Feature from the Collections: Ryerson Opera Workshop

This past weekend the Ryerson Theatre School celebrated its 40th anniversary, but the history of student theatre on campus goes back well beyond that of the school. In 1951 the Ryerson Opera Workshop was first offered, headed up by English professor Jack McAllister. Students across campus, in any program, were invited to participate. The inaugural production was an exciting double bill of The Devil and Daniel Webster and Down in the Valley; the first was a re-telling of the classic Faust tale using a poor farmer as the lead character who sells his soul to the devil, and the second, a folk-opera peppered with famous American songs, including the titular “Down in the Valley.” According to newspaper reviews at the time, the shows were a success for the new Workshop.

Newspaper photo of the cast of "The Devil and Daniel Webster" from The Alumni Reporter, Fall 1952 RG718-4

Although the name implies something different today, the Opera Workshops focused on popular musical theatre, and the repertoire included Broadway hits like Once Upon a Mattress, Bye Bye Birdie, Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, The Beggar’s Opera and Peter Pan.

In the 1970s, Ryerson established the Theatre School and became one of the first professional schools in North America to offer training in all aspects of the theatre arts, from technical production to arts administration. It wasn’t long after the first cohort of theatre students appeared on campus that the extracurricular productions of the Ryerson Opera Workshops finally ceased. The last performance by the Opera Workshop was a children’s show entitled Stick with Molasses (1976). Today, the popular student musicals are replaced by an ambitious program of student-driven work throughout the year.

Scene from "The Beggar's Opera" 1952 RG718-3

Playbill for the 1953 production of "Brigadoon" RG718-3

Scene from "Brigadoon" RG718-3

Program for "Once Upon a Mattress" 1963, the last production in Old Ryerson Hall Theatre RG718-2

Scene from "Once Upon a Mattress" RG718-3

Playbill for the 1964 production of "Brigadoon," the first production in the new Ryerson Theatre RG718-2

Scene from "Brigadoon" 1964 RG718-2

Playbill for "Bye Bye Birdie" 1966 RG718-3

Scene from "Bye Bye Birdie" RG718-3

Playbill for "Alice in Wonderland" 1970 RG718-2

Actors in character for "Alice in Wonderland" 1970 RG718-3

Newspaper clipping with a picture from the last Ryerson Opera Workshop production on Nov. 25, 1976, "Stick with Molasses" RG718-4

Feature from the Collections: Who is this man in the Archives?

Peter. It’s his name. An interesting fellow, don’t you think?

The Dream That Fagged Out” is Peter’s official title. The word fagged in historical usage means completely exhausted, and there certainly seems to be a weight on Peter’s shoulders. “The work is so successful in its depiction of human despair and misery that no one at Ryerson has been able to keep it for long.” [The Lectern, October 1975, Works of Art docfl.]

Peter, as he’s known, was given his nickname soon after arriving at Ryerson in 1967. He resided in the reception area of President Fred Jorgenson’s office, then in Kerr Hall South.

He was created by artist Julius Damasdy, (1937/38 –  ) in the late 1960s and was anonymously donated to Ryerson by a founding member of the Board of Governors, Franc Joubin, who acquired him from a show of the Ontario Society of Artists. Peter is part of the university’s art collection.

After two years of dismally greeting staff and visitors alike, Peter was moved to where he could cheer up the students. What better place than the Library (located, then, in the former Business Building, now the Victoria Building).

General feelings were:

  • “[I] couldn’t stand the sight of Peter staring at [me] every day.” – 1969, executive staff
  • “I can’t stand him staring at my face whenever I come out of the elevator.” – 1969 library staff

When the Library moved to its current location in the Library Building in 1974, Peter insisted he come along. His new home was in a semi-dark area (they tried to hide him) near the 2nd floor elevators.

Peter got a medical diagnosis in the mid 1970s by a some Ryerson nursing students which they posted on him stating, for example, he suffered from: Malnutrition, Scoliosis, Stove Pipe Legs, Middle Age Spread, Facial Paralysis, and other interesting ailments.

Finally, in an attempt at banishment, Peter was offered to the Archives in the mid 1970s. He was cheerfully accepted and has been in safekeeping since, still creeping-out Archives staff and a few researchers.

To meet Peter, read his other ailments, and decide if he has any creepy or otherwise ill effects on you, feel free to come to the Archives on the 3rd floor of the Library. He will be happy to see you!

The Ryerson University Archives
3rd floor of the Library
Monday to Friday – 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

You can also visit our new Archives & Special Collections website and online database.  Please note the both are still in development.  http://www.ryerson.ca/archives/.

Parades and Picnics from Ryerson’s Past!

It is almost that time of year again…time for Ryerson’s parade and picnic.  The annual event has students marching down Yonge Street to catch the ferry for a day of music and fun on Toronto Island.  In honour of this rite of passage for all Ryerson students, please enjoy this selection of images of parades and picnics from decades past.

Picnic 1960: Principal Howard Kerr is second from right.

Ferry ride to the Island Picnic, 1963.

Photographic Arts float, 1963.

Picnic tug 'o' war, 1966.

Parade, undated.

Viking float, ca. 1987.

E.C.E. and Aerospace float, 1989.

Parade, 1994.

Eggy in the parade, 1994.

A Contest that is for the Dogs!

Help us name the Oakham House dogs.

The Ryerson Archives are the proud owners of a beautiful set of matching Labrador Retrievers. They have settled in and gotten used to their new home and now it is time to give them names!

The contest is open to all University faculty, staff and students, and there is only one rule: The names MUST have significant meaning to Ryerson University. This can include either historical (The Archives is a good place to look for this!) or contemporary significance. So enter and win prizes for first, second, and third place AND have your picture taken with the Archives’ mascots!

A bit of history on the dogs:

The dogs were designed by architect William Thomas to hitch horses to and were located in front of his Oakham House residence. Thomas lived in the house until his death in 1860. The house was sold to another family and then in 1899 the house, along with the dogs, was sold to the Society for Working Boys- a home for disadvantaged youth in Toronto.  When Ryerson University acquired  the building in 1958, the dogs, originally located at the building’s Church Street entrance, were no longer there.  They had been removed to the new location of the Boys Home.  When Ryerson retrieved the dogs in 1982, the Toronto Historical Board wanted the pair to be mounted in their historical place in the front of the house.  In the interest of protecting them from vandalism they were placed inside the house, and then adopted by the Archives in 2010.

Please send your name suggestions, along with an explanation as to why you chose those names, to archives@ryerson.ca.  Please include your full name and a number or email address where you can be reached should your submission be chosen.  Contest closes April 8th, 2011.

Feature of the week: Portrait of Egerton Ryerson

Ryerson University is the recent recipient of a wonderful, early portrait of Egerton Ryerson, believed to have been painted by William Gush, a noted British portrait painter who painted many Methodist Ministers in Canada and the UK.

Gush, William. Egerton Ryerson. C. 1840. Ryerson Library Archives.

The painting, currently on display in the Archives, was generously donated by Chris Maybee Ryerson at a reception held in the Archives on February 11th.  A graduate of Electrical Engineering Technology at Ryerson University, Chris is also the great-great-grandson of Egerton Ryerson himself.  The family maintains a close connection to the University, not only are Chris and his wife, Michele Fransett, both graduates of the university but their daughter is currently a student, following in her mother’s footsteps and attending the Theatre School.

The University is the namesake of Egerton (pronounced Edge-erton) Ryerson, Methodist Minister and Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada. Ryerson was appointed by the Governor-General (Sir Charles Metcalfe) in 1844 and made huge and far-reaching modifications to the education system in Upper Canada, which resulted in establishment of the public school system that we are familiar with today.  Ontario’s high standards for teacher training, curriculum and resources can be traced directly to Ryerson’s commitment to public education.  His crowning achievement was the opening of the “Normal School”; a state of the art teacher training college, complete with a model school for in-class instructor training. This complex was situated on what was once St. James Square (see our post from February 8th) and the façade of this building is still standing in the quad, as the entrance to the Ryerson Recreation and Athletics Centre.

Egerton Ryerson’s beliefs about education for Aboriginal children influenced , in part, the establishment of what became Indian Residential Schools. In 2010 the university acknowledged that role and issued a public statement with the support of Ryerson’s Aboriginal community (http://www.ryerson.ca/alumni/60/history/egerton/index.html).

For more information on Egerton Ryerson, drop by the third floor to learn more and see the painting in person.

Also, check out these resources in the library:

Egerton Ryerson and his times / edited by Neil McDonald and Alf Chaiton. Publisher Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, c1978. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1543327~S0

Putman, J. Harold (John Harold), 1866-1940. Title Egerton Ryerson and education in Upper Canada / by J. Harold Putman. Publisher Toronto, Ont. : W. Briggs, 1912.http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1091181~S0

Hodgins, J. George (John George), 1821-1912. Title The Rev. Egerton Ryerson, D.D., LL.D. [electronic resource] / by J. George Hodgins. Publisher [Toronto? : s.n., 1882?] http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1765512~S0


Helmore, Dee. “William Gush.” The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies: The School of Family History. The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, n.d. http://web.archive.org/web/20140822023746/http://www.ihgs.ac.uk/competition/william_gush.html. Accessed 23 Feb. 2011.

Doucet, Claude W. “Egerton Ryerson, 1803-1882.” Archives + Special Collections, Ryerson University Library. Ryerson University, June, 2002. http://library.ryerson.ca/asc/archives/ryerson-history/ryerson-bio/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2011.

Feature of the Week: The Oakham House Dogs

Remember the film “The Incredible Journey”? Much like the fabled animals in that movie, our featured archive items have been on quite the voyage.

Designed by architect William Thomas to hitch horses in front of his residence, which he named Oakham House, these two handsome canines guarded the home until Thomas’ death in 1860.  In 1899, the house, along with the dogs, was sold to the Society for Working Boys; a home for disadvantaged youth in Toronto.  When Ryerson University purchased the building in 1958, the dogs, originally located at the building’s Church Street entrance, were no longer there.  They had been removed to the new location of the Boys Home.  When Ryerson retrieved the dogs in 1982, the Toronto Historical Board wanted the pair to be mounted in their historical place in the front of the house.  In the interest of protecting them from vandalism, however, they were placed inside the house.  Since 2010, the Ryerson Library Archives has had the pleasure of their company.  Drop by and pay them a visit if you’re on the third floor of the library!