Since opening its doors in 1829, Upper Canada College has stood at the very centre of the Canadian Establishment, turning out generations of Eatons and Bassetts, Masseys and Thomsons, Conachers and Airds.
In "Old Boys", seventy-one old boys, graduates from the 1920s to the 1990s, recount with extraordinary insight and honesty the ways in which their lives were shaped -- and in some cases scarred -- by their experiences at UCC.
No official history, this highly controversial glimpse inside Upper Canada College tells of triumph, scandal and tragedy, and has become, in the words of Robert Fulford, "the book that everyone interested in the Canadian elite is talking about."
James FitzGerald, an old boy himself (Class of 1968), comes from a family with close associations with Upper Canada College. His father and brother graduated from the school; his maternal ancestors were among the first generation of graduates in the 1830s and yet another was the architect who built UCC's original administration building and boarding houses in 1829.
Trained as a journalist, FitzGerald has long been fascinated by the powerful mythology and legacy of UCC -- a school that could produce a federal cabinet minister and a drug-crazed murderer in the same graduating year. From the likes of Conrad Black, Ted Rogers, and Michael Wilson to Robertson Davies, Peter C. Newman, and Michael Snow, FitzGerald's contributors offer vivid portraits of life inside the walls of Canada's most famous private school -- and by extension, revealing insights into the formation of the shared attitudes and mindsets of generations of the English Canadian ruling class.
Published by Macfarlane, Walter and Ross, 1994
Reviews & Interviews
Something Old, Something New, Amazon Review of “Old Boys”, By Elizabeth Smythe Brinton, June 1, 2018
James FitzGerald has given us a fantastic gift. In compiling stories spanning decades, he has created a national treasure of personal accounts and anecdotes of the men who attended Upper Canada College in Toronto. For those of us, who, like me, had a boyfriend, a father, a grandfather, uncles, cousins and a brother at the school, I gained much insight into a culture that played a significant role in shaping the history of our family. The book describes what a same-sex education has to offer privileged males who run on pure competition. Win or lose, sink or swim: it is a game of Darwin’s social contract brought to the playing fields. What FitzGerald brought to the project is an almost impossible feat: asking males to describe what they felt about things. Spoken as one who spent years asking the same questions, and for the most part, only ending up with precious few answers, I am in awe of this work. READ FULL ARTICLE
"A masterful oral history..." - JOHN ALLEMANG, THE GLOBE AND MAIL • Nov. 26, 1994
"From the obviously repressed through the painfully revealing to the sometimes hilarious....stranger than fiction." - PETER FOSTER, CANADIAN BUSINESS MAGAZINE • December 1994
"A fascinating glimpse into the evolving male psyche...this book is the strongest argument I've ever read for co-education for boys." - CHARLOTTE GRAY, TORONTO STAR • Dec. 10, 1994 READ FULL ARTICLE
"James FitzGerald has put together a book that everyone interested in the Canadian elite will be talking about for a good while." - ROBERT FULFORD, GLOBE AND MAIL • Nov. 9, 1994 READ FULL ARTICLE
"Yeah, so what if some UCC teachers were pedophiles? All that stuff has been going on in educational institutions since Socrates met Plato." - JILL RIGBY, TORONTO SUN • Dec. 18, 1994
"When I picked up Old Boys, I couldn't put it down. When I put it down, it haunted me and it still does. I thought if half of this is true, then Upper Canada College, school of choice of the Canadian Establishment, might have burnt all of the remaining copies." - TED SCHMIDT, CATHOLIC NEW TIMES • Oct. 8, 2000 READ FULL ARTICLE
"FitzGerald got his subjects to reveal some alarming things...Sexual abuse was just part of the equation....What is most disturbing about a book like FitzGerald's, of course, is how many could have been written, but never were." - ZANDER SHERMAN, AUTHOR OF "THE CURIOSITY OF SCHOOL: EDUCATION AND THE DARK SIDE OF ENLIGHTENMENT", 2012
Richard Howard, "Lives Lived", Globe and Mail, November 20, 1996
Dick Howard personally embodied the complexity, paradox and powerful mythology of Upper Canada College. His legacy is subtle and profound: Thousands of impressionable pre-adolescent boys -- including men as diverse in politics and temperament as Conrad Black, Michael Ignatieff, Ted Rogers, Peter Dalglish, John Bosley, Stephen Clarkson, John Eaton, Rob Prichard, John Godfrey, and Avi Lewis -- passed under Dick's tutelage as prep master, housemaster and headmaster from 1943 to 1986. READ FULL ARTICLE
"It could happen to you," John Barber, Globe and Mail, November 14th, 1998
I don't his name, only that he is about my age and we attended the same private school about the same time. But he learned far more than I ever did at that place. I left before graduating, rebellious but naive in life. Had I stayed, I, too might have been raped by my history teacher. READ FULL ARTICLE
"Tower of Power", Toronto Life, May 1999 (Profile of Upper Canada College clock tower).
Even as a lowly eight-year-old new boy in 1958, droning the stanzas of the school song -- "High on a hill she stands/Her tower a landmark clear" -- I was struck by the irony of the pronoun. After all, at Upper Canada College, that thirty-five-acre incubator of the Canadian elite, females were -- and are -- scarce. Never mind that the verses had been composed by Mary (Bubbles) Sowby, wife of the principal, or that several of my masters were closeted gays. The thrusting UCC clock tower -- for more than a century a potent symbol of the Canadian Establishment, and of the city -- is nothing if not masculine. READ FULL ARTICLE
"What would you say if I seduced you?", Peter Cheney, Globe and Mail, August 25th, 2001
Behind the gates of Upper Canada College, the private Toronto enclave for Canada's elite, scenes of sexual coercion and even assault by teachers upon students are alleged to have played themselves out over decades, always covered up by its old boys club. Now, legal charges have brought those claims into the open. Globe and Mail investigative reporter PETER CHENEY tells tales out of school. READ FULL ARTICLE
"Who is telling the truth?", Craig Offman, National Post, March 2, 2002
On an overcast morning last December, William Monash already had a few Black Ice beers in his system when his landlord dropped by his basement apartment in North Toronto and asked Monash if he needed a lift anywhere. Monash, who seldom left his room, said he had an appointment at Upper Canada College and, sure, he would love a lift. Minutes later, his landlord dropped him off outside the imposing gates of the city's most prestigious private boys' school. READ FULL ARTICLE
In 1975, blue-blooded Upper Canada College appeared to be a veritable oasis of scholarly calm. Below the surface, however, it was more of a school for scandal. PETER CHENEY turns back the clock at Canada’s most prestigious private boys academy to uncover the roots of the sensational sexual-abuse case that ended last week in the conviction of a former teacher. READ FULL ARTICLE
Henry John Pemmell "Happy Jack" Schaffter, "Lives Lived", Globe and Mail, November 1, 2011
Jack Schaffter was destined to teach. Descended from three generations of English missionaries, he was born in Persia (present-day Iran), where his parents, a surgeon and a nurse, ran a 100-bed missionary hospital.
At 5, Jack was packed off to an English boarding school where he suffered “weekly thrashings for being sad and bad.” When war erupted in 1939, his parents were cut off in Persia; Jack did not see them from age 8 to 18. READ FULL ARTICLE
"Nightmare on Avenue Road", Stephane Beauroy, Toronto Life, September 2013
Almost 40 years ago, Doug Brown, the notorious Upper Canada College teacher, repeatedly sexually assaulted me. Only now do I understand what he did to my life. READ FULL ARTICLE
“Can We Learn From WASP virtues?”, Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, December 7, 2018
Let me be clear. I — of all people — am not calling for a revival of the WASP establishment. I am asking, can we learn something from its virtues?
The following are selected excerpts, published and un-published, taken from 300 tape-recorded UCC oral histories collected from 1991-1994. Following each name are the years the person attended UCC.
Excerpts from Interviews with UCC Alumni
Selected Reader Responses
"I have not met a single Old Boy who has read your book who does not agree that the bias is totally negative and that it can only be seen as some form of axe-grinding vendetta against the College. Virtually every day I reflect on how Upper Canada College changed my life for the better and I know literally hundreds of Old Boys who share this view...
The book strongly, clearly and uniquivocally builds the hypothesis that UCC corrupts and contorts young minds, produces spoiled, rich, valueless, immoral and pathetic human beings as graduates and, above all, ruins the lives of the boys entrusted to its care...
Should you ever wish to correct the record, or redeem your name as a serious journalist, I know you will have no trouble finding in your notes conversations with numerous Old Boys, including me, who have rich praise for UCC." - Ira N., Islington, Ontario, 1995
"As an Old Boy who didn't get to publish your book, it breaks my heart to say it, but it's a masterpiece. It's big. Sometimes it made me think of the third act of King Lear. It's also a bit like Schindler's List without Schindler. Of course, we all found our Schindlers or we wouldn't have survived the school.
It's just amazing that you were able to pull all that stuff out of the dark corners of human minds. Presumably the trick was in choosing the right people. I guess it's the eloquence that dazzles me most. I've published 500 books and worked with dozens of authors and I know that almost nobody can write worth a damn. People can't talk either, as literal transcripts all show. Obviously you did a lot of leading, a lot of manipulating, but it never shows, because you delete yourself and then (one surmises) adapt the text to leave a seamless finish, as if the guy just opened his mouth and it all came out, like, "We shall fight on the beaches." I gather this is the key idea that made the book possible. In a real sense, then, you are the author. Without you, no Feyer, no Gilmour, no Silver, no Colopinto, no Seccombe. Imagine the world without Wally Seccombe's wonderful piece about the sexual politics of football!
For raw power, for vigour, for passion, this book has few equals. From where I sit, it has just one thing wrong with it: it has the wrong imprint." - Michael Macklem, publisher, Oberon Press, Ottawa, 1995
"I found many fascinating aspects about your book. Almost every page had vignettes that resonated with me. There were simply hundreds of stories that I identified with. Many were hard to read because I felt I was there with your speakers, fighting the same battles all over again. Your book re-opened my mind and heart about my years at UCC and helped me to think about it critically and compassionately as a major formative experience in my life. Your speakers were courageous and you made UCC alive and less monolithic. Thank you for a terrific book." - David H., Cambridge, Massachusetts
"As I read 'Old Boys', I often felt stunned. I was thinking, 'Did I just read this? I can't believe this.' It's astounding how different the personalities are -- the deep thinkers, the sensitive ones, the shallow ones. I think the book is a stroke of genius." - Rudy G., Orangeville, Ontario
" 'Old Boys' is one of the best things that ever happened to UCC. It struck through to the core of the very negative things about the institution. In my opinion, one of them is the failure to go co-educational. Another was the knee-jerk, musk-oxen, defensive circle (rather like the Toronto Police Force) that smothered and ignored abuses and failings. Too many gutless wonders at the top, middle, and bottom." - Bruce Litteljohn, UCC teacher for 35 years
"In each generation there are a precious few who plumb the depths to make sense of the world in which they find themselves."Old Boys" is such an exploration of "self", heard through the voices of those who were there. James FitzGerald is one of those gifted, sensitive souls. Dressed in gumboots or silk slippers, he amassed a wealth of testament. Three generations speak their eerily similar story. I was one of them and found brotherhood once more amongst my peers. So, I was not alone. Others came forward demanding closure and balance restored. Finally an expensive apology! If you wonder on the halls of power and the why of things as they are, then read this book." - Jonathan D., Caledon, Ont.
"An encyclopedia of arrogance and pain." - John Cook, Arles, France
"I found Old Boys interesting, heartbreaking and incomplete...I was a student at Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario in the early 1970s and I can tell you stories that would make the content of your book look anemic in comparison...
During my time, beatings were routine and my classmates and I suffered them on a regular basis. Being bullied by upper school boys was not only tolerated but sanctioned by the school. I lost my front teeth at the hands of an upper school student who was three years older than me because he didn't like the way I spoke to him. Nothing was done and I still suffer issues in connection with the injury...
The damage inflicted on many boys with stay with them forever...Appleby has cleaned up their image but that does exonerate them of their past. Your book is a good start but not unlike the abuse being uncovered in the Catholic Church, you have only scraped the surface. Believe me, there are many, many more stories that need to be told." - Professor Steven Williams