“The past has walked these very halls, strode across this campus, each Ridleian contributing in important ways to the Ridley of today, the Ridley of the future. It’s why change—born of both necessity and innovation—nods respectfully to our roots; they are the basis from which we grow.”
Through the gates, across sprawling lawns and stately buildings, the unmistakeable prints of Ridleians are everywhere, generous marks of hope that go back more than 130 years—back to when Ridley was simply an idea, and then later, as it became so much more.
The darker moments from our past have often led to periods great giving and innovation, and this year is no different. As our community rouses from a global pandemic, we turn toward a new moment in time, filled with thoughts of fresh ground, fresh plans. We do so, in part, by celebrating our past, those moments when, faced with difficulty, Ridleians looked determinedly ahead.
This year marks the hundred-year anniversary of the Memorial Chapel, the beating heart of campus that stands in honour of those lost to the Great War. In 2021, it’s a spiritual hub that welcomes students of all faiths, providing comfort and instilling values and purpose. The year also marks a century since Gooderham House was built, a dormitory which was intended to house boys old and new. Now, Gooderham bustles with the bright laughter of flamingos and crocodiles, girls who are poised to become the empowered women of tomorrow. What hasn’t changed, however, is that both Chapel and Gooderham House are still about gathering, about community, strength and, importantly, coming home.
The Memorial Chapel
Following the First World War, Ridley’s mood was confident, secure. It had won a high place in public regard and had established itself as an institution that was ready to go on to greater things. Canadian attitudes toward higher education were quickly changing, and the demand for place at Ridley grew each year. Expansion was in all minds as new applications rolled in—and Gooderham House and the Memorial Chapel were the most notable items in the school’s enlargement.
At the end of the First World War, alumni had proposed a chapel in honour of those Ridleians who had lost their lives. It was a cause close to their hearts and by the spring of 1919, nearly $50,000 had been raised to support the build. It was simply one more piece of evidence that the school had matured: it had its own martyrs to mourn and to honour, its ideals and traditions fixed firmly in place.
Ridley Chapel in the morning,
Incarnation fresh and pure
Of those souls who, this life scorning,
Fought to make the issue sure.
Ridley Chapel, hallowed dwelling
Of the spirit of the dead:
We have made you as a temple
For the sacred flame they fed.
There was a sense of urgency as the building went up, with Old Ridleians pressing the architects and builders to complete the work efficiently. It would seem they listened; a cornerstone ceremony was held on June 4, 1921, and construction neared completion by the spring of 1923.
While the Chapel was being built, services continued to be held in the Prayer Hall in School House—and the last of the services held there meant a lot to the students. Knowing they would soon move to the newly designated space, on the second-last Sunday, Mr. Griffith recalled all the humbler rooms which had served as chapel since 1889: the Springbank Sanitorium’s reception room, the dining room of the old Stephenson House, and the Prayer Hall in the new school building on the Western Hill. Moving forward, the latter would be known as the Assembly Hall.
The Memorial Chapel stood apart when complete, a majestic stone monument that served as a symbol of spiritual Ridley. Architects, Sproatt and Rolph, were awarded a gold medal by the American Institute of Architects for their educational and institutional architecture. The citation stated that the chief features of their exhibit were the designs for the University of Toronto’s Memorial Tower and for the “noble Gothic Chapel at Ridley College.”
It was a beautiful construction to be sure, raised in a perpendicular Gothic style, the exterior and interior built of Georgetown stone; with windows, copings and doorways constructed of Bedford. The standing structures were joined by a passageway, starting beside the tall arched entrance. Its interior was striking; grand stones laid on edge; nine mullioned windows carried along the two sides, with small windows in the entranceway, and a large window rose above the altar. At the chancel end, a door led to the vestry, and an organ screen of Bedford limestone lent further beauty.
Seating throughout was solid oak, paired with hand-carved chancel furniture. The ceiling was comprised of warm B.C. cedar, and stained-glass windows added soft translucent colour to the space, their richness reminiscent of the glassmakers of centuries before.
And throughout, there were the memorials. The west window on the south side stood in memory of Ridley’s war dead and other dedicated windows stood in bright solemnity, along with an oak eagle lectern and an archer’s desk, the organ screen, the Chapel Bible, the communion service, an alms basin, and a communion table. Each given in memory, each given in honour of someone who was loved and lost.
For the Chapel dedication, Ridley’s Cadet Corp opened the ceremony, marching into their seats. Behind them, the procession came down the centre aisle, led by the Lower School choir. Then came the officers of the Old Boys Association and the principles, Mr. Griffith and Mr. Williams, who were followed by the clergy. These included Principal emeritus, Dr. Miller; His Lordship the Bishop of Niagara; the Reverend; the Provost of Trinity College; and the rectors of St. Catharines’ churches.
Association President Colonel Douglas Mason OR’01 made the formal presentation of the Chapel to Ridley College, and it was accepted by Vice President of the Board, the Hon. Mr. Justice A. Courtney Kingstone OR’92. Principal Griffith read the names of Ridley’s war-dead in alphabetic order, his voice carrying through the quiet space. The buglers played.
From that point on, the Chapel became the heart of Ridley; it has always evoked great love from our community, which has sought to keep up its care and maintenance. In 1924, an ‘anonymous’ gift was given by Ross A. Wilson, the Cadet Corps Commander and 1917 Mason Gold winner. His gift—intended to reward the governors for their own generosity—was designed to erect a reredos, provide a new organ and pay off outstanding debts from the Chapel build.
The Ridley College Women’s Guild (now Family Guild), which had been organized in 1923, soon ‘adopted’ the Memorial Chapel, with their first project to be the completion of the chancel furnishings. By their second annual meeting, their Winnipeg branch donated a beautiful oak sedilia, the London brand provided cushions, and the Toronto group pledged a chancel rug.
Throughout the 1930s, the Chapel received new additions in memory of various Ridleians who had been lost. The Old Boys presented a prayer desk in memorial to Colonel Thairs. Other additions included a new baptismal font, a water cruet, a stained-glass window, a silver chalice and paten, a glass and cruet for wine, a purple superfontal and bookmarks, and a framed illuminated verse from its author, Colonel the Venerable Archdeacon Frederick George Scott, which reads:
In honour, chivalrous,
In duty, valorous,
In all things, noble,
To the heart’s core clean.
By the 1964-65 academic year, special events were planned in celebration of Ridley’s anniversary. The Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Fund had been launched the year before under the general chairmanship of Hamilton Cassels. The project, undertaken by the board, set a target of $700,000 to expand and renovate facilities and provide additional scholarships—it was exceeded by $150,000.
“No school exists in the world where former students display more loyalty to their old school than do the [alumni] of Ridley.” — Principal Griffith
Through their generosity, Ridley’s donors enabled a Chapel expansion, which had been in discussion since the 1940s. 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 Marani OR’12, who had, coincidentally, trained at Sproatt and Rolph, the Chapel’s original architects. The seamless expansion was completed in time for the Old Boys Weekend of 1964 and was dedicated by the Bishop of Niagara, The Right Reverend Walter Bagnall.
The 75th anniversary celebration also offered the first opportunity to purchase Chapel pews, and to begin the establishment of an endowment for Chapel maintenance and initiatives. By 1966, the Chapel was providing funds to send Ridley boys to work abroad in local churches as young missionaries—a Ridley version of the Peace Corp and an extension of the school mission to serve.
Around the same time the Chapel was being conceived, governor Ross Gooderham OR’92 initiated a gift of his own: a new boarding house for the Upper School. When his brother’s generous act was reported to board president George H. Gooderham, he quickly exclaimed, “The Gooderham brothers will build your dormitory for you.” Together, the brothers paid the $288,000 needed to build the new dorm, which was completed a century ago, by the summer of 1921. Boys spilled into the residence that fall, which was designed to accommodate 50 students and three resident masters.
Sproatt and Rolph were the architects who took up the project, designing the building in the Collegiate Gothic style. It stood three stories tall, built of red brick with white stone facings. Later that year, the building was formally presented to the school.
Parents, Old Boys and friends of Ridley came from across Canada, converging to celebrate the official opening of Gooderham House. Mr. A. Courtney Kingstone formally accepted the new building on behalf of the board, and Principal Emeritus, Dr. Miller, offered the prayer of dedication. Both Principal Griffith and Principal Williams spoke that day, the former announcing that a wing of the building would be reserved for the Old Boys to use whenever they visited the school.
“No school exists in the world where former students display more loyalty to their old school than do the Old Boys of Ridley,” Principal Griffith proclaimed in his moving address.
“Our school will continue to be dedicated to flourishing and to growth—made possible by the generosity of our community and our collective commitment to tomorrow.”
These buildings remain a place to celebrate and to share. The values for which the Memorial Chapel stands are common to all the world’s great religions. To a new, international Ridley, it remains a shrine, a spiritual place of remembrance and contemplation. Here, students from Upper and Lower School support one another and hold on to tradition. It is a place where community is formed, and where students, families and faculty can come together to pay their respects to those who have come before. Musicians perform, speeches are given, Prefects lead, and alumni are married.
Now long occupied by Upper School girls, the Gooderham Houses are divided by East and West, each filled with its own personality and pride. Each hardworking student makes up the beautiful fabric of our community. Both girls boarding Houses strive for excellence and both lead with compassion and heart.
Today’s residents, in both Chapel and the Gooderham Houses, are a testament to how far Ridley has come, how much has changed over the years. New voices have been brought into the fold, offering diverse and global perspectives. And yet, our traditions and values, our history remain at our school’s foundation.
The past still walks these very halls, still strides across this campus; each Old Ridleian continues to contribute to the Ridley of today and of the future. It’s why change—born of natural necessity—nods respectfully to our roots; they are the basis from which we grow. After all, it is in those spaces in which we grow together, that we’ve always forged our most timeless bonds as Ridleians. And it is why Ridley’s past will always inform its future.
Now, following a turbulent year, we look to our grounds with an eye to expand and improve, to breathe new life into campus. These changes will transform Ridley for the better and will take us sure-footedly into the next century. Our school will continue to be dedicated to flourishing and to growth—made possible by the generosity of or community, and our collective commitment to tomorrow.
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.