Category Archives: Lower School

Learning Moral Courage with Professor Irshad Manji

We live in divided times, and our world is more polarized than ever before. While social media platforms today allow us to communicate instantaneously and effortlessly anywhere in the world, they have engendered a new crisis, ironically, of communication—the effects of which we could not possibly have anticipated.

At present, the prospect of communicating across divides—political or otherwise—seems an impossible task. As our lives become increasingly isolated and insular, we feel more distant from our friends and neighbours, and from the world at large. The American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offered a poignant assessment of our contemporary social affliction in a recent article for The Atlantic: “We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.” Yet, recent data published by Gallup reveals that our society was more cooperative, with intergroup relations perceived nearly twice as positively, only ten short years ago. So, how can start to bridge our modern divide and begin to heal collectively, as a society?

Professor Irshad Manji (University of Oxford) proposes a simple, yet satisfying, answer: by learning to communicate with each other—again.

Last year, Ridley College joined the growing ‘moral courage community’ by partnering with Professor Manji’s non-profit Moral Courage College (MCC), an organization that empowers and works with institutions, including K-12 schools like ours, to engage in honest diversity work rather than simply rushing to adopt the trendiest framework out of fear of appearing unresponsive.

In September 2021, we invited Professor Manji to host a series of virtual workshops with students, faculty, and staff to teach us about moral courage and set out on a path together, as an institution, to develop the skills to engage constructively about contentious issues without sowing division.

Of course, Professor Manji is no stranger to Ridley College. As many in our community will no doubt recall, she was the inaugural speaker in our MGI-Gordon Distinguished Speaker in November 2005 during the tour for her controversial second book, The Trouble with Islam Today, which had been released the previous year. Seeking a dynamic speaker who could spark discussion and debate around big ideas, she fit the bill perfectly and, as with her latest visit, she certainly did not disappoint.

This year, however, Professor Manji returned to Ridley in a new capacity—as our first Global Leader in Residence, sharing her wealth of knowledge and insight with our students, parents, faculty, and staff, as well as some of the intimate biographical details that inspired her to establish the Moral Courage Project.

Before joining the University of Oxford’s Initiative for Global Ethics and Human Rights, Professor Manji served for many years as a professor of leadership at New York University. Prior to that, she held a number of positions under Canadian New Democratic politicians—as a legislative aide, press secretary, and speechwriter—while somehow also finding time to moonlight as the host of a television program about queer issues and author multiple New York Times bestselling books, most recently, Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.

But despite her many accolades—including Oprah Winfrey’s Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness, and conviction”—Professor Manji remains completely authentic, wholly unpretentious, and down to earth. She moves fluidly between registers from session to session, deftly navigating a spectrum of big—and often controversial—topics in a way that is engaging and memorable, masterfully modulating her message to command the full attention of her audience, whether comprised of Kindergarteners, teens, or adults over 50.

Stepping out onto the Mandeville Theatre stage in person for the first time in nearly two decades, she addresses the packed crowd on Monday morning with humility and grace—virtues she credits to having her proverbial butt kicked in the early years of her career. “I wanted to change the world without recognizing that I had to change myself,” she reflects. 

“Back then, the voice in my head told me if you don’t fight back, your opponents won’t know that you mean business. […] But this was the biggest mistake I ever could have made because it made my critics more rigid in their thinking and made my sympathizers question my sincerity.”   

But this change did not come easily. After nearly a decade of “digesting toxic energy,” experiencing clinical depression and panic attacks, she collapsed just moments before the biggest interview of her life. Then, her doctors presented her with an ultimatum—either she quit her book tour, or they quit as her doctors. “It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she explains. “My body was trying to tell me something, but I was not listening. Then my body showed me who was boss.” 

Today, she is no longer the incendiary, confrontational figure who “used to walk on stage with her metaphorical fists clenched, ready to punch back at her opponents,” but instead, strives to be a thoughtful and respectful adversary to those with whom she disagrees—a power she claims is entirely within reach for those who are willing to “speak truth to the power of their own egos.”

Drawing on the principles of neuroscience and positive psychology, she started the MCC to help educators and leaders communicate and develop relationships across divides by learning to modulate their emotions in situations where they are forced to confront difficult, often emotionally charged, issues. This instinct to fear and lash out when we are confronted with views different from our own, and the related impulse to subdue this perceived threat by labelling others, is a fundamental part of how we are wired, she explains. However, letting our emotions—primarily fear—guide us tends to produce only fast, often temporary, fixes that only deepen existing tensions and polarization.

 “Instinctually, we are always scanning for threats. When we perceive them, the primitive region of our brains—the amygdala [part of the Limbic System]—starts to take over. […] When we disagree on subjects that we feel passionately about, our brains make us believe others are attacking us. We perceive disagreement as an existential threat. But in reality, we are only experiencing mere discomfort.” 

In those decisive moments, we are forced to make a choice. We can let fear overtake us and become defensive—usually at the expense of being heard by our opponents—or we can choose to listen, which requires us to acknowledge and respect the singularity of the individual we are facing, despite our initial instinct to reduce them to a set of labels.   

“There is no shame in categorizing,” she continues.  

“The trouble with labels is not that they exist, but the baggage that goes with them. But we must remember that we are also owners of a more evolved part of the brain. Rather than letting emotion bully cognition out of the picture, we must find a way to let cognition and emotion peacefully co-exist.” 

A problem arises only when we let our assumptions—and our emotions—take the wheel and shut down rather than engaging with our opponents as equals. In these moments, we deprive others of their humanity by reducing them to caricatures rather than engaging with them as our equals with complex thoughts, opinions, and emotions, at which point, Manji emphasizes, “social justice becomes anti-social, and justice is reduced to ‘just us.’”

True justice, she counters, manifests when we recognize that individuals who belong to the same demographic group are not identical, and we are impelled to create space for that individual to express their unique point of view.

“I am a Muslim. But does that mean that I think like every other Muslim? Not all Muslims think alike. And if that’s true of marginalized groups, it is also true of the so-called straight white guy. […] If you’re going to [make the conscious effort to] know me, [rather than] of me, you are going to engage with me, not make assumptions based on this or that label.” 

So, how do we outsmart the limbic system which causes us to react this way? The answer might surprise you: take a deep breath. “We must give our bodies the time and oxygen to transition from this hyperemotional ego brain to the more evolved pre-frontal cortex […] where cognition and emotion can cohabit and coexist,” Manji claims. This is not to say we need to banish emotion. “Good luck trying,” she scoffs. Rather, it is coming to the realization that our biggest obstacle is not the other person, but our own egos.

“By lowering our emotional defences, we are using our power wisely to motivate the other to follow in our footsteps,” she explains. But unfortunately—in the age of cancel culture and reactive social media platforms—many social justice advocates and educators have lost sight of this noble ambition. 

As governments, businesses, non-profits, and other institutions around the world continue to direct considerable effort and resources to creating or revising DEI or JEDI mandates, Manji emphasizes the need for creating organizational cultures that respect and encourage a diversity of viewpoints, which she suggests is both a cornerstone of our pluralistic, liberal-democratic way of life. Recent events show, however, that this way of life is increasingly threatened by a creeping homogeneity driven by a fear of appearing ineffective, behind the times, or worse—prejudiced.

“There is a tendency to frame free speech as antithetical to social justice and social justice as contradictory to free speech. You can have one or the other but not both. I’m calling B.S. on that. You must have both.” 

In response to changing tides, administrators in K-12 and higher education have deployed various “inclusion efforts” and “inclusion training” programs over the last decade which Manji claims have only “inflamed the culture wars” and fuelled an “us versus them” mentality—usually in service of “speaking truth to power,” a slogan that Manji partially takes issue with.

This statement, and the term “moral courage,” she explains, are usually attributed to the same source—former U.S. Senator, Robert F. Kennedy, who was an advocate for the civil rights movement and fought against corruption before his tragic death in 1968. When we are called upon to “speak truth to power,” we are being asked to take a moral stance on an issue and stand up for what is right, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular, or our position might be perceived as unnecessarily critical or offensive. But in our current climate of “us against them,” Manji claims, “the way we speak truth to power matters as much as the truth we think we are speaking.” 

“Speaking truth to power is not enough. We must appreciate that we have power. Moral courage today has to mean speaking truth to the power of your own ego, even as you are speaking truth to powers external to you.” 

One of the key tactics deployed by the civil rights movement that ought to be leveraged by today’s educators and social justice advocates is the capacity to educate one’s emotions. She explains: 

“During the civil rights movement, facilitators of activism taught young people to educate [their] emotions. If you simply lash out, you are not going to make your point in a way that motivates the other to hear you. These moments spent so much time building resilience and antifragility. We have lost that today.” 

Doing moral courage work today, therefore, requires learning to master our emotional defences so we can productively communicate and develop relationships across divides. Doing so, she explains, permits us to overcome our all-pervasive us versus them mindset so that we can begin to work co-operatively to build cultures—organizational and otherwise—that reject shaming and labelling and champion free speech, diversity of expression, and diversity of viewpoint. For educators, this means rejecting fear and putting these skills to work in their classrooms to create and cultivate respectful spaces for open dialogue and debate. But it also means teaching students to respect the plurality of forces at work in each of us and begin to view themselves and others as more than individuals or a set of labels—but as “plurals.” Only plural, Manji explains, “accurately captures all sentient beings [and suggests] that there is so much more to any of us than meets the eye.”

This responsibility will not fall squarely upon faculty members. In the fall, Professor Manji will be virtually leading an exciting new club, “We the Plurals,” which is open to all students between Grades 7 and 12 who are 100 percent committed to the cause. The club will teach students to recognize themselves and each other as plurals, teach them to educate their emotions and equip them “with the skills to engage across lines of difference, disagreement and mutual disgust”—skills that Professor Manji notes are increasingly in demand in our global society.

Members of our faculty and staff will also enroll in Professor Manji’s Moral Courage Mentor Certification Program in the coming months to become certified Moral Courage Mentors. This program, which she bills as a “Moral Courage boot camp,” teaches participants to “finesse [their] moral courage skills, boost [their] confidence to teach those skills to younger people, and meet fellow aspiring Mentors.” At the conclusion of the course, all participants will receive a certificate issued by the University of Oxford and be equipped with the skills to teach Moral Courage both in the classroom and in communities beyond. We encourage parents and students to consider enrolling in the course as well to help us extend our Moral Courage teachings beyond the classroom.

As we continue to advocate for and define our individual approach to cultivating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus, we remain committed to empowering our diverse community of learners, fostering global competency, and providing a safe space for healthy debate on global issues. Above all, Ridley College is a place where everyone belongs and finds a home. Equally, we reject the chilling modern tendency to respond to intolerance with new, sometimes greater, forms of intolerance.

We are so grateful to Professor Manji for her kindness and profound insight, and we look forward to working with her in the future as we continue to integrate the teachings of Moral Courage into the essential foundation of our learning community.

Data Driven: Jeff Bell ’88

Ridley students and employees spent the past year connecting largely via Microsoft Teams, so we just had to sit down with longtime MS expert, Jeff Bell ’88 to talk tech. Now, the alumnus shares his take on the future of work—and how Microsoft kept us clicking during a global pandemic.  

Jeff takes our call from his home office in Seattle, Washington. “Well, it wasn’t a home office until a year ago,” he explains practically, looking out at the Olympic Mountains, “it was our guest bedroom. But that’s the way the world has changed.” Like many of us, Jeff, too, has been working from home during the pandemic.

Back in 1991, the numbers minded Ridleian took on a summer internship at Microsoft. At the time, Jeff was working on an adaptation kit for companies to put MS-DOS 5.0 in their handheld devices (which he nods to as an essentially early ancestor of the iPhone). His officemates were busy working on Windows 3.1 and employees one door over were tackling applications. Jeff returned to Princeton University that fall to finish up his senior year, then moved out to Seattle as a fulltime Microsoft employee.

“There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now we’ve all been that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”

He’s worked there ever since, challenging the ‘Bay Area stereotype’ that people in tech tend to hop from company to company. Over the years, Jeff’s been able to move within the organization and dive deep into a variety of projects that speak to his skills and interests, including type and typography; digital rights management; digital payments and wallets; tools for early e-commerce; and eBooks and ePub standards. And if, like us, you love the ‘Save as PDF’ functionality in Office Suite, you can thank Jeff—he led the small team that worked with Adobe to add it as a built-in feature.

Today, Microsoft employs more than 175,000 people worldwide, and Jeff is an expert on Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The quick pace of technology means they’re always rolling out new features and waiting for customers to renew can be a real drag—for creators and consumers alike. But with people now automating everything from music to razors to poultry, a simple subscription ensures users will always get their mouse on the most current iteration. 

“Think of Netflix as an example,” Jeff explains. “If I were to buy a hard disk or a chip with all the shows on it, but it doesn’t update itself with anything, how exciting is that? People producing a new show would have to wait for viewers to upgrade their Netflix or buy a new TV.” 

“In the software world, we’ve long had this challenge—we’d build all these great new features we really like, but our customers were still using this thing from five years ago that they’d buy new only when they’d buy a new PC. We want to get the updates to everyone faster, and if we can help make that easy, we can give everyone a better experience and a better product.”

“There are a whole lot of paths to being successful. There are smart people everywhere and it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people across the board—to deliver products in tech.”

Since March 2020, discussions of secure, collaborative products and ‘work-from-home ergonomics’ have taken on new life as employees perch at kitchen counters, occupy dining room chairs and hunch over coffee tables. 

Though we may have had to keep an eye on our steps, many of us were undeniably lucky to be able to work remotely during a time when the world, in large measure, shut down. Technologies like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet kept us connecting, celebrating, and producing. 

MS Teams saw a huge uptick in users over the pandemic, and was one of the fastest growing apps, adding a whopping 95 million users in 2020. More than 500,000 organizations worldwide now use it as their default messaging platform, including over 183,000 educational institutions.

Though he may be working from home these days, for Jeff, connecting virtually is old hat. “At some level, that’s how my old world was. I spent two years where my manager and immediate team actually sat in Dublin, Ireland,” he recalls. “And Microsoft is a decent-sized campus. When I’m working with the commerce team or the payments team and they’re a 10-to-20-minute shuttle ride or walk away, you meet with them on Teams. So much of my work was done on Teams and via email already.”   

Microsoft has been thinking about the future of hybrid work for years. One of the projects Jeff worked on, now nearly a decade ago, was meeting technology and hybrid meetings, with the team considering such things as collaborative notetaking. “We didn’t end up solving the problem at the time, but we made a little headway,” he muses, “and the world moved on. But there’s certainly an interest in watching how things played out once everyone had to go virtual.”  

And in many ways, Jeff’s been in on the experiment, as his own family learned to operate remotely this past year—which included everything from the logistics of virtual orchestra to scrambling to find a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing. Jeff lives in Seattle with his son, Andrew, who’s going into Grade 12, and daughter, Elizabeth, who will be entering Grade 10. His wife, Anna, a lawyer by training and a former JAG officer, is a romance writer. Though there was certainly some trial and error in the day-to-day, the pace slowed for everyone; a smaller stride meant more frequent video calls with Jeff’s Ottawa-based parents, his extended family in Alberta, and his sister, alumna Jensa Morris ’90, who’s now a doctor based in Connecticut. 

He’s also continued to keep active in his downtime, golfing throughout Seattle’s long season and still serious about running—he’s run 20 marathons to date, a passion which goes back to his days as a harrier at Ridley. 

Jeff came to the Lower School over Christmas in Grade 7, having started French immersion earlier that year and wanting a different kind of education. A conversation with family connection Reverend Hunt soon led the young whiz to Ridley—and, once there, Jeff never looked back. He spent the next seven years as a day student. In Lower School, he played cricket, soccer, squash, tennis, and hockey. When he transitioned to Upper School, now a student of Merritt South, he focused on playing hockey and competing both as a harrier and on the tennis courts. He was a Cadet sergeant, a House Prefect, and received both the TR Merritt Matriculation Gold Medal and the Governor General’s Medal. 

Jeff’s impressive skills in mathematics were known widely, so it was of little surprise that he sought a future career in engineering. “There are lots of domains in which you can solve problems, but I was strong in maths and sciences,” he remembers. “Engineering just felt like a place where there are always fun problems to solve and good tools for doing it.”

It was simply a question of where. Jeff was in Grade 12 and applying to Ontario programmes when his teacher, Brian Martin approached him and asked if he’d considered any American schools. He hadn’t, thinking those kinds of plans were years in the making. But it was a late decision which paid off; Jeff got in his applications just under the deadline and was accepted to the engineering programme at Princeton University. 

“It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.”

What comes across as he talks about his work, however, is that it’s clearly about more than math alone (though he certainly spends his time deep in the numbers): Jeff is essentially a storyteller, contextualizing the data and using it as a tool to gain insight into what consumers are doing (or aren’t), how the business is working (or isn’t), and what’s going to be good for both. What impact are we having? Are we touching people at scale? How can we build the right thing? 

“That fluency is almost more valuable than code,” he agrees, “It used to be fashionable to talk about how everyone should be fluent in coding—and the expectation of numeracy and comfort in data modelling might sound equally dated in 20 years. But right now, it feels like the easiest people to work with are the ones who can have a conversation about the data.” 

And after the past year-and-a-half, the data has a lot to say. Today, Microsoft’s signature problem-solving efforts continue as a workforce contemplates its return to the office. How do workers use the chat function? How do things function when half the meeting’s attendees are remote? Is the chat channel more visible to those who are remote—and is it then ignored by those in the room? As we all inch closer to a new working model, mock-up solutions are popping up across the Microsoft campus. Their teams have been busy learning from what we’ve been doing these past months—and envisioning what a hybrid future might look like. 

“I think we’ll get to a place where we have more of a recognition of those who are remote,” Jeff predicts. “There were always people who worked remotely—we just tended to ignore them. Now that we’ve allbeen that remote person for the past year-and-a-half, there’s that much more awareness of how to make it work for everyone.”

“I have a lot of appreciation for the data scientists; the best ones are artists who understand the numbers and do a great job of storytelling and making sense of the world, making sense of the work we do.”

And, notably, these changes bring with them important conversations about diversity, accessibility, and opportunities to broaden the hiring pool. “While Redmond and Seattle are lovely places, we don’t need to move the whole world here,” Jeff points out practically, citing his organization’s recent hires who will be staying put. “There are smart people everywhere and tons of opportunity. In tech, it takes a lot of people—and a lot of types of people—to deliver products.”

Speaking with Jeff, you can’t help but be excited by what’s to come, knowing these technologies will only expand our reach across both office and globe. And though we’ve each had to pivot over the course of this pandemic, to park our cars and watch our work clothes hang in our closets like question marks—we are the lucky ones. There’s plenty of promise in the ‘new normal,’ status unknown, even as it’s still coming into focus.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Fall 2021 issue.

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.

The Evolution of Ridley’s Dress Code and School Uniform

As Ridley moves towards a new uniform design, Archives Intern and Queen’s University Concurrent Education student, Ella Foss ’16 takes a look back on the traditions, functionality, and design trends that have inspired more than a century of our school’s dress.  

Since the establishment of Ridley, it has been clear that uniformity was an intentional way to create a sense of community, to place all students on an even playing field, and to foster a strong sense of belonging. The first headmaster, J.O. Miller was determined that, “Ridley College from opening day would be meticulous about the students’ school dress.” In staying true to Miller’s vision, a dress code has remained a constant, while changing with the times as Ridley itself has matured. To understand how the school has arrived at the uniform’s next update, we must first revisit the trends from decades past.


1889 to 1910s

During the early years, when the packing list for boarders included “knickerbockers” and “pocket handkerchiefs,” a Ridley College cap with an embellished orange Ridley crest was issued to students for weekday wearing. At this time, the remaining garments of the dress code did not include the emblem but promoted a professional style—the boys sported suits on school days, consisting of trousers, button-up shirt, tie, and blazer). Given the church services, Sundays in the late 1800s were even more formal; the boys wore black suit jackets and black waistcoats (suit vest).

Images of the First Cricket Elevens decorate our ACTAs, with Ridleians sporting white blazers which would eventually inspire the Prefect blazers of more recent times. This nod to Ridley’s British roots dates back as early as 1900 and remained through to the last year of cricket in 2001. As early as 1919, the Second Cricket Team can be seen wearing the black blazers with orange piping, which would soon become part of the Lower School uniform.

1920s

Ridley’s British independent school roots were also evident in the boys’ post-war attire. “Eton collars were the bane of the Junior’s existence…[they] found so many excuses to avoid wearing the collar that it amounted to passive rebellion.” Due to the perceived discomfort of the garment, older students were permitted to instead don Marlborough sack coats.

1950s to 1970s

Twenty years later, “blues and greys” became the number one dress, to be worn on Sundays and for Chapel.

As indicated in the ACTA of the era,  “This term has seen the School emerging in new blue flannel blazers with an embroidered Ridley crest on the pocket.” At the same time, the Arts Tie was introduced, with thin, widely spaced orange and white stripes on a black background, still worn today by our thespians, musicians and artists alike.

It must be said that Ridley’s long-standing Cadet Programme has had significant influence over aspects of school dress. Our traditional military uniforms have progressed from army green to navy, khakis and maple leaf red. 

At this time, the regular uniform of the Lower School students included the black blazer adorned with orange piping, a white, grey, or light blue dress shirt, the Lower School tie (orange, black, and sliver) and either grey or black pants. Blues and greys were worn only on Sundays, with strictly grey, black, or navy blue socks. Unbelievably, at the time, every clothing item had to be labelled with the students’ name, down to the individual sock!

Perhaps the most casual shift during this time was the introduction of “summer dress,” which became an alternative option for the Lower School students during the warmer months. A golf shirt and grey or navy Bermuda Shorts worn with navy blue or grey knee socks made the heat and outdoor play more enjoyable.

In 1971, a new disciplinary code was put into place,  based upon several firm beliefs: “that the individual student must be given increasing responsibility for his decisions and his actions; that the order and efficiency of the School should be maintained with a minimum of oppressive interference upon a boy’s freedom; and that good discipline does not depend necessarily upon absolute conformity, nor does it mean that a student’s cherished individualism need be sacrificed.”

The students of Merritt House North can still be found marking Frau Day each year to nod to Josselyn’s self-described “eye-sore” look.

While older students continued to wear a plain jacket or one with small checks, some of the students found their individually in loud, colourful ties. It’s no surprise then that ‘Frau Day’ has its roots in this decade, when Merritt House North student, Mark Josselyn ’76 “set about to make his own ‘fashion statement.’” Back then, he would be found wearing contrasting patterns, stripes and plaid, from his tie to shirt, to his jacket, pants and even socks. The term ‘Frau’ (Josselyn’s nickname) was used to “describe anyone messy, disheveled or dirty…” The students of Merritt House North can still be found marking Frau Day each year to nod to Josselyn’s self-described “eye-sore” look.

In the fall of 1973, Ridley welcomed female students for the first time. The dress code, previously written for all male students, was amended to state “or equivalent” for females. There really were no clear standards outlined for the young women: what was seen as within the rules varied between faculty members. For the first Ridley women and staff alike, it was difficult to determine what fell within the rules. It was a time unprecedented in Canadian independent schools, and Headmaster Richard Bradley’s progressive decision to go co-ed meant Ridley had to chart new territory—including with its uniform.

Students have always worked to show their individuality through the uniform and in this liberal era some students elected to wear three-piece suits, while others pushed the limits of “trousers” by wearing corduroy pants. Summer dress was only an option for the boys.

It was a time unprecedented in Canadian independent schools, and Headmaster Richard Bradley’s progressive decision to go co-ed meant Ridley had to chart new territory—including with its uniform.

1980s

By the 1980s, the majority of Ridleians abandoned the busy and bright ties and began sporting popularized thin monochrome versions. The College’s first cohort of girls could wear pants or a skirt/dress which went below the knee with socks or nylons, and often displayed their individuality by way of their jewelry and hairstyle. It did, however, take some time for a formal female uniform to be formalized.

At the end of the decade, the Lower School updated its uniform. The black and white kilt, white button-up Oxford shirt or turtleneck, and black sweater or vest are cited as staples for the younger Ridleians.

“Change is needed everywhere one goes, and luckily at Ridley, most things simply got better [with change].”

– clipped article found in the 1988 ACTA

1990s to 2000s

During the 1990s the Upper School female students continued to push the limits of the dress code; wearing babydoll dresses, Mary Janes, and small hoop earrings (studs alone being permitted previously). Headmaster Doug Campbell, among others, sought to improve the standards of the students’ daily dress and resurfaced the discussions surrounding the dress code. The fruits of those ongoing debates came to fruition in 2000 when the Upper School gained its first official classroom uniform.

By the 21st century, the daily classroom dress included grey or blue trousers, the blue plaid kilt, a white button up shirt, tie, and a blue or grey pull-over sweater or vest. Blues and greys remained the number one dress. With dwindling competitors in Ontario, 2001 marked the final year of cricket at Ridley, and the white sport coats with orange piping were reassigned as Prefect blazers—this distinctive addition complementing the existing Prefect Tie and an homage to Ridley’s history.

The last year of the white Prefect blazers was 2016: a new system of recognition was adopted the following year: white piping along the lapel of the of the Prefect.

2010s

The last year of the white Prefect blazers was 2016: a new system of recognition was adopted the following year: piping along the lapel of the of the Prefect (white) and House Captain’s blazers (respective house colour).


Fashion Forward

Along with the changing times, Ridley has experienced many positive transformations, cementing its position as one of the top independent schools in Canada—the introduction of co-education, technology, younger grades, the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, and positive education have been among the most notable. It’s no wonder then that our student attire has remained a strong marker of our connectedness.

As we can garner from the evolution of Ridley’s dress code and uniform, every once in a while a refresh is necessary. In the coming years, our alma mater is planning for another redesign that nods to our storied past but serves the current era. A Uniform Committee, made up of students, faculty and staff, has been working to restyle the look and functionality of the uniform. In speaking with key members of this group, the update is said to be inspired by Ridley’s traditions and history—and we can’t wait to see future generations of students continue to proudly sport our insignia and that telltale vibrant pop of orange.

By Ella Foss ’16

Special thanks is owed to interviewees:

Ken Hutton, Trish Loat, Geoffrey Park ’80, Zack Jones, Gary Atack, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86, Wendy Darby ’99, Janet Lewis, Lance Postma, and Hanna Kidd.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2021 issue.

Halfway Across the Bridge of Difference

Excerpts taken from “To Be Consumed in Service in a World on Fire: Working for Positive Change in the 21st Century,” The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean’s speech from her visit to Ridley in January 2020 for the MGI Gordon Speaker Series.

“All over the world, that’s how change usually comes about—through young people … Without them, there is little hope to find long-lasting solutions to the challenges we face.”

Terar Dum Prosim. It’s our school’s motto, proudly displayed around campus, taken to heart and deed by Ridleians for more than a century. But what does it mean, in today’s world, to be consumed in service? It was the question posed to young audience members by Michaëlle Jean—Canada’s 27th Governor General and Commander-in-Chief—on her visit to Ridley this past January for the MGI Gordon Speaker Series.

And as she stood at the podium, illuminated by the light of the Mandeville Theatre, Madame Jean spoke of what’s increasingly at stake: from civil discourse, to the plight of the disenfranchised, to the health of our planet. She implored students to consider how best to channel their passions, and showed them, through the power of storytelling, how their “most precious asset”—the stories of our collective past—can be used to move forward, together:

Beyond words and the local idiom, there is something even more powerful we can call the ‘shared language of our universal and shared humanity.’ Expressing the ideas and thoughts that speak to our common experience helps us to re-imagine and re-shape the world as a space where we can share solidarity, cooperation, fundamental rights and freedom, dignity, global justice, inclusive and responsible development, environmental sustainability, and creativity—embracing our cultural diversity and the richness of our perspectives as part of the human journey.

We are all bound together by a shared history that has shaped our past, and therefore shapes our present. But we need to come to terms with an inescapable fact: colonial violence, destruction, war, many crimes and mistakes are also part of our shared history. The same way we are also entwined by shared experiences that have lifted and connected us, exacting but successful struggles have shaped and built our communities.

“Holding on to diversity and difference, in the midst of intense pressures toward conformity and uniformity, is an act of brave resistance and creative vitality.”

Let us remember that millions of people from every corner of the earth left darkness and despair behind, to land here with nothing but their nightmares and their dreams, their struggle for survival and their hope for a new life.

We can’t see very far into the future, but a long view of the past is possible; memory is our guide. In the big boat of history, that is why we row forward looking back. Facing our past helps us steer clear of old wanderings and errancies, while a glance above the shoulders allows us to stay the course.

That is my invitation to you today: to row together as hard as we can in the present moment, facing the past to maintain correct direction, moving resolutely forward, toward a better future.

Madame Jean is certainly no stranger to overcoming adversity. After fleeing Haiti with her parents in 1968, she slowly pieced together a life in Quebec, earning the degrees and scholarships which would allow her to study around the world. Fluent in five languages, an award-winning journalist, staunch supporter of the Quebec women’s movement, and UNESCO Special Envoy to her home country of Haiti, her many successes over the years were the result of courage, resiliency and a firm commitment to supporting democracy and human rights. In 2010, the stateswoman and her husband, (filmmaker, essayist and philosopher, Jean-Daniel Lafond) founded the Michaëlle Jean Foundation which, through art and culture, supports civic initiatives alongside some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised youth in Canada.

“At the core of what I do,” she shared with the room, “what is closest to my heart, is the calling to serve and accompany thousands of young people in their professional development; the emergence of their talents; their desire to create, reinvent, innovate, build, contribute to the common good; to serve and produce freely and to the fullest extent of their abilities.”

“The action of young people changes everything, because it has always been the most luminous source of engagement in the world … Young people constitute human capital in which we must invest the most—but unfortunately invest the least.”

Madame Jean’s stories were both far-reaching and immediate. She told the little-known story of Niagara’s Richard Pierpoint—a former slave and black Loyalist who fought with the British and finally became a property owner in 1822 at age 78. The black communities “Captain Dick” helped establish contributed to the region becoming home to many African American refugees, the final stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves reaching Canada.

She gave voice to the determined young women who struggled to find their place when they first came to Ridley in the 1970s. She spoke of her own experiences dealing with adversity: as a refugee, as a woman, and in the many professional roles in organizations where she was the first of African descent—teacher, journalist, anchor, Secretary General of the International Organization of La Francophonie, and as Canada’s third female Governor General.

Our shared history is our guide; our shared responsibility is to ensure the past doesn’t repeat itself. To remember our covenant with nature, with each other.”

“I can relate to these stories of hardship when, as a group and as an individual, you find yourself defending your intrinsic dignity and human worth, expressing and simply exercising your rights and equality,” she explained thoughtfully. “These hold lessons for all of us, about what service means, and what it costs.”

She looked back at the daunting swell of history—Europe, Canada, the roots we have planted here in St. Catharines, and to her own journey which led her to the podium that day—and then looked out at the audience before her. And as the poignant stories filled the intimate theatre space, her earlier invitation hung unspoken: And you? What will you do when you are called?

Now more than ever, we need leaders willing to put themselves on the line to serve society, willing to make sacrifices for the common good, to advance our shared destiny as humans, around a commitment, for instance, to safeguard the global commons—the oceans, the land, the remaining forests and wilderness, the Arctic, the Earth’s atmosphere.

That must now include a commitment to keeping a healthy atmosphere of dialogue, and a sane climate where disagreement is possible, and debate desirable.”

It’s a challenge to which we must all rise, as the world we know shifts shape into something new. Whatever our beliefs or our politics, finding sustainable, positive solutions to today’s concerns require each of us to learn, to listen, to be bold, and to seek guidance from those among us who are experienced, wise and good.  

 “We must strive to bring most everyone, all generations on board,” Madame Jean continued in earnest. “With smart strategies that seek to unify, rather than needlessly polarize. With spirited, informed and well-designed tactics. With art and creativity. With guts and gusto. Building people power, mass momentum. Holding on tight to what being a citizen truly means. Through peaceful social power. With dignity, dignity for everyone as a core value. And a fierce dedication to be the change we want to see.”

As the night drew to a close, students gathered around her, and Madam Jean took the time to speak with each one in turn, sharing, smiling, and listening to what they had to say. It is this compassion, this genuine interest in people which makes people gravitate to her, and which has made her one of the country’s most inspirational figures. 

And you? How will you rise to the challenges we face in today’s world? To be consumed in service to a greater cause? “Nothing will happen without this generation—you, the student generation—being activated,” Madame Jean told them.

“That is where I pin my hopes.”

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

A Positive Approach to Masks for Children

How parents and educators can promote wellbeing and quell anxieties related to wearing a mask or face covering at school.

By Sue Easton, Director of Wellbeing & Learning

As we prepare to return to campus amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about the impact of wearing non-medical masks or face coverings on student wellbeing have surfaced. While wearing a mask has been proven to lessen exposure and provides us with the ability to reintegrate into society, it can be a challenge for us to accept the changes the virus has imposed on our lives. For children, this can be an even more complicated transition to understand, which is why it is vital to speak to young children about their emotions surrounding the start of school and the changes it may bring—including mask-culture.

As a positive education school, Ridley uses the PERMA-V Model to define “flourishing,” and we have used this framework to address common social-emotional concerns and to share some tips and help prepare families for September.

Positive Emotions

  • provide positive reinforcement for appropriate use of masks, when you are out in the community
  • give children choice in relation to the comfort of thier mask (some children like elastic behind the ears, while others prefer a toggle at the back)
  • give children choice on the appearance of their masks (for younger students, a ‘superhero’ approach has been used for years in parts of Asia and may be effective)
A lower school student in a mask sits outside.

Communicate clearly, considering tone, expression and body language all of us at Ridley will, too!

Engagement

  • for younger children, use imaginative play to demonstrate appropriate use (e.g. with stuffed animals) and familiarize them with how their teachers may look this fall
  • for older children, make masks together to ensure that appearance and comfort are personalized
  • Practice wearing a mask while doing a task kids enjoy (such as watching TV or playing on electronics) to help normalize the feeling

“Not everyone is able to wear a face mask and many disabilities are invisible. Assume positive intent and be kind and respectful to those who cannot wear a face mask.”

Relationships

  • model appropriate mask use – children use social referencing to decide what they should do, meaning parents and teachers can lead by example.
  • communicate clearly, considering tone, expression and body language all of us at Ridley will, too!
  • normalize the use of masks, giving young children the opportunity to watch and get used to seeing others in masks, as well as wearing them
  • acknowledge feelings of discomfort, rather than telling children that they shouldn’t have a big issue with wearing a mask or seeing someone in a mask.
A masked female student poses in uniform with her backpack.

Meaning

  • help children understand why we are wearing masks, and the importance of doing our best to protect ourselves and others in our community (personalize it if you can, ie: grandparents)
  • share information with them to further their understanding, like in this Bill Nye video
  • support children in creating cloth masks for others in the community who do not have access

Achievement

  • celebrate consistency and appropriate use of masks as a way to be kind to others
  • encourage self-advocacy when children do not hear or understand what someone says to them

Give children choice on the appearance of their masks.

Vitality

  • remind children that it has been repeatedly proven that we can breathe effectively through masks
  • teach children how to put on and take off masks so that they are avoiding touching certain parts of the mask or storing it in a santitary location during lunch or outdoor play.

McMaster Children’s hospital coined the phrase “Play, practice, prepare, and be patient” in relation to the introduction of masks to children. We appreciate your support in helping our Ridley students with this adjustment. We know that their physical and emotional wellbeing are your top priorities as parents — and they are for Ridley, too. We are here to support you in your reintegration back to school and want to ensure you feel ‘Positively Prepared.’

Two friends in masks take a selfie.

Help children understand why we are wearing masks, and the importance of doing our best to protect ourselves and others in our community.

For more information on Ridley’s masking requirements for Grade 4 to 12 students and employees, please visit the Healthy Communities section of our Positively Prepared: Return to Campus Roadmap. A video featuring our Nurse Manager will soon be shared to help families understand proper mask etiquette from a health standpoint.

Ridley Carries On: 130 Years of Resilience

“If there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion.”

As the world faces one of the largest global crises on record, one can’t help but reflect on our school’s history. From the Springbank House fire in 1903, to world wars, economic turmoil, and more, Ridley has, quite literally, risen from the ashes through more than 130 years of unexpected plight. Though it may feel as though the COVID-19 pandemic has dented our amour, we know our school will once again prove its resilience and persevere in the face of this significant event.

We’ve flipped through our anthologies to illustrate the major crises and challenges Ridleians have overcome.*


Springbank House Fire (1903)

It was a cold October morning when students were roused from their sleep by shouts of “Fire!” The boys jostled each other to get outside, grabbing a random assortment of belongings in their haste, as the fire-bell rang in their ears. They stood under the street gaslight, answering, one by one, as Headmaster J.O. Miller called the roll—thankfully, all were accounted for. By the time the firemen arrived, it was clear the building would be completely destroyed; spurred on by the wind, the fire had raced along the attic before turning its attention to the main school building. The firemen concentrated their efforts on protecting the adjacent houses, and what belongings could be saved were piled on the street and in the headmaster’s backyard. The Upper School students watched, helpless, as Ridley collapsed before their eyes.

Springbank House Fire (1903)
Springbank House Fire (1903)

But those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along. Boys were temporarily rehoused, and within a month of the fire, everything was relatively normal in the academic programme and general activities; there was even a gym of sorts. Miller got to work finding and securing funds to build a brand-new Upper School and chapel on the same land as the Lower School—finally bringing the schools together on the Western Hill in 1905.

“Those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along.”


The First World War (1914-1918)

When the Great War broke out, Old Ridleians immediately enlisted in military services, and the school was filled with the spirit of patriotism. But what started out as a feeling of adventure—the sound of marching infantry, bands playing martial music in the streets, and students filled with the rightness of the cause—by 1916 became grim, the realities of war all too real.

The Acta Ridleianas of the era published obituaries of Ridley’s dead, their names and photographs raised on panels along Chapel walls. Tributes also went up celebrating those who were decorated for valour and leadership. Students donated pocket money to social appeals, war relief funds, and hospital wards; and the boys held a minstrel show to raise money for the cause.

Ridley Cadet Corps
Ridley Cadet Corps

They were told it was their duty to perform well at school, and the students took it to heart. They found solace in music; the Glee Club was restored, concerts held, and the gymnasium was, on occasion, converted into a motion-picture theatre, where it would be filled with laughter at the slapstick comedy of film stars like Charlie Chaplin. On the ice, the hockey team was filled with a formidable fierceness, finishing the season with 16 victories.

“By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand.”

Canada lost 61,000 lives in that war, more than half of Ridley’s 800 graduates were in active service, and of them, 61 died. The Old Boys proposed a chapel in honour of the Ridleians who had lost their lives and raised nearly $50,000 by the spring of 1919. By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand. Canada’s attitudes toward school and higher education grew with it; the number of applications for admittance to Ridley rose.

The Memorial Chapel
The Memorial Chapel

Recession (1922) in the midst of Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-20) & Encephalitis Lethargica Pandemic (1915-26)

The war years, and those that followed, were plagued by worries for health, as the Encephalitis Lethargica pandemic—a curious brain-attacking disease which left its victims still as statues, in a zombie-like state, or dead—raged worldwide.

During those same years, the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the globe, killing millions. In an effort to prepare for what they worried would soon come to campus, Ridley’s governors approached architectural firm, Sproatt & Rolph to plan an isolation hospital. Construction began behind Dean’s House that September, and the new hospital was dubbed “The Pest House” by its first patients.

By October, as many as 60 boys had fallen ill. The most serious cases were reserved for The Pest House, the dorms converted to hospital bays for the overflow. Football season was disrupted, and a 10-day holiday decreed in late October to help reduce human contact. Though Ridley lost one member of its faculty and one nurse, no student died during the pandemic—a testimony to the skill and care of its medical staff. The Pest House continued to serve as an isolation hospital until the Schmon Hospital opened in 1947. With increased enrollment in the decades that followed, The Pest House was converted into a residence and renamed Governors House.

The Pest House
The Pest House

The Great Depression (1928-1932)

By 1931, as Canada’s industrial and trade situation became more desperate, it was soon evident that Ridley could face a serious crisis. By fall 1932, enrollment had plummeted, and many questioned the wisdom in building the new dormitory (which would become Merritt House). Old Boys attending the annual meeting that December were worried about the cost of the forthcoming build. Though they acted confident, Ridley’s principal and governors knew the only way they could justify the spend was to find new boys to fill its dormitories.

“We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.”

Old Boys were challenged to get to work as recruiters, and by the next fall, all heaved a sigh of relief when 27 new students started at Ridley. On campus, students became increasingly interested in current events, absorbed by questions of government, capitalism, and the various ‘isms of communism, pacifism, and fascism being debated around the world. Nevertheless, school spirit remained strong and, as early as 1933, enrollment began rising again.

Only one or two boys were withdrawn for economic reasons during the Depression, indicating that Canadians considered education important enough to be one of the last expenses to be eliminated. We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.

The Second World War (1939-45)

Still raw from the toll of The Great War, by the time the Second World War broke out, the hundreds of Old Ridleians who reported for active service did so with eyes wide open. Gone were the adventurous spirits of 1914; these men knew what it meant to be at war. Graduates of 1940 left the Prize Day presentation table went straight to the fighting forces. Many seniors didn’t even stay to graduate.

For Ridley, the war threatened to be an enormous burden; the school lost staff and students, had difficulty getting supplies, and there were problems of families divided. The mood amongst students was one of defiance, peppered by the occasional fierce display.

“During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.”

Though it was hard to concentrate—for both students and teachers alike—academic rigour was still upheld, and the boys were active in debate, public speaking, music, drama, and athletics. The new Iggulden Gymnasium revolutionized the school, the perfect site for performances and plays, and the state-of-the-art space made way for activities and sports beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket.

At the end of the war in 1945, a gesture to commemorate the dead, similar to the Memorial Chapel, was desired by all, and the Memorial Hall was planned. During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.

Recession (1950) and the Korean War (1950-53)

People had not yet recovered from the Second World War, when the Korean War broke out, and active service loomed yet again for Ridley’s seniors. The Cadets received new attention, now looked upon to train Canada’s soldiers of the future. A lavish provision of supplies filled the gymnasium’s armory with guns, rifles, drums, bugles, and signal radio equipment; the Cadet Bugle Band was upgraded with new artillery trumpets, cymbals and bell lyres. School time was spent on military training, able-bodied young men prepared to enlist for Korea or any other areas of conflict.

The numbers of Ridleians who were serving were troubling: 14 Old Boys were in the Canadian Army; five in the Royal Canadian Air Force; seven in Korea serving with the U.S. Air Force; 12 in the Royal Canadian Navy; three in the Royal Navy; and eight serving in the U.S. Navy. Though the school’s atmosphere didn’t have the same tension that was present during the major wars before it, there was a deep anxiety about what the future would hold and where communist aggression could go. Student enrollment numbers declined as the recession tightened wallets around the country but recovered in step with the war’s ending in 1953.

A Decade of Transition: The Hong Kong Flu and the 1970s

By the time the devastating Hong Kong Flu finished in 1969, it had killed over one million people worldwide, and helped kick a recession into high gear. Like many boarding schools, Ridley saw a staggering 14 per cent drop in enrollment, brought about not only by financial woes, but by major changes the country was facing at the turn of the decade: the dismantling of the conventional family; drugs; student resistance; egalitarianism; a diversifying society, and the start of the computer revolution.

“The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?

Parents were complaining, faculty and students expressed dissatisfaction, Ridley’s policies and systems seemingly out of date. The school was caught between its conservative traditions and a society which had increasingly progressive aspirations. The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?

Its answer lay with a new, young headmaster, Richard Alan Bradley, fresh from the U.K., with experience leading schools that had been through similar changes. Buoyed by a willing faculty, a loyal and dedicated group of senior Prefects, and a $5 million financial campaign, over the 1970s, Bradley made changes which would pay off in the decades to come. 

Ridley goes co-ed in the 1970s.

Aware it could no longer solely depend on expanding its boarding population, Ridley welcomed day boys to the Upper School in 1972. By the early ‘70s, Ridley went co-ed—arguably the single most radical change in Ridley’s history. Bradley’s argument was not solely based on numbers; he saw it as a logical step in a world where equal opportunities between sexes were becoming a fact of life. The first girls attended the school in 1973; by 1978, 26 female boarders were welcomed to the school, along with 18 day girls. Ridley’s numbers were rising.

Post-Gulf War Economic Slowdown Leads to Recession: The Early 1990s

There was a general restlessness that occurred in the 1990s, brought in part by the economic recession. Parents were dissatisfied, students impatient. Many areas of the school were showing signs of wear, resources limited, and renovations were slower than some would have liked. Financial aid was stretched thin and, as the demand for information technology increased, concerns about what it might mean for the school increased with it. Co-ed programmes had been launched at Lakefield, Trinity and Appleby Colleges, and Ridley’s administration was uncertain what the competition would mean for its future.

“The Planning Committee assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.

For students, things were becoming stricter. A dress coded was enforced and rules were tightening in response to a feeling amongst faculty that the honour system was being disregarded. Spirits declined as many students chafed at the new rules; seniors felt they were losing status and privilege, and everywhere on campus people seemed to complain—whether about lagging technology, long construction projects, a disappearing Old Boys system, or something else entirely.

Students needed to feel heard and Ridley needed an ongoing, focused plan—a review cycle which would examine the school’s nooks and crannies, and take into account changing environments, new technologies, competition, and new demands. The Planning Committee ensured a wide range of Ridleians were involved in the process. They assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit and the perceived lack of student enfranchisement in Ridley’s affairs, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.

Changes were soon made. Seniors were given more control, more time was spent on arts and activities, Chapel service was moved to a more-convenient Friday slot, academic programmes reviewed, and changes made to student schedules. And, as the calendar pages flipped toward the late 1990s, Ridley recovered its numbers. By 1998, the school population—along with its spirit—had bounced back. 


Now, another moment in time, a moment when our world feels a little off kilter, our community just a little bit raw. But if there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion. Each time we’ve been shaken, we’ve stood firmer, only inspired by another opportunity to grow.

And tomorrow will be no different.


*Research gathered from Ridley: a Canadian School, by Richard A. Bradley and Paul E. Lewis.

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


Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 6

Four More Weeks!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

We all heard the announcement this week from Premier Doug Ford, that Ontario schools would not reopen for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. Though it wasn’t a total surprise, it definitely evoked many emotions in the adults and children of our Ridley community.

Some felt elated at the opportunity to spend more time with family, to continue exploring interests and passions, sleep more and have more choice and flexibility in planning each day.

Some felt neutral. They have developed a daily routine—including school or work, time with family, communicating with friends, exercising, and doing things that interest them—and are comfortable with the continuation of this schedule for the next four weeks.

Some felt distressed at the thought of four more weeks within the same four walls, with few opportunities to see friends or participate in the activities that they love.

Many of us will fluctuate between these different feelings in a day, a week, or throughout the next few weeks. Each of these feelings is normal, and part of being human. In past blog posts, I have shared many research-based strategies  and practices to use on a regular basis to support us when our feelings or emotions seem stuck in the negative: focusing on relationships, using our strengths, understanding our feelings to help us navigate them, sleeping well, moving more, and eating healthy.

But what about the moments when our anger, sadness or fear seem to overwhelm us?

Research into somatopsychic (relating to the effects of the body on the mind) actions suggests that movements like the following can be helpful during these moments:

  1. Square breathing: Picture a square in your mind. As you “draw” across the top, take a breath in to the count of four. As you “draw” down the side, hold the breath to the count of four. As you “draw” up, breathe out to the count of four. As you close the square, hold the breath to the count of four. Repeat at least three times, or as long as needed. Discover other breathing exercises for kids.
  2. Yoga Poses: Practice these poses with your child regularly for improved wellbeing, and so that when they are feeling overwhelmed, they know just the right movement to make them feel better.
  3. Exercise: Physical activity has been proven to reduce stress and fatigue, and to improve alertness and well-being. Thirty minutes a day, done together or in smaller time intervals, have been found to be effective. Determine what physical exercise you or your kids enjoy and take action daily. This will support daily well-being, and provide an outlet for overwhelming negative emotions.

Please remember, all emotions are normal. During this challenging time, it is important that we allow children to sit with their feelings, to notice, name and determine how to navigate them. If we see them getting stuck in negativity, however, hopefully at least one of the strategies shared here will help them move forward.

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 26th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Savouring Daily Joys.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 5

Keep Moving!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.”  — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep

This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.

So, what can you do?

  1. Ensure you and your child(ren) spend time each day outside, preferably in nature. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and a reduction in negative emotions. Need some ideas? Here are 31 classic outdoor games for you and your family to play.
  2. Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
  3. Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.

And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

“The Pandemic Gave Me My Teenage Daughter Back” — by Katrina Onstad, for Chatelaine magazine

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 4

Focus on Your Strengths

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” — L.R. Knost

This quote is a reminder to us all that we will get through the “awful” and that life will be “amazing” again. One way we’re encouraging students to get through life’s challenges—in addition to its more “ordinary…mundane…and routine” parts—is to use their strengths. Beginning in Grade 3, each and every Ridley student learns about the VIA Character Strengths. Classes talk about identifying both character and performance strengths, and how to use them, not only to succeed, but to flourish.

Ridley College became a Visible Wellbeing School after spending two years working closely with Dr. Lea Waters. Her research-based book, The Strength Switch, focuses on the need for parents and educators to focus on children’s strengths in order to build resilience, optimism, and achievement. There is no more important time than now to focus on our strengths.

So, what can you do?

  1. Discuss your child’s strengths with them. Reference the VIA Character strengths survey (for more information, check out these videos), and also discuss the strengths you see in them every day. Remind them how important it is that they know and use them.
  2. Reference their strengths every day. One great activity that can be done around the dinner table is “Three Good Things,” which helps children reflect on what went well that day, why it went well and which strengths they or others used.
  3. Choose a daily activity to do together. (Here are 101 from which to choose.) Talk about the strengths you used to complete these activities, and discuss how knowing and using their own strengths will help them during this challenging time.

And please remember, parents, you are using your own strengths to navigate these challenging times! Recognize all that you are doing—and please be kind to yourself.


REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you next Tuesday, April 28th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Nurturing Social Relationships.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)