I have graduated from U of T a few years ago and some oversea visitors would like me to take them to see the campus. I recall there are many interesting stories about ie. Victoria college and also interesting stories about architecture designs, and wonder if there is some material you can share with me so I do not have to reinvent the wheel doing the research to provide an insightful tour that lives up to our school’s reputation?
I will be taking them around on March 9th and if you could please share something with me before then that would be highly appreciated.
man this is such a fun one i don’t know where to start. i also don’t know if my system of organization is the best one out there, but it’s…there. i take feedback. shoot me your complaints.
as you’ll see, i didn’t end up with a lot about architectural details, but i hope the stuff i dug up is of some interest to you. brace yourself for a long and occasionally haunted post.
university college (uc)
ah, uc. home to the fireball, the junior common room, and really old, creaky, poorly-lit hallways. it’s u of t’s poster child, a national historic site, and is mostly made of yellow brick grimy enough to look like stone. the east staircase of uc’s main building is guarded by a carved griffin; a long time ago, students used to rub it for luck before taking an exam, but the tradition has since died out. which like, i’m not complaining about. would hate to have to trek there, then all the way to the godforsaken exam centre.
in 1868, a bunch of undergrads baited a cow all the way up the stairs, til it made it to the top of the dining hall’s bell tower. this cow belonged to the uc steward. what’s a steward? why did he have a cow? i dunno, but they had the brilliant idea to tie the cow’s tail to the rope that rang the bell. as anyone with good sense knows, it’s not a good idea to have a cow climb down stairs. once she was discovered, they ended up putting her on a board and sliding her all the way back down in order to rescue her. it’s true. i was there. i was the board.
looking for a saucy ghost story to impart? uc is the setting of what’s arguably the university’s most popular ghost story, starring diabolos and reznikoff. since you graduated from the school, you’re likely to know that each of them now has a namesake cafe on campus, diabolos in uc and reznikoff on st. george.
anyway, sometime in the 1850s, diabolos and reznikoff were uc stonemasons madly in love with the same woman. reznikoff went after diabolos with an axe, presumably to assert his dominancce, but surprise surprise, diabolos got the upper hand and murdered his rival with a much smaller knife. the lesson here is to fight smart and not strong, friends. according to the legend, he went on to stash reznikoff’s body somewhere in the building; during a fire some years later, skeletal remains were found. if you look carefully, you’re purportedly able to find the axe marks still embedded in the door where the murder occurred. apparently, reznikoff’s ghost haunts the property to this day.
uc also happens to be a movie star! it’s visible in a scene from the vow, and i bet a bunch of other lesser-known films.
episkopon! trin’s cult is the first thing i heard about the college, even before i showed up on campus. they’re infamous for their exclusivity, deep-rooted traditions (the group dates back to 1858), and hazing rituals. especially the hazing rituals. episkopon is no longer officially connected to trin, but is still very much alive and conducting meetings. this year, i heard their initiation involved getting students drunk, blindfolding them, and having them jaywalk across bloor. could be pure rumor, though, keep in mind.
trin is also known for its oxbridge-inherited traditions, one of which are their high table dinners. once a week, students will don harry potter-esque robes to dine in strachan hall, the college’s dining hall. at one point in history, students who showed up but couldn’t afford the robe would be forcibly removed from the hall in a “pooring-out.” the tradition has since involved to “pouring-outs,” in which a student is removed for “doing something infamous.”
at the end of strachan is a massive tapestry, dating back to about the 17th century. mostly made of silk, it hails from the netherlands and shows the scene from the bible in which king solomon meets the queen of sheba.
i mean, i don’t have any interesting stories about innis. but i gotta plug it for having the best cafe on campus. as far as i know, it’s family-owned and the staff are real sweethearts, honestly. if you want to try campus food (but why), innis cafe is where it’s at. plug plug plug.
most friday evenings, you can catch free films screening in the innis town hall as well.
wow, another hollywood star! vic was cast as queen’s college in cbc’s anne, the tv remake of lucy maud montgomery’s classic novel anne of green gables. we get it, u of t, you’re photogenic.
there’s also a story that there were once two vic professors who taught in the same second-floor classroom; one was irrationally attached to his heavy oak lectern and the other preferred space to move as he taught. weeks passed, and the lectern was moved in and out of the room until the latter prof decided the solution was to toss it out the window. i wonder what sound it made when it hit the ground. maybe i should reenact it and find out.
i’ve never confirmed this for myself, but inside burwash dining hall, queen victoria’s burial flag is supposed to be up on display– after her death, it was gifted to the college. pop your head in and give it a look, if you like.
vic’s known to have a bunch of pretty awesome alumni, including lester b. pearson, prime minister of canada and winner of the nobel peace prize for his work resolving the suez crisis. lester b! the first canadian to win the prize, apparently. margaret atwood also belongs to the ranks of vic alumni. cue handmaids.
there’s a pervasive urban legend that northrop frye hall has a mcdonald’s somewhere in it. you can comb the building if you want and see what you find, but… like… you won’t find a fry in frye, unless you’ve brought it there yourself. sorry ’bout it.
con hall seats a freaking lot of people. wikipedia says it’s 1,730, which honestly sounds about right. it was never meant to be a classroom, but today many first-year general lectures with hundreds of students are taught under its very large dome. if those students make it to the end of their degree, con hall is also where they’ll walk across the stage and receive their diploma. so much money and so many tears just for a fancy piece of paper? sign me up!
a scene from mean girls was actually filmed here– themathletes competition, near the end of the film, shows both the exterior and interior of con hall. if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen this gif:
yup, that’s in con hall.
a bunch of people take wedding photos on campus, but you can actually get married at hart house. it’s also got an art museum, a reading room, and a theatre that donald sutherland used to perform at. apparently you can also get haircuts there? wow, what a well-rounded student center.
the only reason hart house has a gym today is because of stubborn students. u of t laid the original foundation for the gym behind uc, where a vast playing field was located; students loved the field so much they offered to pay for the removal of the foundation if u of t would just move the freaking gym. they were even willing to carry out most of the work to remove it. am i impressed by that dedication? hell yea.
anyway, the university seemed content to relocate the gym to hart house, and the back campus playing field is still very much in operation today. i mean, i saw girls doing field hockey practice in what i’m pretty sure was negative degree weather. student athletes. they’re stronger than me.
it turns out, though, women were once barred from hart house; in fact, when kennedy spoke there in 1957, he did so for a male-only audience, and was later recorded as saying, “it’s a pleasure to be in a country where women cannot mix in everywhere.” apparently, a huge factor in keeping hart house male-only was so the men could continue swimming nude in the pool, a beloved tradition of theirs. when women found out, they offered to join in, but unfortunately (and unsurprisingly) were not permitted. it wasn’t until 1972 that women would be allowed to use the hart house facilities.
all the students have been mad about the way u of t’s been conducting closures this winter. a l l. but according to the university, at least robarts will always be open 24 hours! i’ll catch you the night before the next snowstorm, sleeping over somewhere in the reading room.
despite the amount of contention among students at the school, robarts is in fact shaped like a peacock, not a turkey (or a goose, or babar the elephant). this is most obvious if you look at the building from the st. george/hoskin intersection.
what most people don’t know (or at least i didn’t) is that the tower forming the peacock’s head doesn’t serve any function. it’s puuuuure aesthetic– which means it was on the chopping block when the university tried to cut building costs. the only reason robarts has a head today is because the chairman of the committee in charge was informed it would cost ten grand. ten grand! what a bargain! wish i could relate. but that’s why our main library isn’t a headless bird.
there’s an episode of friends with robarts in it, too! season 10, episode 13 at 5 minutes 25 seconds in. thanks, reddit.
fisher rare books library, which is housed in the same building as robarts, contains the only copy of shakespeare’s first folio in canada. or marlowe’s, if you prefer. it’s one of only 228 surviving copies in the world, and dates back to 1623– or in other words, the heyday of black teeth, emptying chamber pots into the streets, and people who wore neck ruffs so large a gust of wind could knock them over. fun times, fun times. why do i feel like i’m… not missing out?
36 of his most famous plays are included in the book, which is valued at about $6mil. unfortunately, it’s so valuable the public can’t walk in and see it– special arrangements have to be made. but if you’d like, the library has plenty of other super rare books on display that you can walk in and see!
don’t think i’ve ever personally been inside this building. but should you wish to showcase it on your tour, it was a filming location for good will hunting as a stand-in for MIT and harvard. the movie later went on to win an oscar. which basically means… we won an oscar, guys.
at one point, u of t was a nuclear power– that is, before the accelerator was decommissioned. the shell still sits somewhere in mclennan, but is obviously no longer hurling particles around at stupid speeds. mmm, unfortunate.
the ice rink didn’t seem that impressive to me when i was in there as a froshie, but apparently it’s got killer acoustics. many many years ago– think the 30s and 40s– a bunch of symphony concerts were held inside the arena.
not into symphonies? john lennon performed here once, with his plastic ono band in 1969. it was right before the beatles split up, but by the time he played the varsity concert he already knew it was going to happen.
gerstein is apparently the university’s oldest building built specifically to be a library. it was remodelled about 100 years ago to add a two-level safe for rare books and valuables, that extends down into the basement. i don’t know how interesting that’s gonna be to you, since you can’t access it from anywhere other than the chief librarian’s office. but anyway, this giant walk-in safe now holds office supplies, because errything important got snatched up by the rare book library.
there’s this old story floating around about this place that’s a little bloody. yay, murder!! this is how it goes:
there was a man named robert christie, whose father– the christie of mr. christie’s cookies– passed away. naturally, rob christie and his wife then moved into the vacant house. that’s it. that’s the story. horrifying, huh?
just kidding. see, christie had a sidepiece hidden away in one of the manor’s many rooms, literally locked away so no one would find out he was having an affair. eventually, he got bored with her, and the poor girl ended up hanging herself from her bedframe. a ghost haunts that same room to this day, occasionally swinging the door shut to lock people in. no one’s sure if it’s the mistress, or if it’s christie himself, attempting to trap more women from beyond the grave. exercise caution, etc. etc. or don’t, it’s up to you.
i had to do a little digging to figure out where this urban legend actually happened, because there’s no quick google maps result for “christie manor.” turns out the place has been renamed to regis, and i’ve been walking past it since my first day on campus. huh.
i feel a little weird sharing this because it’s a place i like best when there’s no one there / it’s quiet. but if you promise to be nice about it, i’ll give it to you as well. the nexus lounge on the 12th floor of oise has the best publicly accessible skyline views on campus. it’s only open on weekdays, according to a security guard i spoke to in the building once– so you might not be able to throw it in on your tour. i guess this one’s for future references, then.
if you show up on a weekend, like i did the first time i sought it out, you can still kinda see a view but the glass doors will be locked. don’t be like my friend and try to reach through the gap to unbolt them. your fingers will not fit, and it’s also a sketchy sketchy thing to try. just…come back on a weekday. please.
– most of the architecture on campus is modelled after oxford and cambridge.
– we’ve got north america’s third best university library system, beat only by harvard and yale.
– u of t’s student newspaper, the varsity, is one of canada’s oldest. you can pick up a copy at most campus buildings. it also puts out a feature magazine twice a year. some pretty successful people have come out of it, including william lyon mackenzie king, of prime minister fame.
– utsg is infamous for not closing, especially for bad weather. i’ve heard a joke that it’s only closed three times, and two of those were for world war i and world war ii. but as it turns out, u of t didn’t even want to close for the first world war. it only ended up shutting down because ~total war~ meant war industries ate up all the fuel, so u of t ran short of coal and didn’t have much of a choice. classic.
– penicillin was invented at u of t! the discovery is credited to frederick banting, a u of t grad. we’re doing important work here, yall.
– each year beginning in 1955, the university used to hold an annual winter carnival and, during the festivities, would select a snow queen. the criteria for the crown? her enthusiasm, appearance, ability to snowshoe, cook pancakes over an open flame, and wood-sawing skills. what a gal. i don’t even think elsa would qualify.
anyway, this concludes your askastudent tour of st. george. man. you’ve made me want to be a tour guide, and not gonna lie i feel a little bit qualified now that i’ve made it through this post. wishing you good weather for your tour! lowkey not just for you, for me. winter’s making me mad. when will the snow be gone?
anyway, ending this post with a meme. original content, brought to you by yours truly. except i don’t own any of the photos. tag yourself, i’m robarts.