The songs, the parties, the fallings in and out of love—even the fake cannon blast that knocked an old grad down— on the weekend when McGill came to Toronto, ostensibly to play football

PETER GZOWSKI December 17 1960


The songs, the parties, the fallings in and out of love—even the fake cannon blast that knocked an old grad down— on the weekend when McGill came to Toronto, ostensibly to play football

PETER GZOWSKI December 17 1960


The songs, the parties, the fallings in and out of love—even the fake cannon blast that knocked an old grad down— on the weekend when McGill came to Toronto, ostensibly to play football


THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND is an unpolished Grey Cup, except that it is more fun. The songs, the parties, the fallings in and fallings out of love, the pep rallies — even the game, which in theory is what all the shouting is about — linger in the memories of many alumni as the best and most golden of all their good and golden days as students. Occasionally, such as when Toronto played at McGill this autumn, the spirits explode into pandemonium—this year the Montreal police locked up twenty students for a few thought-collecting hours. But more often, such as when McGill played at Toronto, it is just a couple of days of very good times. That weekend was also the University of Toronto's annual homecoming. As an only slightly reconstructed Toronto alumnus and an unbowed veteran of several football weekends of a not-very-much-earlier day, 1 decided to come Home myself. I wanted to see what, if anything, is happening to this most hallowed of undergraduate institutions and how' much, if anything, of those good days could be recaptured. To do it properly, I went first to Montreal and boarded the train with the McGill invaders. My notes:


Funny how the cars get categorized almost immediately. This is a special train, six cars and a diner, just for McGill; this way the CPR can sell tickets at a rate the students can afford. $12 return. Before we're properly out of Montreal, everyone's found a car to his liking. At the back, of course, the team. Quiet, relaxed, many of them reading or sleeping. Everyone too big for the neck of his shirt. I wonder if. when the train has to jerk suddenly or hits a bump, all their collar buttons will go popping into the aisle. Poor McGill. Beaten by Toronto the last nine times they've met. Underdogs tomorrow. But Bruce Coulter. the McGill coach, who looks so young that he can probably sneak himself into the game if the going gets tough, is reasonably confident.

“We have to start winning sometime,” he says. “It might as well be tomorrow.”

The diner is used, as well as for eating in, as a buffer between the Redmen and the rest of the train. No need. Just ahead of it is the soccer team, who will play in the morning. An international-looking lot. One man looks like Robertson Davies. Isn’t.

Ahead of the soccer team is the quiet-students’ car. One girl reading a textbook. Very bad form. Two students playing chess with paper men on a paper board. Hope it’s a smooth ride. Ahead of that car. the band, already beginning to toot a bit. Ahead of that one, a very lively-looking car. Seems like an awful lot of girls. Or better, a pretty lot of girls. Anyway a lot. I discover that this is because it's fraternity rushing weekend at McGill and the fraternity men, old and new, are staying home. Pity. Wish I'd gone on a weekend thus handicapped. Recall the time on a train to McGill I made five different dates for Saturday night as a sort of challenge, then cancelled four of them at the game and never did see the fifth.

Next car—the farthest ahead—seems quite lively too, but sounds of music begin to come from the (speaking back to front) penultimate one. I round up Tom Davenport, the photographer, and venture back to join in.

The singing begins to one banjo. It is When the Saints Go Marching In. There's a fresh twist. We sang it. Our fathers probably sang it. Everyone sang it. Soon the banjo is joined by a ukulele and a pair of bongo drums, a muted trumpet and a guitar. They try Dixie. No one knows the words. You Are My Sunshine. Everyone does. The party is starting well. I'm surprised to note we're just passing Montreal West.

Moment of consternation. Heather has been seen on the station platform but the train didn’t stop. Someone points out that Heather can get the next section, in five minutes. "But it's not this train.” says someone else. “It's not this train at all"

The singers try Michael Row the Boat Ashore, which is the first number that wasn't played in my day, and In the Evening. by the Moonlight, and James McGill. and Old Toronto Mother Ever Dear, and a couple more spirituals. Considerable difficulty with the words.

I notice a little squirrel of a girl on the periphery. Grey skirt, no make-up. flat black shoes. She has a harmonica. She plays two choruses of You Are My Sunshine very quietly, so no one will notice. Student in a white cowboy hat. perched on the back of a seat, keeps leading everyone ofi key. The squirrel smiles. She goes back up the car. Too bad.


Girls, floats, gags, and a beatnik band made the game worth watching, between plays

I work out a checklist of types, to set against my own college generation. They’re almost all the same. A lot of Joe Colleges in full regalia—sweaters, funny hats. McGill scarves. A few girls prowling the aisles looking for dates. One is a sub-cheerleader. Gets her expense money, but barring an accident or injury on the first string doesn't get to cheer. I hat s show-biz.

One group, obviously all in the same women’s fraternity, talking in first names. ("It’s all over with Bill and me, but he's meeting the train.") One girl knitting and chewing gum. Is it safe? A few drinking from beer cans or paper cups; the big trick is to make everyone notice. Quite orderly. Spot only two people who couldn’t be of my generation: two girls in beatnik guise, w'hite makeup, black clothes. Very serious. Very unappealing. One reports she has just been leaning out from the platform feeling the wind. "Very Eugene O'Neill.” she says. I suppose.

Band comes through leading conga line. Very Scott Fitzgerald. 1 suggest to beatnik acquaintance. She supposes. Band leaves. Car grows quiet.

One of the foremost singers is napping on the luggage rack. The party's moved to mid-car. where a tall blonde in gold earrings is leading a quiet sing-song and wishing more people would notice her. She misses the high note of Waltzing Matilda. Now she's wishing fewer people would notice her. On one corner seat, a leading student politician is necking warmly with two girls simultaneously.

Nice trick. I point out that it is no wonder he has done well in politics. Girl on his lap interrupts a long kiss to agree. "He has a way with people,” she says.

So it goes. These 340-mile parties. 1 recall, never do pace themselves properly. By half-way most of the songs are sung, most dates made, most beer gone. There's still too much feeling of anticipation for many people to sleep. I argue with the editor of the McGill Daily about the general spirit. I am somehow disappointed that these students are so similar to m\ own generation — even to singing the same songs. Don't know why, but 1 somehow wish they were more disturbed about the Bomb or something. The editor is no help.

We arrive in Toronto at eleven. The McGill crowd breaks up. A few girls are met by Toronto boys with whom the\ have dates. I take a taxi home.


My breakfast Globe and Mail has a story on the Homecoming Show, held at Varsity Arena while I was riding the train, and a picture of a chorus line with very attractive legs. I resolve not to miss any more of my alma mater's events.

I have never known why the University of Toronto—Varsity, as its people rather conceitedly call it — describes its alumni weekend as Homecoming. With fifteen thousand students it's too big to be Home. Rather like saying you Come From the hospital where you are born. Well, home or not. this Saturday morning it is a very pleasant place to be. About three thousand assorted students anil alumni are there. I establish myself just behind the reviewing stand, where Claude Bissell. president of the university. Joe McCullcy. warden of Hart House, and three leading student politicians sit behind desks to judge the best of the twenty-two floats in the Homecoming Parade. Warden McCulley just has time to inform me that this year's parade will be on the theme. The University Student, Bum or Boon?, based on some remarks Dr. Bissell made in his opening speech, when the first squadron of floats hoves into view. All very entertaining. Most divide floats into half Bums, half Boons. Faculty of Music plays that old favorite When the Saints Go Marching In. So docs Architecture. My old school. University College. doesn't. Doesn't show much spirit either. Never did. Good; keeps up tradition. McGill band gets loud applause. Law float very funny. Stops at reviewing stand. Student imitates Diefenbaker. Says, "Mes amis Canadiens-français.” All laugh. Law moves on.

Next comes the Canadian Officers Training Corps, with four soldiers in nineteenth - century uniforms, attentioned around an antique cannon. Float stops. Up on to the reviewing stand comes a student-officer in twentieth-century uni form. Very smart. Very smartly salutes Dr. Bissell. Dr. Bissell. recently appointed chairman of the Canada Council, is momentarily embarrassed. Stands up.

"Permission to fire a cannon, sir?” asks officer.

"Cannon?” says Bissell.

"Yes, sir." says officer. "It will just make a bang.”

“All right.” says Bissell. "I suppose you know what you're doing."

Officer salutes very smartly. Repeats the permission to nineteenth-century officer on float.

Nineteenth-century soldier moves to the cannon's muzzle and gestures like a man doing the breast stroke, indicating the crowd lining the road should inch back. Crowd inches back. Someone snickers. Nineteenth - century soldier stuffs something into cannon’s muzzle. Other ninetœnth-century soldier rams it with a ramrod. All salute each other.

Bissell rises, inches back toward where I'm cowering, wondering if I may cover my ears without being noticed. "1 hate bings,” says Bissell. I cover my ears.

Nineteenth-century soldier holds lighted wick to back of cannon. Nothing. Crowd snickers. Holds wick to cannon again.


Smoke everywhere. Barricade around float blown to smithereens.

D. Bastcdo. class of 5T8. hit on nose with large L-shapcd piece of barricade, dropped where he stands, forty feet from gun-site.

Mr. Bastcdo is taken to Toronto General Hospital.

COTC moves off in cloud of smoke and embarrassment.

Dr. Bissell is furious. Crowd subdued.

Floats keep coming: Physical and Occupational Therapy. WyclilTe. follow-cd by. just two floats too late, a Red Cross station wagon and the Faculty of Medicine. Ontario College of Education. Engineering. Judges huddle, wins.


We alumni are supposed to retire to Hart House, w'herc lunch is to be served, or rather we will be allowed to serve ourselves. in the cafeteria. I purchase my ticket and seek out Mr. Joseph Evans, a former registrar of the university who took over as director of alumni affairs in 1958. Mr. Evans points out that Toronto is not a rah-rah university but says there is a growing interest on the part of its alumni, an interest he attributes to sputnik and the postwar boom in babies. There are. he informs me. nearly 100.-

000 living Toronto alumni. They arc represented by a federation of alumni of the various schools and colleges, from whose annual meeting Mr. Evans has just come. “Very satisfactory.” he comments. Most of the interested alumni, according to Mr. Evans, arc graduates of a couple of decades ago who have become established in the community and there has been a w'holc whirl of dinners and annual meetings and even a cornerstone laying put on for them by their various faculties. I make a quick check with the girl selling tickets and discover that of the iOO.OOO alive, 353 have so far show'ed up for lunch at Hart House. Very un-rah-rah.

1 decide, and slip out to have a glass of beer at the Park Plaza before the game.


The annual edict has been laid down about students bringing liquor into the stadium and those who wish to do so have had to be more than usually ingenious. Our own trick used to be to carry beer in in a suitcase, though why the Pinkertons at the gales ever thought we needed a suitcase to watch a football game I don’t know.

This time, unequipped, I lind a seat near the students, in the end-zone, and am soon engrossed in what promises to be a much better game than anyone has expected.

McGill’s Rcdincn are not going to admit they are underdogs. Led by their very capable quarterback. Tom Skypeck. a postgraduate import from Cornell, they march quickly to a field goal and an unconverted touchdown.

For the rest of the first half, in spite ol the urgings of a student who looks as lonely as I feel and who has taken up a position on my left, the Blues cannot retaliate. Their quarterback, Norm Turner,

a former Toronto high-school star in whom the Argonauts are said to have a more than usual interest, is demonstrating howfar he can throw a pass—more often than not. farther than his receivers can run. By half time. I am silently pulling for McGill to pull off the upset.

At half time, all the cheerleaders from this morning’s parade run around in complicated patterns. Very colorful. Toronto fans stand for a chorus of Old Toronto etc. Damned if I will, all by myself in the end zone. 1 go for a Coke.

More choruses in the second half as

the Blues come to life. Turner kicks a single in the third quarter and has his team moving by three-quarter time. Teams change ends.

Everyone’s attention is diverted, not by the cheerleaders but by a policewoman who is slowly walking up an aisle in the student section. Loud boos. Louder. She picks up an empty liquor bottle, looks omhously down the row and carries it down under the stands. Very gingerly. During the booing, while no one but his receiver was looking. Turner has thrown a touchdown pass. Convert missed. 9-7.

Just time for a quick chorus of Old Toronto, which I still won’t join, and the policewoman appears from below the stands again. Looks like a fox coming out of her lair. She’s joined by a second. Very crafty. Less chance of a riot with policewomen. The foxes spot their prey in the act. One reaches three scats along a row and leads a student out by the sleeve, relieving him of a nearly empty bottle.

Thunderous boos. Student raises his arms like conquered western villain. Loud cheers.

The trio, marching single file, disappears underground. Onee more the policewomen. Another student, this one with an almost full bottle, feels the dainty arm of the law. Loud boos. Poor him. Probably saved all week for that bottle. The foxes make two more sorties. Have to admire their courage. About eight thousand people booing. Also have to admire their growing collection of bottles.

Meanwhile, the game has reached its climax. Turner has led the Blues inside the McGill 20. First down, l ime running out. Runs wide to the right. Student on my left urges field goal. So do most of the students who haven't been arrested.

Turner ignores them. Runs straight ahead. Too wide for a field-goal attempt on third down. Passes instead. Incomplete. The upset is complete.

Yeah MeCiill.


Playing their new-found role of victors very close to the chest, the MeCiill students ignore the goalposts—modern engineering has designed unpulldownable goalposts anyway—and head for the tea dance in Varsity Arena. So do I. Kaleidoscope of cheerleaders and bandsmen and faculty jackets. The real purpose of this lea dance, of course, is to act as a marketplace for last-minute dates, although

many students who already have dates for this evening must have come today; there are surely a couple of thousand whirling to the big professional band on stage. Probably just testing their skill.

McGill cheerleaders take advantage of a break between sets for a victory yell. Varsity answers. Then an engineer — there's always an engineer—leads a yell for the School of Practical Science. Louder than either McGill or all Toronto. That proves something.

Spot politician who has a way with people dancing with one of the girls he was necking with on the train. I decide to try my skill—dancing, that is. Select a pretty blonde in blue and white, with bare legs and high white boots with tassels on them. Varsity baton-twirler. Learned her trade at blast York Collegiate. I say isn't that the school that turns out all the football stars? “Yes." she says. “Twirlers too." I ask if there are special scholarships for twirlers. There aren’t. I ask her what her plans are for the evening. She's going to the Blue and White dance at Hart House. I realize I never went to a Blue and White dance (they're held every home football weekend) and ask if they're fun.

Apparently they are. "It’s all decorated and everything and they have five bands

and everything and you can go from one room to another to dance and everything." Tea-dance band begins playing something very fast. Since there’s no other room we can go to for a change of rhythm, 1 excuse myself and everything and go home for dinner.


In my day, the climax of the football weekend was the Saturday evening party on St. George Street. I mean party, singular. because everyone moved from fraternity house to fraternity house, using only the flimsiest of acquaintanceships to get in. or. failing any acquaintanceships at all. simply waiting until a large crowd who did have some went in to a strange house and following. Things have changed. At my own old frat house. I am questioned by a serious bunch of brothers in the foyer. One has a key. I fumble through the fraternity’s secret handshake and am allowed in.

Inside, this year's members tell me this condition is true up and down the street —last football weekend they themselves had to hire two policemen to keep their party private.

Inhospitality has come to St. George Street.

I spot, to my surprise, three brothers

from my own year. Do better than usual in situations like this; remember two names of three and vamp the third till it comes up in conversation.

They've brought their wives. Should 1 have brought mine? Decide no, as party progresses. Notice band wears glimmering white jackets and plays rock 'n' roll.

Spot a couple of girls from the train, the two who were necking with the politician. Don't discover politician. Girl who was with him at tea dance says he has another date. Say. “Aren't you upset?" She says no. he has a girl-friend who's in Europe anyway. Decide he does have a way with people.

Girls have met two of my brothers— they all keep introducing me as Elder Brother Gzowski; isn't that silly? — at the tea dance. I dance once with each girl from McGill, once with a contemporary's wife.

Decide I should have brought my wife.

Band quits al 1.30. without playing Goodnight Ladies. Good for them.

Few people sit around with shoes oil drinking beer. Very quiet now. One brother quietly plays banjo. I hear him working on The Saints as I go home.

Niee warm autumn rain. Campus looks very lovely under it. Decide I’ll come Home again in another five years or so. if