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Q3, 2019

Welcome to the Fall 2019 Academy Quarterly Review. We hope that you will enjoy reading this issue which once again puts the spotlight on some of our remarkable members. As always, it is lavishly illustrated with photos by some of the talented photographers in our midst.

You will find a welcome message from our current President, Doug Wilson, followed by a profile of former President Brian O’Leary. Then, by kind permission of The Havergal Chronicle, learn something of the fascinating life of long-time member, Nancy Russell. Finally, Richard Weisman generously shares a thought-provoking memoir of his university days in New York City and brand-new Academy member, Terry Murray, introduces us to some of the fascinating gargoyles that adorn Toronto buildings. Terry is a gargoyle hunter who collected her local finds in the book Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto (Anansi, 2006).


Events Calendar

October 16                  Forum – How to Enjoy and Succeed at Online Dating for Seniors
October 30                 Forum – Toronto’s Ravines on the Edge
November 13               Forum – Academy Debate – Resolved: That The World Would be a Better Place With More Women Leaders
November 29              Fall Term Ends
December 11               Holiday Luncheon      

2019 /2020 Academy President Doug Wilson addresses the AGM
2019 /2020 Academy President Doug Wilson addresses the AGM

As this year’s President of the Academy for Lifelong Learning, I am honoured to warmly welcome all of you, whether you are new Academy members or returning veterans.

During the month of September you have experienced your first workshops, met your facilitators and colleagues, and are now on an exciting path where you will discover new friends and ideas.

Through the information and lively discussions generated by the presentations of your peers in your workshops I believe you will find the sharing of knowledge and opinions with other Academy members to be stimulating and rewarding.

As the year goes on you will be welcomed to join in a wide variety of activities that the Academy provides:  the Wednesday Forums, the walks around places of interest in the GTA, special gatherings such as the Holiday Luncheon in December, and the annual Spring Talks that take place in April and May.

I would like to thank all the volunteers who generously serve on our committees and the board, facilitate workshops, support us with technology, and plan our many social activities.

I joined the Academy in 2007 and becoming a member was one of the best decisions that I have made in my retirement. I have learned a lot and I have made many new friends since joining and that has enriched my life substantially. I hope you enjoy all the Academy activities you participate in throughout our 2019-2020 year.

W. Douglas Wilson

It started with a birthday gift. His son gave him the new book about Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – whose previous biographies of Steve Jobs and Einstein had become bestsellers and the basis for films.

As he turned each page, Brian O’Leary became increasingly fascinated by the genius and achievements of the man often called the world’s greatest painter; the inventor of the helicopter, parachute, adding machine, and much, much more. He decided to develop an Academy workshop on the two quintessential Renaissance men: Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. O’Leary kicked off the workshop he calls “Leo and Mike” at Knox College on September 19.

Brian O’Leary has been developing and leading workshops for the Academy for Lifelong Learning for 11 years. He has covered an immense range of topics, from the Spanish Civil War to Shakespeare, Roman History, Byzantium and the influence of television. This reflects O’Leary’s insatiable curiosity about the world. “I love reading and learning and am willing to tackle any subject, except the sciences.”

At the Academy, O’Leary has found a milieu that nurtures his love of learning. “The Academy for Lifelong Learning has become a central part of my life,” he says. “I have made lifelong friends and through them made so many connections. For example, it was my Academy friends who invited me to join a book club and a film group – both of which I find very rewarding.”

Brian O’Leary had a 27-year career at the CBC, starting as a stagehand, and ending up as a director, producer and manager. Along the way, he contributed to many iconic CBC shows, including “Razzle Dazzle,” “This Hour Has Seven Days” and the Wayne and Shuster comedy specials.

Over the years O’Leary has made many contributions to the Academy, serving on the Board and a term as President. He employed his television skills to write and direct a video celebrating the Academy’s 25th Anniversary. “During my time on the Academy Board with Brian, he always knew when to step in to be a calming influence, by imparting a timely bit of wisdom with a wry sense of humour,” recalls Brian Gaston, a past president of the Academy.

Brian O’Leary encourages Academy members to propose new workshops to the Curriculum Committee, which issues a call for proposals at the end of every Fall term. “The greater the variety of workshops offered by the Academy, the better.”

Developing a proposal for a workshop provides an opportunity to research a subject in depth, Brian has found. What is his secret to being a successful facilitator? “I try to keep the conversation going, and give everyone a chance to make a contribution to each workshop.”

Ian Darragh

photo courtesy of Havergal College 2019
photo courtesy of Havergal College 2019

Although her years behind the ivy are long in the past, Nancy Russell is still learning.

And while her love of learning wasn’t always apparent – she remembers being called a “guttersnipe” for causing mischief in Latin class – a commitment to current events, education and exploring the world runs deep through her life.

Now 88 years old, Nancy is an active member of the Academy for Lifelong Learning, a volunteer run organization that holds study groups across 30 subjects. Groups meet regularly at the University of Toronto and instead of inviting lecturers, they present research and run discussions themselves. Nancy does all of the work on her iPad.

She is currently part of one group studying China and another on the Arctic – an area of particular interest as her two daughters live in the North. Nancy also started in a science group but laughs that she failed out before Christmas. She loves the social element, the diverse mix of learners and the feeling of being at home in a like-minded group of intellectually curious people. “It keeps me alive,” she says.

Although she discovered the Academy a dozen years ago, Nancy’s interest in exploring the world started early. After graduating from Havergal, she spent a year in Switzerland. When she returned to Toronto, her peers had already been at university for a year. “They would tell me: you’re nothing if you haven’t taken philosophy and you’re nothing if you haven’t got a boyfriend,” Nancy recalls. “I hadn’t taken philosophy and I didn’t have a boyfriend. But I liked to counter them with: you’re nothing if you haven’t been abroad.”

Travel and exploration continued to enrich Nancy’s life. After university, she worked at the Canadian embassy in Greece and then at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, editing a journal and helping to run study groups.

Then, she spent a decade at the Canadian Executive Service Organization, an international economic development engine that deploys volunteers to developing countries. Nancy participated too, travelling to Thailand with her late husband to teach English at the Asian Institute of Technology.

In recent years, Nancy’s travels have taken her cruising from Vancouver to Tokyo, with a journey through the icy lagoons of the Northeast Passage up to Alaska. Last summer, she and her daughter took a road trip to the Inuvik hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk. Fittingly, Nancy’s granddaughter Jennifer coordinates the exchange program at Havergal. And her husband’s nephew, Darryl Reiter, teaches computers and geography in the Junior School and created the nature trail on the school grounds.

Outside of the Academy, Nancy is in a book group at her retirement residence, and when we talked, she had recently had a letter to the editor published in The Globe and Mail. Asked for the secret to a long and fulfilling life, Nancy credits her interest in politics, art, music and travel – and looking outward to see where one can contribute.
“Stay with what’s happening in the world,” she says.

“My age group can support a lot of things. Get interested in what you’re supporting, whatever that is. There’s much that this age offers – adventure, a chance to help and a chance to care.”

contributed by Allison MacLachlan, Havergal Class of 2005 to the Chronicle; reprinted with the kind permission of Havergal College (2019)

Richard in his university days
Richard in his university days

Mickey was never one to hide his feelings. So I discovered the first time we met. It was the fall of 1959.  He was a fourth-year student in a five-year engineering program at Columbia College. I was a very green freshman of 17.  I’ll never know whether it was random matching or administrative perversity that brought us together. But for the better part of a year we were roommates sharing a single room with one bunk bed, two desks and one window. It would have been a mismatch even without the WASP- Jewish divide. But Mickey let me know he had a problem with me from day one.

It wasn’t subtle. ”Hello J” - he said as he introduced himself- “I’ve got the top bunk and the desk near the window. I like it quiet – I’ve got a lot of work and not enough time.”  I didn’t argue.  In those first few months, I don’t recall Mickey ever calling me by my actual first name- or last name, for that matter.  “Hello J” became the default greeting every time I entered the room.  I was made to understand that it was humiliating for Mickey just to have me around.

It didn’t bother me as much as it should. Perhaps it was because my life was too crowded with new experiences. It took me only a few weeks in chemistry class to realize that my mother was never going to be able to say - my son the doctor. The city beckoned. A dozen subway stops downtown and you were at the Village with its dark-lit coffee shops and poetry readings. Go eastward and slightly uptown and you’re at Washington Square where you could hear speakers on rostrums rail against the exploitation of workers. Take the BMT instead of the IRT and you were in Harlem and in walking distance to the legendary Apollo Theater. Between time spent in the library and forays into the city, I was almost never in my room.

And then there was the campus. Mid-20th century Columbia College was split into two parallel social worlds. If you were a bright young man from the deep south, you could seek shelter in the gentile enclaves of Sigma Chi and assorted secret societies and never have to socialize outside your white Christian tribe. This was Mickey’s path and it had worked - until now. But you couldn’t reasonably feel disempowered as a Jewish male in the class of ’63. The richness and sophistication of New York City as a Jewish milieu were everywhere on display at Columbia from the exuberant outspokenness of my classmates to the ubiquity of Jewish professors at the top of their game. Maybe it was because of this cultural dominance that Mickey’s taunts didn’t cut deeper.

But there were other reasons as well.  One night Mickey returned late after I was already asleep in the bunk below. He climbed into the upper bunk and then tossed around so restlessly that the entire bed started shaking. Before I could second guess myself, out came “What are you doing up there? Burying your bone?” And then suddenly he was still and there was a long moment of silence.  Followed by – laughter - one of the longest full bodied laughs I’ve ever heard. That was the moment when I stopped thinking of Mickey as just a bigot.

That wasn’t the only shift. Mixed in with the name-calling was a kind of offhand solicitude. Mickey took it upon himself to teach me the ropes. Teaching me how to smoke a cigarette – how to hold it - how to flick the ashes - how to blow smoke circles - how not to be put off  by your coughing at the first puff - how to relax and inhale and let the smoke fill your lungs and enjoy it. Smoking in the late 50’s was a sign of coming of age. It was a lesson that I learned all too well and it would take another 22 years to unlearn it.

Getting laid – in the parlance of the times - was another necessary ritual on the road to manhood. Mickey quickly concluded - accurately I might add - that I was callow enough to require some remedial assistance. He set me up with an ex-girlfriend who became my one and only date that first year.  But even a sympathetic and willing older woman of 21 couldn’t break through the awkwardness of a pimply 17 year old.

Then a few months before the end of term, Mickey moved out. Just before he left, he gave me advice to be less friendly and trusting.  Was this an oblique way of warning me to watch out for people like him?

I didn’t shed many tears after Mickey left. But I didn’t celebrate either. It took me a while not to feel abandoned. But not too long - as I came to relish the benefits of unencumbered space.

Two years later – by now a veteran undergraduate myself - I was walking along Amsterdam Avenue and our paths crossed. Mickey was with a young, dark-haired woman and he stopped and said he’d like to introduce me to his fiancée. He added that she was Jewish.  And then his face stiffened - he first looked down and then slowly lifted his head so that he was looking directly at me and said - “I want you to know I’m sorry for all the things I said to you.”  I had no problem being gracious. Whatever anger I may have experienced had subsided long before.  That administrative gaffe that brought us together I realized had more to do with Mickey’s journey than my own.

Richard Weisman

Toronto is not a city that wears its heart on its sleeve – but it does wear its face on its architecture.

More than 60 centrally located buildings sport humanoid architectural sculpture, some of which are portraits of historical figures — explorers, founders, civic and religious leaders — turning the city’s streets into an alfresco (and free) history-cum-art museum.

A productive place to start is Queen’s Park, home of the Ontario legislature. It is covered with a veritable sculptural riot of gargoyles and grotesques, but there are also portraits of eight men considered at the time of the building’s construction (toward the end of the 19th century) to be provincial heroes. They are General John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada; General Isaac Brock, a hero of the War of 1812 (notwithstanding his death in the Battle of Queenston Heights); John Sandfield Macdonald, the first premier; John Beverly Robinson, attorney general and later chief justice of Upper Canada; Robert Baldwin, a leader of the movement for responsible government; Matthew Crooks Cameron, the first leader of the Ontario Conservative party; Timothy Blair Pardee, Crown Lands commissioner and minister responsible for Ontario's first forest protection legislation in the government of Oliver Mowat, the province's third premier; and William Hume Blake, solicitor-general for Canada West and chancellor of Upper Canada in the early and mid-19th century.

They are tucked away fairly high up, under third-storey windows on the side walls of the central block. Not only are they not visible from the entrance, they have, at times, been almost completely obscured by ivy. That didn't bother architectural historian Eric Arthur, who thought that finding them was half the fun. “For the lover of Ontario history, it might not be everyone's list of heroes today,” he wrote in his history of the provincial parliament buildings, “but the sculpture is admirably done, and has the merit of being obscure in its resting place and having to be discovered.”

(Hiding around the corner on the West Block is Laura Secord, demurely joining the old boys’ club.)

Across the street, Simcoe and Brock appear again, this time in the company of Samuel de Champlain and General James Wolfe, in high relief, on the Sigmund Samuel Canadiana Building. It’s now a University of Toronto property, but started life in 1948 as the provincial Archives Building.

These carvings have several advantages over the Queen’s Park portraits—they’re much closer to the ground, and they’re full head-to-toe sculptures, with lots of telling period detail and representations of the men’s characters, which sculptor Jacobine Jones researched thoroughly.

Champlain is depicted with a compass and the plan of the first habitation; Wolfe with a closed telescope, perhaps after surveying the Plains of Abraham and planning the battle that would defeat Montcalm; Simcoe with his walking stick and hat in hand; and Brock with his sword.

Not all the sculptures on Toronto’s buildings are so respectful. City councillors of 1899 were caricatured on what is known as Old City Hall by architect E.J. Lennox. Lennox had locked horns with city council over many issues during the 10-year construction of the building, but then he suffered two final, apparently intolerable indignities. The city fathers would not let him put a plaque on the building identifying him as the architect, and then they refused to pay his full bill.

Lennox’s revenge? Check out the columns at the main entrance of the building—they’re capped at eye-level with sculptures that are said to be caricatures of the despised city councillors. “Caricature” is putting it kindly. They look goofy, demented, grotesque, bizarre … except for one, believed to be Lennox himself.

At least seven other architects also memorialized themselves on their buildings.

The identities of other faces on Toronto buildings have been lost or always been unknown, but even when they go unnoticed, they are still guardians of our city, its buildings and occupants. Knox College has several such characters. The next time you come to the building just look up… way up.

Terry Murray

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