag on the campus.

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The versatile college with the concrete campus Continued from page 21

From jets to TV, Ryerson helped Canada prepare

Rycrsonians like to point out that they helped solve the serious lack of engineering technicians facing Canada after World War II. They supplied talent for the jet, atomic and chemical era that emerged from the war, the oil and uranium discoveries, the arrival of automation and the mushrooming of government activities, from the St. Lawrence Seaway to television.

Its up-to-the-minute quality is one of Ryerson’s big assets. Courses and subjects have been added, eliminated or changed according to decisions made by its many advisory boards, drawn from business and industry. Twenty-two courses have survived the trial-and-error approach. The practical way in which they are taught has made the Ryerson campus so self-sufficient that anyone given the keys to the institute could stay around indefinitely and have all his needs looked after. He could get breakfast, dinner and supper prepared by students of Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Administration, selecting from menus printed by students in Printing Management. He could sleep in the ten-room “dream house” of the Home Economics and Childhood Management courses, and run his laundry through its automatic washer and dryer; write letters home on the electric typewriters of Business Administration, enclosing photos of himself taken by Photographic Arts.

He could play hundreds of records or watch student TV shows in the radiotelevision building and read the latest news on the journalism department’s teleprinters before newspaper readers sec it. For recreation he might build an occasional chair in the Furniture Design department, sketch on the drafting boards in Architectural Technology, shop in Retail Merchandising’s student store and exercise at fencing, archery or Judo in the gym, one of Toronto’s largest.

But even then he would not have become acquainted with the “top third” of Ryerson’s courses—the eight engineering technician groups in which two thirds of Ryerson students are registered. These are Architectural and Building Technology; Chemical Research of Technology; Instrument and Laboratory Technology; Mechanical Technology and Metallurgical Technology; Electrical Technology and Electronic Technology. Graduates of these courses have an average qf four jobs waiting for each of them.

Not long ago Indonesia’s minister of education spent two days touring the Ryerson campus, moving from classroom to lab in a state of excited curiosity. Other Asian visitors, studying under the Colombo Plan, have seen the Ryerson type of education as the quickest answer to Asia’s lack of engineering know-how.

A big attraction for both visitors and students lies in the way Ryerson applies American educator John Dewey's learnby-doing philosophy of education. As part of that philosophy the student learns best, it is reasoned, when he does a job personally, handling tools, instruments, ideas and programs in co-operation with others. At the same time, the community —-cultural and business—becomes an active co-educator and is no longer what some colleges call "the outside world.”

While traditionalists sniff at such an approach to learning as "progressive” and "too practical,” it is everywhere evident on the Ryerson campus. On the second floor of one ex-barrack, journalism students learn work in the atmosphere of two newspaper city rooms with horseshoe copy desks, clacking typewriters and a teletype machine. From three till five each day officially, and often till I 1 p.m. unofficially, they gather campus news and feature stories for a four-page newspaper.

Downstairs, students of Printing Management set up the stories on one of the school’s five linotypes and run the paper off the press. Printing students do another forty thousand dollars’ worth of printing for the institute each year.

As special projects the journalism students work on weekly newspapers and city dailies and visit the Ottawa Press Gallery, courts, legislature and city council meetings. This March fifty journalism students conducted a poll in the Bowmanville area, near Toronto, for the Ontario Weekly Newspaper Association to find out which sections of the local weekly appealed most to readers.

Designs from a dungeon

Directly across from the journalism and printing building, another former wartime barrack houses more than a hundred radio and TV students in a seething activity that outjumps most radio stations. While some students take turns at the radio control board of "education's own station, CJRT-FM” and at the monitor sets for the big television studio, others are busy acting in dramas, conducting disk-jockey interviews—-often with top entertainers visiting Toronto— or rehearsing for tomorrow’s show. Ryerson’s TV programs are not yet beamed off the campus (they may be soon), but this year the young producers, with the help of electronics students, started to pipe their programs on a closed circuit to a nearby theatre classroom for student inspection and criticism.

Across the way architectural technology students are just as busy, but less excited. Last year they took as their project plans for a residential hotel, with course director D. G. W. McRae and artist-instructor A. Ci. Forsey supervising designs, working drawings and models. Down in the basement, students in the allied Building Technology course—dubbed the "dungeon workers”—did layouts for a residential community, supervised by Dr. G. V. van Tausk, a short, gingery Belgian-Canadian.

For practical experience in the field, architectural technology students have visited Toronto construction sites and traveled to U. S. cities to study buildings designed by world-famous Frank Lloyd Wright. With this background they have returned to their drawing boards and hopefully designed a bright modern layout for the institute, complete with grass, trees and playing field.

Not far from the busy architects, bevies of teen-age girls work in the humming atmosphere of sewing machines as they put together dresses, evening gowns, skirts and hats from their own designs. This spring these fashion-course students combined their artistic abilities and feminine charms to stage a fashion show in the Ryerson auditorium, which was once a solemn chapel and assembly hall. T hey paraded on a stage in a hundred and fourteen outfits, some taking prizes awarded by clothing firms. One manufacturer walked away from the show with fifty-one variations of felt skirts. One year the girls modeled their gowns for a National Film Board documentary while TV students trained cameras on them for practice, passing the pictures out to a Famous Players mobile unit operated by electronics students.

Photographic arts students operate in an atmosphere of spotlights, news cameras and darkroom chemicals. Supervised by instructor Les Holmes, they use :wenty studio cameras, eight press cameras, two motion-picture units and a hundred pieces of lighting equipment in candling subjects ranging from expensive cut glassware they’ve borrowed from reluctant landladies to young children and wives borrowed from instructors.

For outside projects on picture-story assignments the young photographers last year shot assembly-line jobs at Toronto’s Nash Rambler plant and the manufacture of corsets and girdles at the Nemo Corset Co. plant. Each year they take all :he photos that go into the Ryerson calendar and student yearbook and most of those for the campus newspaper, saving the institute thousands of dollars.

From their second-story photography studios a visitor can walk downstairs into the strikingly different world of sawdust. resin, varnish and upholstery. There, in half a dozen workrooms under the direction of tall blond Max Werner, a Swedish designer, students are at work on dozens of projects: making furniture, from TV chairs to chesterfields; wood carving; refinishing period pieces: and upholstering chairs. New work must be from the students’ own design and backed up with theories and working drawings. Those in the allied Interior Design courses make plans, elevations, perspectives and presentations from their drawings. They’ve found practical outlets in designing the interior for the "dream house” and a student common room.

From the clean woodsy world of furniture, a narrow alleyway leads up to a big squat prefab at the north end of the campus, once an air-force mess hall. Here are the steaming kitchens and savory smells of the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant courses under Gladys Dobson, a former Saskatoon school teacher and later manager of De Havilland Aircraft’s catering department. From the central kitchen some five hundred meals a day arc sent to the student cafeteria, faculty dining room and two snack bars. Freshmen do the cooking, sophomores plan the menus and seniors supervise.

Just south of the food school, students in a companion course. Home Economics, work in the practice house, arranging baby formulas and learning household chores. There appliance companies have installed the latest in refrigerators, stoves, ironers, washing and sewing machines. One male student, Arnold Davis, stuck with the Childhood Management course for a while, but finally dropped out—even though his football prowess and nickname, Tiger, put him above the usual jibes.

Students in this course spend more lime off the campus than on, working several days a week in day nurseries and visiting such institutions as the Guelph Reformatory, the mental hospital at Orillia and a cerebral-palsy centre.

Retail merchandising students also put in as much time on outside jobs as classroom assignments. The youthful merchants take classes in the mornings and go off to work in stores in the afternoons. Both the paid jobs and the classroom work count toward their diplomas. On the campus, they take turns operating a student store that grosses forty thousand dollars a year.

To finance all this, the institute has a working budget of a million dollars a year, which includes salaries. For each student it amounts to a subsidy of a thousand dollars annually. The value of equipment works out to some five hundred dollars per student. Industries and business firms contribute twenty thousand dollars a year in scholarships, cash and gifts.

The student himself pays $134 a year for his course if he lives in Ontario (it was once $25); $169 if he’s from another province or is a visiting British subject; and $289 if lie’s non-British. Twenty-five dollars of his money goes into the student-council treasury, giving a total tidy sum of $50,000 for extracurricular activities. Spare-time and summer jobs arc easy to get. bursaries and loan funds are there for the asking and at least one permanent job awaits each graduate.

Such a happy state of affairs was only dreamed of back in 1934 when a few farsighted Ontario educators visualized the need for a career college to fill the gap between high school and university, and framed legislation for it. Depression, war and the aftermath delayed its founding until 1948 when an order-incouncil set up the Ryerson Institute of Technology. It was named after the fiery Methodist preacher. Dr. Egerton Ryerson, who directed the province's publiceducation system a century ago from the office that the institute’s principal, H. H. Kerr, now occupies. In those far-off days it was located in a spanking-new Normal School with boys’ and girls' model schools behind, all of which were set in a spacious green parkland.

Throughout the war the site was used by the RCAF as No. 6 Initial Training Centre when the prefabricated buildings were added. From 1945 to 1948 it served as a dominion-provincial rehabilitation centre for ex-servicemen. Sonic sixteen thousand veterans, taught by four hundred instructors in an epic educational sprint, became auto mechanics, jewelry repairmen, welders, piano tuners and skilled workers in other lines in courses that lasted from three to nine months.

From this the Ryerson Institute inherited a varied assortment of equipment, ranging from a Hoffman press to an unidentified skeleton and a twohundred-thousand-dollar printing plant.

The man chosen to head the fledgling institute was Howard Kerr, then fortyseven and regional director for the Canadian Vocational Training program. A tall lean Scots-Canadian who unfailingly eats porridge for breakfast, Kerr has angular features, a healthy crop of greying hair and a ready smile. He came to the job with fifteen years’ teaching experience in mathematics and engineering drawing after being graduated in engineering from the University of Toronto.

“Nobody thought it would last”

Students know Principal Kerr as the man who often startles them by remembering their names, who turns up regularly at football games in a blue-andwhite school tarn to cheer lustily for R.I.T., but who sternly imposed the collar-and-tie regulation.

Launched on newspaper ads two weeks before school opening in 1948, Ryerson attracted fewer than two hundred students that fall, all of them feeling like guinea pigs in an unproved experiment.

“We had a hard time getting teachers, too,” Kerr recalls. “Nobody thought it would last.” But they filtered in from odd corners of Canada, from Europe and various professions to total fifteen the first year. (There are a hundred and three today.) There was an average of twelve students for every instructor. In the printing courses eight instructors taught four students. “That was the principle of individual attention put into practice if ever I heard of it,” says chief printing instructor Cliff Hawes. “It made us feel pretty jittery.”

Classes were held wherever there was space for the bodies and the arrival of new equipment often drove the students out. When photographic equipment filled the second-floor rooms of the Photographic Arts department, instructors taught from a stairway landing and students sat, like roosting pigeons, on the steps.

While classes aren’t held on stairways any more, things never have settled down at Ryerson. Crews of carpenters, painters and maintenance men under George Hitchman, the flint-eyed building superintendent, continue to move walls, doors and partitions around like scene-changers on a Hollywood set. After eight years of this, instructors often get irritated, but they're left speechless because all the work crews are Esthonians who understand little or no English.

Ted Schrader, the bustling director of journalism, was talking to a class earlier this year when a maintenance man came in and started to saw a hole in the wall.

A second man entered, took the classioom door off and began to plane it. 'Then the two hung up a new blackboard without so much as a how d'you do,” Schrader says.

To make matters worse, a message from Sweden over the journalism department’s teletype a year ago made instructors feel it wouldn't be right to cuss the unheeding work crews. It revealed that most of the thirteen Esthonians had been educators, lawyers and cabinet ministers in Esthonia. One of them, John Holberg, former caretaker in the Printing Management building, was named presidentin-exile of the small republic, now absorbed in the Soviet Union.

The news made instructors feel like one student who had just got irritated at Holberg for mistaking an order and sawing open his locker. "Ye gods!” he exclaimed. “I almost bawled out the president of Esthonia!”

Because of this slum-child existence and the "trade school” tag, Ryerson has tried hard to keep its dignity. Last year many students felt the dignity campaign fad gone too far when an order came down that all males must wear a lightcolored shirt and tie with suitable dress. Protests sprang up. "Collar and tie” became a synonym in the campus paper for “regimentation.” One student placed a sign on the west entrance gate reading: “You are now leaving free Toronto.”

But the rule stuck and even spread to the teaching staff. Instructors were asked to dry-clean their greasy lab coats and not to remove suit coats in classrooms.

Came graduation day and the directors of courses underlined the new dignity by dusting off old rabbit hoods from their own university graduations, donning black academic gowns and mortarboards and parading solemnly to the ceremonies in the ex-drill hall. For an added effect they introduced a bronze lamp into the proceedings to symbolize the lamp of learning. Students burst into quiet guffaws as the lamp was borne in: it was the former sports trophy awarded annually to the winner of the homemade chariot race on Ryerson’s field day.

In spite of its ugly-duckling ways in the educational world, Ryerson has graduated some thirteen hundred students, many of whom find companies competing for their services. When thirdyear electronics students toured the Westinghouse plant in Hamilton recently the company tried to employ the whole class. “It wouldn’t be fair,” demurred Eric Palin, director of the electronics course. “I have to ration them.”

Dr. H. W. Jamieson, personnel director of the Defense Research Board, often hires Ryerson graduates. One of the board's scientists, E. J. Bobyn, commenting on twenty-five students doing guidedmissile research at Valcartier, Que., says, “They’re the best technicians we have. They have the best potentialties and most of them occupy senior positions.”

Graduates of Ryerson chemical courses are working at the Chalk River atomic plant, in public health labs and in the labs of steel, oil, chemical and rubber companies. Retail merchandising students have become managers, assistant managers and buyers for stores, ranging from A & P to Zeller’s.

The first graduates of the TV course emerged just in time to save the CBC from a painful shortage of skill and talent as it prepared to launch Canadian television in 1952. They have manned all nine cameras at Toronto’s CBLT. For the program side, Ryerson provided announcer Gil Christie, the institute’s first student president; Stan Harris, a producer of Cross Canada Hit Parade; Rena Elmer, producer of Howdy Doody; and TV actress Caryl McBain. Other institute grads have gone to private radio stations in Canada and Australia.

Ryerson journalism graduates hold down jobs in news offices as far apart as the Vancouver Sun and the Canadian Press bureau in London. England, on magazines, in advertising agencies and radio and TV newsrooms.

Most graduates feel like Peter Donoghue, an ex-architectural technology student, who says, “I'd still be working in a butcher shop if I hadn’t gone to Ryerson.” He's now designing buildings for the Toronto-Dominion Bank.

While many continue to look askance at the lusty young polytechnic with the maverick ways, it seemed by last year to have proved itself to its anxious parent, the Ontario government. Budget estimates appropriated half a million dollars for one brand-new building as the first installment of a five-million-dollar program to replace the worn prefabs. It was followed this spring by an announcement that Ontario would build up to twelve junior colleges and technological institutes around the province. The first will be a three-hundred-and-fifty-thousanddollar Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology between Fort William and Port Arthur.

Ryersonians had only one regret: they were to stay on the same downtown site with its noises, odors and run-down neighborhood. Yet, as surveyors arrived this summer, many were already looking back wistfully over eight years of erratic but interesting life in the old H-huts and the antique stone buildings where they fretted at working conditions but found never a dull moment. ^