On the face of it, the idea of a university life and the opportunity to have a hand in creating a new magazine, using all the resources of a university, was pleasing. However much comparative prestige the Gazette offered as literary editor, I could not help but think of entertainments as trivial. And the political focus of the Gazette, however important it may have been, was forever pandering to the French, as indeed the Canadian establishment was at the time. My Marxism was fast fading into standard liberalism, because now liberal values were threatened by Quebec nationalism, which I increasingly saw as decaffeinated National Socialism complete with mass flag parades on St Jean Baptiste Day that reminded me of Nazi rallies at Nuremberg. A comparison for which I was later condemned by the Quebec Press Council.
I could not understand how people of vociferous liberal views could countenance Bill 22, which banned English signs and labels. Of course, the same people complained, albeit mildly, when Bill 101 made the ban more severe. But their anger was not because of what was done but who had done it. The first truly evil step was taken by Quebec's Liberal Party government, ostensibly to forestall separatism. But "feeding the tiger more meat in the hope of it becoming a vegetarian" was the way one wag put it.
Of course, when the separatist Parti Quebecois did much the same with Bill 101 with little more substance but greater fanfare, it was widely condemned. To my mind it was the good-guy Liberals who did the heavy lifting in bringing intolerance into the province, while the bad-guy separatist Parti Quebec, despite its frank Nazi-like rhetoric, only undid the packing cases and put up the pictures. I became indifferent to the fate of Canada. Even if the Americans took over, and Canada had no more rights than Guam, Canadians would still have more civil rights than they had in the current regime. I did not care whether a blue flag or a red flag flew over Quebec; my concern was the state of civil rights under either flag. Evidently, those around me had reversed these priorities, tolerating any injustice as long as Quebec stayed in Canada—with the support, if not the connivance, of Canada.
I was troubled by the problem, but soon got an inkling when bistro buddy Janet Stairs turned to me and said in tones of slight astonishment: "Christy, you actually believe what you say!" It was clear that the corollary was that most people did not. They were like Nick Auf der Maur not really believing that the Cambodians would benefit from Khmer Rouge reeducation but saying so anyway because it was fashionable, as radical chic was in. It was clear no one was listening to me, gripped firmly as they were in the thrall of an intellectual fashion that was leading to victory after victory for the forces of illiberalism, which I saw as "liberal fascism," which was to prosper well into the next century.
The Sir George Williams Information Office I joined was headed by Malcolm Stone, who was a cool guy I had known for years. There was my brother Joel, who was the publications officer and his girlfriend and later wife, Ginny Jones, and I together with Eric Johnson, and Michael, later Minko Sotiron, and later Greer Nicholson were information officers. There were others who came and went as time passed.
The office was idyllic in that it was located in the basement flat of an old house on McKay Street south of Sherbrooke. Malcolm had pretty much a free hand, installing a pinball machine and his dog, a large, noisy Airedale called Rufus. It was more like a club than an office, though it was fitted out with desks and typewriters. I never got more than a temporary spot there.
I was to lead the "boarding party"—that is, the first representatives of Sir George to occupy offices at Loyola College, or Loyola Campus as it was now called. Sir George Williams University was now Sir George Williams Campus of Concordia University, the merged entity named after the partial motto of the City of Montreal, "Concordia Salus." But in the 60:40 proportional relationship it was clear that in all but two areas, philosophy and athletics, Sir George would rule the Loyola roost. One of the offices I took over without much overt interest from the Sir George contingent was as executive secretary of the Loyola Alumni Association, as the personnel of the old Loyola Public Relations Office needlessly quit because of their near-immediate detestation of my presence. It was amusing being the leader of alumni of an institution that I was not qualified to attend. At the time, it seemed to involve no more than organising an annual golf tournament, which also involved a raffle called Special Drawing Rights, as well as awarding the annual Loyola Medal to a worthy of the association board's choosing and holding a gala dinner at the Ritz Carlton to present it.
This posed no threat to anyone, and my enthusiasm in making as much as I could of Loyola's traditions by giving them as much publicity as I could went a good way to mitigate the hatred my role as head of the Sir George boarding party generated. This tepid success began stirring fraternal resentment in my brother, at first unbeknownst to me, but later increasingly apparent.
There was a stark contrast to the Sir George and the Loyola campus information offices. As earlier described, the Sir George operation looked more like a well-upholstered hippy lair than an office. The Loyola office was a bastion of formality, housed in the centre block of the Central Building. The inner office (mine) had windows overlooking the western Quad, and the outer office, containing a secretary (mine, and the first and last I was ever to have), plus another information officer, Greer Nicholson, a Tiggerish McGill debater whose dad was head of McGill's Russian department, and who was the girlfriend, later wife, of one of my old Gazette book reviewers. Gabriel Murphy was inherited from the old regime. She was a 50-something French Canadian in the Madame Plouffe mold, and had separated from a Loyola clerk, Tom Murphy, who loomed from time to time but played no part in our lives.
If we were not working on the magazine, to be called Concordia University Magazine—after an ill-fated start as Extra, which ran into opposition from higher ups—we were writing for the administration newspaper, formerly called Issues & Events. My brother renamed it FYI. The renaming I thought unfortunate, because I thought Issues & Events was a fine name and ought to be preserved. I did understand Joel was honouring me, as FYI was named after my short-lived newspaper at the Vancouver Sun—"the free press within the corporation." But it was not a good name for the Concordia University administration weekly. Within the context of the Vancouver Sun's day-to-day life, FYI was a powerful name in that it appeared as a heading on many an office memo. FYI meant For Your Information, of course, but in the Vancouver setting it also meant that the memo was not an instruction; it could be taken as one liked. At Concordia it conveyed nothing. Many did not even know what it meant. But it was still useful politically, because it was equally mysterious to Georgians and Loyolans so aroused no inter-campus resentment and was allowed to stand for that reason alone.
There seemed to be a daily fuss about something. The Information Office, the first to be unified after the merger, reported to the affable Stirling Dorrance, a late 40-something Maritimer who had been the executive assistant and director of development (fund raising) to the Loyola College president, Father Patrick Malone, who was then receding into the position of Dean of Arts and Science, Loyola Campus. The frequently beleaguered Dorrance often mustered us for damage control sessions over drinks at one bar or another on Upper Lachine Road, where it was unlikely we would be seen by university people. As a rule, these three-hour encounters generated more trouble, mostly unrelated to whatever reason these meetings were called, a situation much acerbated by copious amounts of alcohol consumed.
The fusses themselves were as forgettable as they were numerous. But I remember one in which we were entirely at fault, for treating the deaths of the entire staff of the student paper the Loyola News in a drunken car crash as matter-of-factly as we would have done the deaths of anyone at Sir George. Sir George was known as the "college with the concrete campus," and it had a soul to match. Loyola was a much more intimate, personable place, like the old song:
The door is always open
The neighbours pay a call
And Father John before he's gone
Will bless the house and all.
And we, the brutal, licentious soldiery of the Information office, were slow to realise it. Even at the time I mused that perhaps we were there to destroy such sensibilities by making the university one institution in which the dewy-eyed Gaels of yesteryear had no place. I wondered from time to time if that was our unspoken mission—to do what we were doing the way we were doing it.
As the suffering in the merger should at least appear to be shared even at the Information Office, there was soon pressure to have the Sir George Information Office look less like a hippie lair. Joel was indifferent. He saw himself as second among equals with Malcolm, not as Malcolm's subordinate. Laid-back Malcolm had no problem with this but strongly resisted what amounted to the destruction of the Information Office that he had created with his dog and pinball machine.
This time the leading actor was not Stirling Dorrance, but Michael Sheldon, who as assistant to the rector of Concordia, John O'Brien, was effectively CEO of the enterprise. Again, Michael Sheldon tended to be the first among equals vis-a-vis Stirling Dorrance. This was a situation that befell Concordia generally as each department merged with its counterpart, and with the exception of Athletics and Philosophy, the power went to the bigger Sir George department. Typically, merged departmental clashes arose over equipment. Sir George had the mass, but Loyola had the class, and had less but better equipment. So when the boss of the bigger Sir George department wanted something, he simply took it from Loyola.
Michael Sheldon had been a junior officer in the British Army's Intelligence Corps in the war and did some behind-the-lines work in Romania, where he married locally. Beyond that, I knew little of him, except he appeared to foster the mystique of an MI6 intelligence officer.
I am not sure if he was bent on getting rid of Malcolm because he disliked him or simply wished to remove him as blockage to fixed policy. They were hatching a lot of fixed policies at the time as a way of creating a new institution out of two old ones. It was almost as if chaos was welcomed to distract everyone from the past and have them refocus on the here and now, and if possible, the future.
The university was soon being known, accompanied by much official distress, as "Con-U." I thought we might rename the place "University of Canada" if only because "U-Can" would look better on the t-shirts. I ended up making a t-shirt of my own, using look-alike Coca-Cola logo script, treating the two "Cs" in Concordia the same way Coke did, but with the lower legend reading: "It's the real think." Trouble was, Concordia's new school colour—maroon—was not bright enough, and I felt I could not use red as that was McGill's colour. So it was one of those ideas that worked better in conception than in execution.
Throughout this period Joel was testy and aggressively defensive. He was in an awkward position. His loudly proclaimed position was that he only wanted to be the publications officer, wanting nothing to do with publicity and promotion. But as I was Malcolm's 2i/c in the publicity area, of which Joel wanted no part, he faced the intolerable prospect of him becoming second among equals to me, or worse still, my being his boss. Because it was publicity, and not internal publications, that was top priority, like it or not.
Things came to a head when Malcolm was fired but wouldn't leave his office and wouldn't work. In the past, I pretty much ran things from a publicity point of view at Loyola, but now we were faced with Sir George customers seeking services that Malcolm refused to provide.
Joel said it wasn't his department. So I took care of the customers. The big one was the Psychic Symposium, staged by the head of Sir George's Religion Department, one Rev. John Rossner, an Anglican priest. Having worked for the National Enquirer, I knew a paranormal conference would generate massive international interest and was determined to make the most of it.
Once Rossner was on board with the grand plan, which involved Canada-wide and targeted US publicity, I was free to run things my way and did so. But I was soon called "Mr. Takeover," as the success of the Psychic Symposium was becoming evident, with interest from the French press that was greatly prized by the upper reaches of the university administration. All of which made Joel angrier still. I did not seek office, only to do what I had always done at Loyola—maximise publicity for any project that crossed my desk. With Joel refusing to "do Malcolm's job," calling me Mr. Takeover was about all Joel and Malcolm could agree on—that, and having Malcolm's refusal to work or to leave the office cause as much trouble as possible.
There were other publicity demands that simply involved press releases, which most often doubled as a report in the weekly FYI, which came out regularly and without incident. These caused no trouble.
Rossner's Psychic Symposium, which was drawing paranormal notables from far and wide, was also generating criticism of paranormal studies as a pseudo-science, which I took to be a good thing as it helped put Concordia on the map. Concordia was too new to rest on its dignity, I argued, not with Joel, but with Michael Sheldon, who was not enthusiastic but did not change my maximising plans. Dignity could come later. Making a splash was what counted in Concordia's second year of existence. Moreover, our 40-something bald rector with the booming voice attended the plenary session and intoned before the multitude: "The "more one puts in affirmation, the less one puts in exploration." In the end, it was a great success, but like most other university successes, it was soon forgotten.
Eventually, Malcolm was levered out of his office, and Joel took over the publicity function as well as the publications function. In this new regime, my publicity role would be confined to the Loyola Campus and he would take over whatever publicity needs arose at downtown Sir George. When the Sir George Engineering Department planned to hold an international housing conference, my help was rejected, decidedly so when I saw the possibilities of linking it to UN goals under the rubric of a "World Shelter Conference." After that rejection, my dealings with Joel were on a strict "invitation-only" basis. I said no more and remained content with my bailiwick at Loyola, which if nothing else was more civilised.
In the leafy west end district of Montreal, Notre Dame de Grace, known to all as NDG, the Loyola Campus spread over several acres and contained handsome buildings surrounded by lawns and trees. During and after wet weather, the grounds attracted flocks of sea gulls.
The imposing six-storey Jesuit Residence commanded the northwest corner, with low-slung three-storey student dorms to the east in brown brick with brown aluminum trim. Across the west entrance driveway from the Jesuit Residence was the ostentatiously modern St Ignatius Church with its concentric arched entrance. Next, moving south and marking the western border of the campus was the Comm Arts (Communications Arts) Building, its story providing a lesson for life, I have often thought. In the late 1950s, the Jesuits got to worrying about mass media and set up Comm Arts centres wherever practical in the world. The lesson for life is perhaps that they were looking at the wrong thing. It wasn't so much the medium that was the threat, but the leftist, anti-clerical message that intellectually captured these centres. In the end, the Jesuits lost the social control of the very institutions they established to secure it.
Walking across the western quad and looking south, one recalls the stubby three-storey cylindrical Drummond Engineering Library, which had a modern look quite out of place in the near-pastoral setting. At the eastern side of the quad stood the handsome Central Building, attached to which was the still-functioning Loyola High School, where the Jesuits still ruled.
These interlocking buildings were modelled on the Britannia Royal Naval College, commonly known as Dartmouth, the RN's first officer training establishment in Devon. These oldest of the Loyola buildings were in light brown brick with windows framed in off-white facings with the east/west four storey extensions running from the turret-topped central tower. The off-white tower, rising high above the grand main entrance, sported a cupola that reminds me of a miniature Tower of London, and I often wondered whether that was deliberate or accidental. The buildings had churchy sloping green copper-stained roofing with gabled dormers jutting out at intervals from the upper floors.
Slightly less pleasant was the eastern side of the Central Building, across which lay the eastern quad, somewhat marred by a parking lot and a works shop with loading bays to receive trucks. That view was mitigated by trees, which formed a partial canopy in season over its approaches. Blocking the view south was what I came to call the Bridge of Sighs, an extended enclosed foot bridge in the same off-white trimmed light brown bricks of the Central Building that extended its east wing to the handsome traditional Loyola Chapel, beneath which lay a full size auditorium.
Staying out of Joel's way seemed to make life livable for all. He was content to think nothing of Loyola and I was content to think of little else. When we got together for drinks, there was often trouble, but it was manageable and more to do with theoretical politics than work. Work-related stuff went well for the most part. One point of regret I had then and now was my role as the last-minute man, that of rushing to do a job on the Tuesday deadline day when something was needed to fill a news hole in FYI and I was the best at coming up with some serviceable piece within an hour or two.
Invariably the call to fill the hole would come Tuesday morning, and I would scratch about for a story. Well, my standby story was Loyola's Tuesday feminist coven meeting, where I would cover whatever they were doing. However silly, whatever they were on about was guaranteed to get readers, as girls would be interested and boys are interested in girls. Though I once was asked by a speaker if I thought the camera I was carrying was my penis. Well, some price had to be paid for the office and the secretary.
While bolstering a cause I definitely disliked and still do, I also regretted missing the Indian gathering that was always scheduled later in the day on Tuesday night. In the Mohawk uprising 20 years later I got to know the Indians and wished I had gone to their meetings in the '70s. Problem was, Tuesday night after FYI was put to bed, no one wanted to cover a meeting. It was the very time we all wanted a drink.
There were always fusses afoot. FYI had been quite independent at first, as its original raison d'etre was to provide a credible newspaper that could be relied upon to tell the administration's side of the story in the continuing crisis that was student life in the 1960s and '70s. At first, all the administration wanted was just fair reportage when student papers were engaged in universal Marxist claptrap. They depicted all but themselves and a number of groups on the official pity list, such as blacks, women and French Canadians, as the class enemy deserving nothing less than a firing squad. Fifty years later, much of the faculty and administration would likely agree with them. Joel stood against this, and we were reading from the same page when it came to journalistic ethics, in which we agreed that controversies needed a two-side minimum in reporting. I doubt you could get a majority of any press club membership to agree on that today.
I guess I became a marked man when I defied Sheldon's order not to cover a serious, though non-catastrophic fire in the Norris Building, the oldest Sir George building, still attached to the Central YMCA, the first YMCA in North America. I ran a picture of the fire damage, and a short story, and it was clear that Sheldon wasn't going to do me any favours after that. But nor did he give us any improper orders.
There were still two student newspapers in those early years, and I wrote a spoof about Sheldon himself under the byline Sean Christie, in which I pretended that he was at the centre of a plot hatched by the universities worldwide. They had decided that national leaders had such poor academic records that it was time for a professorial takeover of global governance.
According to my spoof for the April Fool's edition of the Georgian, the world's universities called on Sheldon to form CAD, the Clandestine Action Division that managed to create Concordia by effecting a merger the Jesuits and the YMCA, because they had offices all over the world—yet no one would suspect that one institution would have anything to do with the other. Thus, Concordia was HQ in Montreal, which in turn became the new secret ruler of the world through PREFECT, the Pedagogical Research Exchange Force for Espionage and Clandestine Tactics. Enforcement was directed by Ed Enos, head of the Athletics Department, who ran THUG, Tactical Heavy Units Group.
I was writing the first draft when Joel came over and looked at what I had produced. And after reading it, he said: "No, this doesn't work. Not enough jokes. You have to have a joke every two or three paragraphs."
So that's what I did. Sweated blood over two or three days thinking of jokes, and so it was written and so it was done. I don't think I have ever worked as hard on a piece of writing. When it was all done, and published, I was disappointed at the general reaction, which ranged from the muted to the entirely absent. Joel just said: "Yes, that's better." I heard that Sheldon said that it was like something he might have written when he was an undergraduate at Oxford. It was only when I heard that Greer Nicholson's father, the head of the Russian Department at McGill, thought it was "brilliant" that I cheered up.
The takeaway lesson here is that the second—or umpteenth—draft is so important for putting quality into writing. Reading a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald years later, I was not at all surprised that a collector who had paid a large amount for the famous author's first drafts was bitterly disappointed in the quality of his purchase.
The weekly routine of writing for FYI was interesting. University life was in many senses universal and so were my interests. One time my coverage generated a fuss, when a group of nursing students returned from a trip from Denmark. The head of the department gave me the top 10 papers students submitted on their return and wanted me to focus on a pre-screening programme for a particular disease.
But I was diverted by their other observations, which emerged in FYI under the headline: "Sex among the retarded is a matter of course in Denmark." The programme head was furious and sent in a letter of complaint, to which I responded that she should be thankful that the editor had turned down my headline: "In Quebec it's new, but in Denmark cretins screw." I added the old warning about journalists:
One can neither bribe nor twist,
thank God, the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there’s no occasion to.
She never spoke to me again and cut me dead when we passed in the hall. But months later she gave me a shy smile. I had heard my story had made her a local celebrity and that her course was greatly oversubscribed. Like Mr. Heinemann, the book seller, whom I once depicted as a buccaneering spreader of the printed word—he having been expelled from China and South Africa—she too craved a respectable image as he had done. But when both were applauded for their more interesting selves, after a wider audience had time to react, they were no longer angry with me.
I remember being in my doctor's office years later. On the wall, there were family photos. One was a posed shot of his father who looked the very model of the forbidding puffed-up Orange man; another had him pictured unawares looking like the kind and intelligent soul his son assured me he was after I noted the difference in the photos. Funny how the deliberately projected self-image is so often inferior to one's natural self.