The Diet Kitchen Tea Room

Ridley’s Architect: How an Old Boy breathed new life into campus

As we look to our grounds with an eye to expand, we remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that transformation sends ripples of change, not only across campus, but across time.

In 1919, a young group of architects gathered almost daily at Bloor Street’s Diet Kitchen Tea Room in Toronto, to “complain, plot and dream of a better city.” Fondly referred to as “The Diet Kitchen School of Architecture,” the eclectic group included Ridley’s own Ferdinand ‘Ferdie’ H. Marani ’1912—an up-and-coming architect who would change the cityscape in the years to come.

Ferdie Marani Manulife Building

The son of an instructor at the University of Toronto’s (U of T) School of Architecture, you might say Ferdie came by it honestly. For over fifty years, the Vancouver-born, Toronto-based architect was “amongst the aficionados of the postwar period of Toronto architecture and city building,” known widely for his Neo-Georgian style. The geometric, modular aesthetic became the main architecture of the public realm in the U.K. during the period of the 1920s to 1960s; its influence quickly reached North America and was soon seen popping up everywhere in the form of banks, shops, universities and military buildings.

Ferdie founded a succession of firms credited with the design of hundreds of well-known buildings, from Ottawa’s Bank of Canada, to the Canadian Forces Headquarters in Washington D.C., to Toronto’s famous Medical Arts Building, Sheridan College and the CNE grandstand. And, as you walk the paths of Ridley’s campus, you’ll see evidence of that classic Georgian style everywhere you look. Because Ferdie was not only an Old Boy and a Toronto trailblazer—he was also Ridley’s architect.

Ferdie Marani, c.1909

“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs]. I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.”

Ferdie was part of a virtual Ridley dynasty of Maranis that attended the school. His grandfather, J. Herbert Mason was responsible for setting up the Mason Gold Medal, still awarded every year, not only at Ridley, but also at Havergal and UCC. Ferdie, himself, won the medal in 1912. During his time here from 1901 to 1912, he proved to be a dedicated student, “a very fair tackler, and one of the hardest workers on the line” on Ridley’s football team, and a self-proclaimed military enthusiast. He joined the Cadet Corps the day it formed and was a member for six years, becoming Captain the year Ridley competed in the Imperial Cadet Competitions at the Toronto Exhibition.

“I was constantly pestering [Lieutenant-Colonel George Thairs],” Ferdie laughingly admits in his 1924 In Memoriam for the Colonel. “I would go into his office one day to ask, ‘When are the uniforms coming,’ then ‘When are the rifles coming,’ then another day, ‘Why not start a Bugle Band?’ and many other questions more ridiculous.” But his persistence paid off: by 1912, Ridley’s first bugle band was formed, “organized through the hard work and interest of Cadet Captain F.H. Marani.”

Cadet Officers, 1911

Ferdie was studying architecture at U of T when the Great War broke out, and he left school to enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. He became a captain in the Third Battalion of the Toronto Regiment and was posted overseas, wounded in June of 1916. From 1932 to 1936, Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Colonel Ferdinand Marani was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his war service in the summer of 1945. 

Throughout his life, Ferdie’s passion for the military remained strong. In 1946, the War Memorial Committee of the Osgoode Law Society approached the architect who had served his country so faithfully, seeking his recommendation for a way in which to honour members who had lost their lives during the Second World War. Ferdie’s suggestion, a moving memorial by leading sculptor Cleeve Horne, still lives in the lower Rotunda of Osgoode Hall.   

Lt_Col_F.H._Marani

Ferdie served his country again as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Canada, and then as Group Captain of the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

Though he left campus in 1912, Ferdie never strayed too far from Ridley, and became the Honorary President of the Old Boys Association. His wife, Constance, was also deeply involved in the Ridley community, presenting prizes for Sports Days in the postwar years, and an active member of the then Women’s Guild. Her detailed history of the Guild not only acted as a tribute to its hardworking women—mothers, wives and sisters who were also considered “staunch Old Ridleians”—but served as an important document for the Ridley record. The Guild’s aim, as Mrs. Marani expressed it, was “to help in making Ridley a greater power for good in our country.”

As you wander the grounds, you’ll find Ferdie’s trademark Georgian style dotted becomingly across our lush campus: he led his firms in designing the Lower School (Alumni Hall) in 1926, remodelled the Upper School (School House) in 1930, and completed Merritt House in 1932, merging it into the quiet impressiveness of the older buildings. The distinctive Marriott Gates went up in 1934, their arch an ornamental wrought-iron over-throw, with the shield of Ridley’s Coat-of-Arms as the centre-piece, topped by a bishop’s mitre.

In the late-thirties, Ridley turned to Ferdie to design a new gymnasium, later named for the Iggulden family, in response to an urgent need for indoor playing space. Built of red brick with white stone facings, the 1939 build was as good as that of any on the continent—and it quite literally revolutionized the school. Ridley enriched its athletic offerings beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket, giving way to a wider opportunity to represent the school and develop different talents; the impressive space also had all the bells and whistles needed to revive drama. A decade later, The Schmon Infirmary and Memorial Great Hall both rose up under Ferdie’s watch.

  • Memorial Chapel, 1926
  • Merritt House
  • Cadet Corps, 1907
  • Lower School
  • Iggulden Gymnasium

By the 1960s, nearly twenty years of discussion about expanding the Memorial Chapel turned to action. Due to space limitations, the Lower School had worshipped separately from the Upper School since the 1930s, and an extension was needed that would be built in absolute harmony with the rest of the structure. Naturally, the job was turned over to Ferdie, who had, coincidentally, trained at Sproatt & Rolph, the Chapel’s original architects. The seamless expansion was completed in time for the Old Boys Weekend of 1964.

Over the years, Ferdie’s firms won multiple awards, including an Honorable Mention at the 1948 London Olympics in the Architectural Design category, and one of the first Massey Silver Medals for Architecture in 1950. He was elected as Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, became a Full Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy, chairman of the Ontario Association of Architects and a member of the Governing Council of the Ontario College of Art, serving two terms as Chair—OCAD now has an award given in his name.

Ferdie Marani was part of an old age of architecture that’s now gone, “a time in which the mayor phones up Ferdie or Ron Dick and says, ‘We need a courthouse, University Avenue, OAA fees, okay, good, click.’” notes Bob Goyeche, a current principle at the firm Ferdie once founded. “That era changed.” The firm still stands, though it has since shuffled partners, now less Georgian and more concept-driven and elite. However, that’s one of the most amazing things about architecture: Ferdie’s unmistakeable prints are all over this country, its cities and its suburbs, and all across this campus.

And, as we now look to our grounds with an eye to expand and improve, to breathe new life into the Iggulden Gymnasium Ferdie Marani designed nearly eighty years ago, it’s a good moment to remember that Ridley’s past will always inform its future—and that the transformation of the gym and surrounding buildings will send ripples of positive change, not only across our campus, but across time.  

To learn more about The Campaign for Ridley, as well as plans for a reimagined campus, visit us online.

This article was printed in the winter issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.