“It was a simpler time. Mississauga as you know it is not how it was then.

“Most of Mississauga in those days was apple orchards. The North Building was the original campus. When I got there, the South Building was less than two years old. None of the ancillary things that you now take for granted—all of the additional housing, all of the additional buildings—none of those existed then. There was no Square One—the largest mall we had in the area was Sheridan Mall. And Papa Luigi’s pizza was the only pizza we had in a 20-kilometre radius. For us to get downtown there was either the intercampus bus or Mississauga Transit, which only started running, in ’75, a shuttle service up to Sheridan Mall, and then… Ha, we called it the scenic route. For us to get to Islington so we could take the subway downtown was a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride that just wound its way through all kind of areas. There was no bridge across there on Burnhamthorpe. To cross that river, you had to get down onto Dundas. That was the only bridge across. There used to be a small A&P, not even a supermarket, just a small A&P grocery on the other side of the bridge. We would walk down; it was a 20-minute walk for us to go and buy milk. It was nothing on campus. You have no idea.

“But it built a sense of community. For people who lived on campus, we were family. Everybody knew everybody else. The only residence was that little group of townhouses there at the north entrance. That’s where people lived on campus, was in those houses. I was lucky: I was put in McGill House, which no longer exists. It was on Mississauga Road, just there at the south entrance, and there was another couple of residences in between there and the north houses, which were farmhouses that the university had bought over. One was called Hasty House, which we used to nickname ‘Tasty House’, because it was only girls that lived there. That was across the street from Colman Place. Even Colman Place used to be a residence, but that was converted too.

“All three houses had outdoor pools! If the building has not changed any, when you’re inside Colman Place and you’re looking out towards the path that runs between North and South Building, it used to be right outside that thing. Hasty House had its own pool, McGill House had its own pool. But they’re long gone. Long gone.

“We were like a little community, a little village, you know, just 300 or 400 people on residence, and everybody knew each other. Because we were in essence just this little island community in the middle of nowhere. It was a simpler time.”

That’s how Robert Sabga, Medium II’s first editorial cartoonist and a DJ at Radio Erindale, described “the good old days” at what was then known as Erindale College.

“Nostalgia” would be an uneasy classification. Nostalgia elides inconveniences. But the difficulties of the time were indeed alive to Sabga, as they were to Mark Brown (Medium II operations manager), Ralph Szalay (DJ at Radio Erindale and finance commissioner of SAGE, the Student Administrative Government of Erindale), and Bruce Dowbiggin (Medium II’s third editor-in-chief), all of whom were on the campus of 3,000 students in 1974, the first year Medium II was published.

Among these inconveniences were the bus service—the crawling Route 1 ran from the west end to Islington, and later was altered to bypass Erindale College to cut 10 minutes from its route; the lack of food—the pub didn’t serve proper meals, and after the North and South cafeterias closed, you were stuck with vending machines and lumpy coffee; and even the architecture—the South Building (now Davis) had just been built, and was immediately recognized as “a mass of concrete, nothing very subtle or very light—it was just heavy, Stalinist”, in Dowbiggin’s words.

Yet there was a life in the campus that isn’t always apparent today. When South was finished, Sabga recalls, the members of SAGE took one of the mixing pans in which they moulded the cement panels that clad the outside of the building and turned it into a raft, the SS Erindale. They launched into the pond outside the doors and made it about 15 or 20 feet in before they sank. “On its maiden voyage it went down with all hands,” he says. “So that’s still down there.”

South (now Davis) at the time.
South (now Davis) at the time.

The North Building was then, as it is today, a haven for English students. You could go there and hear academic discussions “that sounded like they were of some other planet, and if you didn’t agree you were ostracized,” as Szalay, an English specialist himself, put it. Also housed in the North Building was the radio station, which had begun in 1968 as “a bunch of kids playing records on a record player over the PA system”. The first principal, John Tuzo Wilson, liked that idea himself. It was he who bought the first control panel. Officially, it was for the communications courses, but somehow it ended up in the care of the radio station.

Meanwhile, Friday and Saturday nights were always pub nights in what had just been dubbed the “Blind Duck” (for reasons none of them recalls, although a naming contest and cartoon character are vaguely remembered). Brown, who cleaned the pub’s washrooms one year—in those days you could pay tuition on a summer job and a weekend job—remembers there always being about four inches of popcorn on the floor and, curiously enough, always more full beer bottles left in the women’s than the men’s.

The pub had multiple purposes, and was even used for classes sometimes. Once, Szalay was late for a class in which he had to give a thesis presentation—he was getting his notes together in the pub. When the prof asked his friend Bob where Ralph was, Bob replied, “He’s a little under the weather.” He then quipped, “I’ll be joining him under the weather after the class.” To Szalay’s surprise, the prof and the whole class trooped into the pub, got themselves some beers, and did the presentations there. It was a great time; it was casual.

It was in this milieu that the Erindalian, the campus’s first newspaper and Medium II’s predecessor, had been founded and was still operating, in the cottage known as Colman House.

 


THE OLD GUARD

The ill-fated Erindalian had been founded in 1969 by Bob Rudolph and Doug Leeies. The newspapers of the day—before the Internet and its provision for all kinds of venting—were more political. People were often a part of them, Dowbiggin remembers, because they believed in “the revolution” or in a particular political cause. But speculation in the Erindalian’s case is obscure. All we can say is that it was unique. In a 1997 history of the publication that is now history itself, Medium editor Duncan Koerber, now a writing professor at York, quoted Leeies: “It all started on a shoestring budget upstairs at Colman House. Erindale was a blank canvas for us. Nobody else was doing what we were doing. We were cutting our own trail.”

Here Szalay, then a DJ at Canada’s First Radio Erindale, met Gregg Michael-Troy, Matt Shakespeare, Dowbiggin, and other students who would soon become influential in campus media.

But both CFRE and the Erindalian were in trouble. One day Szalay, who wanted to go into program production, discovered that the radio station’s tape decks didn’t work. He made the mistake of asking why: because there was no money to fix them! He found out from the people running the Erindalian that they had the same problem. In fact, they were short an issue or two because they didn’t have the money to print them. They were running out of cash, and the editor-in-chief quit that spring, leading to the folding of the publication. They were going to disband CFRE, too. Desperate, they all decided that one of them should run for communications coordinator of SAGE the next year and sort it out. Because he’d asked in the first place, Szalay was voluntold.

Once he had been elected, he discovered that the funding for both campus media had been waylaid—not stolen, but used for things it hadn’t been allocated for, including vans for the pub. When it came time for SAGE to present their budgets to the downtown council—they were linked back then—Szalay and another member of SAGE proposed a separate account for the $26,000 that was to run Erindale’s campus media. Their communications commissioner, Michael Sabia—son of feminist Laura Sabia and CEO of Bell Canada from 2002–08—agreed, and the groups got what they were budgeted for that year.

But it was already too late for the Erindalian. It had fallen apart. Using the last of its budget, Gregg Troy (as he was known for short) pulled together a few people and published the very first issue of Medium II, with perhaps the most striking headline it has ever had: “Man charged in Erindale Campus murder.” (That young woman was Constance Anne Dickey, who, to our knowledge, has never been memorialized as a victim of violence at U of T.) Troy and his team’s very tangible proposal worked: SAGE approved of the publication and added it to their portfolio and budgeted for it. So the first year of Medium II, the student government was in charge.

 


THE MICROCOSM IS A HOTHOUSE

Even Medium II’s name, which was finally changed to the Medium in 1995, was a source of contention. Troy wanted to call it the University Journal, but that was taken for a literary publication. It’s an irony that has never been forgotten that the “II” signified that it was secondary to the first medium on campus, CFRE, considering that Troy, by all accounts, resented the radio station to the core.

Indeed, Szalay and Brown in particular remember Gregg Troy as difficult to get along with. “I gotta tell you about him,” says Szalay. “He was one of those people. At first he had company manners. He was a nice guy, but after a while he was a royal pain to get along with. When I agreed with him, then he was great. When I didn’t agree with him, aw, he could be so cruel.”

Of course, it has to be accounted for that Szalay was from the student government, and, as news editor Mark Brown recalls, “Everything in the microcosm is a little bit of a hothouse. At school, you live in a little bit of a bubble and the temperature gets turned up, and it’s the whole world.” Money was a big issue. It was tight, and sometimes a group needed something that hadn’t been budgeted for, such as a punched tape machine used in the offset lithograph printing process. Hence, “The budget process was always quite intense, because everybody was really passionate,” Brown adds. “The paper wanted some money, and someone else wanted this, and the clubs wanted this…”

Considering that, to Troy, Szalay both represented the money and the competing media—he was still a DJ there that year—Radio Erindale became a particular thorn in his side. In editorials and letters, Troy described CFRE as “fatuous”, and anything that they got that Medium II didn’t get was another source of disagreement. One year, CFRE held a Christmas party on the main floor of Colman House, and it was licensed. Troy came over, says Szalay, “and he made such a fuss! He was pouring alcohol on people’s heads.” Szalay came up beside him and told him to pipe down, and Troy was ribbing him, “being really antagonistic. He was like, ‘How come the Medium II wasn’t invited?’ I says, ‘Well, it wasn’t something I had to do with! Radio Erindale had a Christmas party for their staff.’ I don’t know if Medium II had one.”

The Medium's first issue.
The Medium’s first issue.

Yet Gregg Troy was a genius at what he did. With nothing for a model but the defunct Erindalian and perhaps the Sun, and with no motivation but his own, he ran the paper to a standard that has rarely been matched in subsequent years. One week, “He and Johann Barr managed to get the van,” Brown recalls, “and they went down to Quebec City and interviewed René Lévesque, before he took over the government. So it was early when he was getting involved. And they took a photograph and, quite frankly, I think it’s one of the best photographs that’s ever been taken of René Lévesque. Gregg did a whole two-page story on the interview, and that was a really key, important thing to him. We didn’t know you couldn’t do something, so we went ahead and did it anyways.”

He also points out the article’s prescience concerning the discussion surrounding Québec today and the Charter of Values. One question was, “How did French culture survive?” Lévesque replied, “That’s a hell of a good question, because we’re in a transition period. What kept the culture going, at least the language and some very minor cultural achievements, was mostly the fact that we were a rural society, basically a peasant society tied to the Church and tied to tradition.” Particularly stunning to Brown is that Lévesque would describe as a “peasant society” what was an important rural vote. And there it was, exclusive to Medium II.

Troy’s staff, too, had a hand in the paper’s success. Szalay had recruited Sabga as cartoonist (Sabga had been his high school’s cartoonist in Barbados), and some great cartoons were produced. When the campus opened up the first townhouse residence—superseding the farmhouses it had previously converted—he had fun with the idea of the quaint community, drawing Hobbiton with its little hillocks and doors in the hillocks. When the mayor of Mississauga who (if it can be imagined) preceded Hazel McCallion suggested separating Erindale College and creating the University of Mississauga, the staff got wind of it and satirized it with a huge pair of scissors cutting the link between the two.

Several other stories were of high calibre. When Formula One was running out of Mosport, Brown called them up and asked for a press pass on the grounds that he was from a university newspaper—in fact he just liked cars. Boom, press pass showed up, and he covered a day of racing. Medium II also sent him to the old CNE stadium to document a Blues game, and he called it in to CFRE so they could broadcast it. Because of Brown, Medium II was also one of the first papers to do a journalistic ride-around with a police officer, which he did one evening with Peter Young of the Peel Regional Police. When the police saw the write-up, they placed full-page ads in the paper to recruit officers on campus.

And many other names were involved in the elaborate production, of course, which involved everything from physically pasting articles onto the boards to driving the rickety van out to the printers in Acton. Certain names recur in the conversation of Brown and Szalay: Heidi Putzer, Vivien Anderson, Tom Maloney, Jackie Tremblay, Linda Kuschnir, David Leslie…

One frustration of Gregg Troy’s was the difficulty of getting writers, if not readers. Sometimes, in order to spark a debate, he would write a letter under a pseudonym, such as Peabody. It wasn’t transparent, but it exemplifies the lengths to which he would go to light a match under someone’s butt and get things moving. He also invited Szalay to contribute, despite the tension between them. And yet—another of Troy’s contradictions—he would often take the teeth out of an article.

“He certainly drove issues, there’s no question about it,” says Brown. “He was the driver to get it going, and tremendous effort on his part to do it.”

Even Szalay concedes that it was worthwhile putting up with him, because he was doing good work: “And his legacy, since it still exists, is a pretty darn good legacy.” Here Brown interjects: “Oh, yeah. It’s the mountain you’re standing on.”

“Yeah,” says Szalay, “there wouldn’t have been a Medium II without him.”

 


THE MOUNTAIN WE’RE STANDING ON

If we zoom out, the campus was, in some sense, unchanged.

It was still the same Erindale College, a tiny, unserious place in the middle of nowhere where, Szalay remembers, there was stretcher service to the pub from the blood donor clinics, where the student government was “loosey-goosey”, where there was one pizza place in a 20-kilometre radius. When Brown moved to Mississauga from Windsor in 1967, he recalls, they were taught in grade 8 geography that Peel County was one of the largest producers of dairy products in the Commonwealth (“and I don’t know if you could find a cow in that region right now”)—and south of the 401, there were no houses till you got south of the railway tracks, everything was extensive country, and Highway 10 had two lanes.

And the campus was still homey. Mike Spigel, for whom Spigel Hall is named, was then just a professor with a big pipe, on whom students played pranks, turning his own behavioural psychology hypotheses against him (“But he was one of the originals, that’s for sure”). Desmond Morton, later the dean, was a professor who was tough on spelling in essays, before computers and spellchecks. You could get pretty far on a rumour, too. Sabga and a professor once joked with an abnormally gullible TA about the dry dog food they had just come out with, which had nitrates in it to enhance its so-called nutritional value. Dogs, they said, couldn’t metabolize the nitrates, and the major part of their body fat is glycol, so when a dog got excited and began to metabolize the glycol, there were pockets of nitroglycerine in it—you’d be calling it, “Here, Spot!” and it would explode. It was a joke, but suddenly they started hearing it repeated, even off campus. Szalay took part too, faking a photo of a guy holding a leash with a charred collar on it. CBC was going to send a team down to investigate, and that’s when the professor told them to shut it down. How hard would it be to get away with that today in the face of snopes.com?

Even Principal Tuzo, world-famous for discovering continental drift, had that air of fun. Every week he’d invite people in student affairs and alumni to the grand old principal’s house, Lislehurst. For his goodbye party, they made a huge cake out of cardboard out of which someone playing a Mississauga tribe Indian jumped out to give him the key of the city. And Matt Shakespeare cooked up the idea of a giant punch bowl—Tuzo’s wife was famous for punch—that they made out of plastic and cotton, and while someone manipulated the cotton with a string to form the continents, the guy playing Tuzo fiddled with the foam in his wife’s punch bowl and said, “Ooh! Continental drift!”

Gregg Michael-Troy resigned at the end of the year to run for president of the student council.
Gregg Michael-Troy resigned at the end of the year to run for president of the student council.

Yet something had indeed changed below the surface. That world, bathed in nostalgia or no, was on its way out. Larger-than-life figures were altering it through many channels. The same year he founded Medium II, Gregg Troy resigned, ran for president of SAGE, and killed the council “almost singlehandedly”, in Szalay’s words, to found the Erindale College Student Union, which was later renamed UTMSU. New buildings were put up, phase by phase. The architectural style evolved away from functionalism and brutalism to something more like what we see today. The residences’ outdoor pools disappeared in the process. Universities began campaigning for international students (not by any means regrettable). Erindale College began to be promoted at U of T, and enrolment began more sharply increasing across the province, even as the liberal arts degree began to slip from prestige.

They also started to formalize offices. The pub and the student government were removed from the small house Dowbiggin says they were run out of and were distributed throughout the new buildings. Medium II was shuffled to North and to a shed called Margeson House by the pub. The long-standing relationships between various organs of the campus began to crystallize. Not a decade later, after the infighting became more intense, the paper was officially separated from ECSU by a student referendum and shortly thereafter was incorporated. ECSU drafted a constitution and its priority, which could once be summarized as to “make sure the pub had lots of beer”, become more structured and set. The roles of the administration, the paper, the radio, and the union began to develop familiar scripts.

Those were indeed the formative days of Erindale College, and we are indeed standing on the mountain they built. Brown observed that there was no long tradition at Erindale at the time; undeniably, there is now, even as we look to the future and wonder on all fronts whether all these institutions—universities, radios, newspapers, and even governments—have outgrown their usefulness. At such times, the most important thing is to look back and recognize that there’s something to be said for the circumstances of uncertainty, of malleability, in which individual people can shape their world over in their vision, as they could and did then.

It may be Dowbiggin’s words of advice for journalists that ring loudest in the wake of stories like this: “Run with it! Have fun with it! Don’t feel you have to do what they did the year before. Look at the big world out there and dream big dreams, and most of all—and it’s a hard thing to do at universities these days because of political correctness—try to get the full range of opinions and attitudes that form the community. Don’t just get hunkered off and do the same as everyone else is doing. Understand that free speech is about hearing people you don’t necessarily agree with. That’s the most important thing.”