Tag Archives: Ridley College

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.

Hey Google: Nancy Ting ’94

Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing at Google Hong Kong, globe-trotter Nancy Ting ’94 knows innovation and new technologies really can make the world a better place—and she’s focused on bringing them to market. We checked in with the impressive alumna to see what’s next in tech and ask what advice she has for those who want in.

Whether you’re checking in on Gmail, down a virtual rabbit hole, or asking your Google Home to convert ounces to grams, there are few of us whose lives haven’t been touched by the online powerhouse. More than 3.5 billion searches are conducted on Google each day—that’s 40,000 per second—and it accounts for over 92 per cent of all global internet searches. Somewhere along the way, Google even co-opted our language, switching silkily from noun to verb. “Google it,” has become a go-to phrase, regardless of which search engine you’re on.

“Climb the mountain not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”

So after a year where we spent more time on screens than ever before, we spoke with alumna Nancy Ting ’94, Google’s Head of Consumer and Brand Marketing in Hong Kong, who works for the company that, literally, has all the answers.

Nancy started with Google after moving to Hong Kong in 2010 where she now lives with her seven-year-old daughter. Though her role keeps her busy, Nancy makes sure to prioritize their time together, playing tennis and golf and, most recently, picking up skateboarding.

The alumna graduated from Ridley in 1994, alongside her brother Newton. Their parents had sent them to Ridley to broaden their perspectives; Newton lived in Merritt South and Nancy moved into Gooderham House West. Though it was her first time living away from home, Nancy quickly settled in, recalling fond memories of learning Caribbean dancing from her roommate Philice Davis ’94, her mentor, Mrs. Williams—the first female pilot in St. Catharines—and gathering with the rest of the GWest girls at the home of their House mother, Mrs. Close, she called her ‘second home.’ Nancy still keeps in touch with classmates via social media and catches up with some of them right in Hong Kong.

“I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree. I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years! So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”

After graduation, Nancy attended Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, where she studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. “I’ve always wanted to solve problems to make the world a better place, so I decided to pursue an engineering degree,” she explains. “I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer to programming circuit boards in four years. So never be afraid to pursue disciplines that seem daunting. If you have the passion, there is always a way.”

Nancy may not have known exactly what the end goal was at the time, but accruing a strong, transferrable skillset enabled her to work toward what she did know she wanted: to make a difference and be able to travel.

“Having a background in science and maths helped me land jobs and projects in different parts of the world,” she says. For Nancy, living in new places is an exciting way to get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures, and it enables her to appreciate different points of view. She’s lived so far in Toronto, London, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, San Francisco, and Beijing.

“The challenging part is that one needs to re-establish one’s social circle,” she responds when asked how she settles into a new spot. “But I’ve found that if you follow your own interest, be it music, yoga or sports, you’ll be able to establish new circles pretty easily.”

The key, she adds, is to be willing to try something new. For example, when she was living in New York, Nancy was drawn to comedy, so she joined improv classes at Upright Citizen’s Brigade. It was an opportunity to meet people outside her work environment—and to have a good laugh while she did it.

That willingness to explore and try new things served Nancy well as she built her career, which has taken several unexpected turns along the way. Nancy’s first job was in Toronto as an eCommerce programmer at IBM, where she programmed internet applications from eCommerce websites to mobile apps to internet banking. Two years later, wanting to learn more about business, she moved to New York and worked for Deloitte Consulting as a strategy and management consultant. She also pursued an MBA at MIT, gaining skills in areas like accounting, finance and marketing and switched industries, becoming an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Next, Nancy started her own company, Mode Republic, a user-generated magazine which showcased international fashionistas’ daily outfits. The magazine offered a ‘Shop This Look’ feature so you could shop for similar items from online stores.

But it was after moving to Hong Kong that Nancy was offered a position on Google’s marketing team, and she started out doing working for the Ads business in Greater China. “Working for years in different industries and functions, only reinforced my passion to use technology to make the world a better place,” she says. “Google is a company that’s constantly innovating, and it encourages employees to explore new positions and geographies every few years.”

Two years ago, she switched to B2C marketing, and now looks after products like YouTube, Google Play, Google Classroom, Android, and more. “Marketing is a great mixture of arts and science,” she remarks. “We focus on quantitative data analysis as well as identifying true user insight—then we come up with creative campaign ideas and bring them to market.”

The pandemic certainly affected how consumers and businesses alike use technology—a steady progression toward online options was sped up out of necessity, and traditional businesses recognized an urgent need for digitization. As foot traffic was reduced, small businesses were forced to build websites, up their social media game, and figure out digital ads so they could still be found. And, what’s more, they needed to deliver their products and services via those online channels.

“Wellbeing has different definitions for people. It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”

And it wasn’t only commerce that was affected; day-to-day life still relies on digital tools, be they for work, remote learning or entertainment which, as Nancy notes, brings with it tremendous opportunities in all areas.

Those opportunities mean that roles like Nancy’s are incredibly busy, so of course we have to ask how she manages her time and keeps on top of her own wellbeing—juggling motherhood, managing marketing for a company that’s constantly churning out new products, and tackling the year’s tougher realities like remote work and school.

“Wellbeing has different definitions for people,” she replies. “It’s important to go through the exercise of making it clear to yourself what makes you happy, what wellbeing means to you. Then you need to openly communicate that to your boss, your co-workers, your family—especially what is your ‘non-negotiable.’”

For Nancy, it’s important that she keeps healthy and spends quality time with those who matter. The pandemic was an opportunity to get in shape and keep her immune system strong, and she’s worked over the past months to focus on eating well and exercising. “I turned my biological age back to 25-years-old!” she laughs.

With days filled with meetings, she also sets aside time where she turns off and just focuses on her work, and makes it clear to her colleagues that being there for her daughter—particularly in important moments—is her ‘non-negotiable.’

“It certainly helps that I love what I do for work,” Nancy says. “Even when I have some spare time, I’d be reading about the tech industry or the latest innovations. I’d recommend young Ridleians strive to land a job in a field that aligns with their passion as soon as they can. When your work is something that you enjoy, the wellbeing challenge is significantly reduced.”

“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before. Equipping yourself with strong foundational skills in math, science and coding will better prepare you for exciting new job options.”

As students look ahead to their own careers, many of them considering jobs in the tech industry, Nancy recommends they equip themselves with strong foundational skills—like math, science and coding—that will give them plenty of room to pivot when required and to move around.

“In the coming decades, there will be job titles we’ve never heard of before,” she advises. “Those foundational skills will prepare you for exciting new options. And don’t worry if you aren’t good at these things now. I failed Maths and Physics in Junior High. The turning point for me was at Ridley when I had amazing teachers who helped me understand how things work. Seeking great mentors and information will help you to master the latest knowledge—you just need to be inquisitive and invest the time and effort.”

It’s sound advice. As opportunities expand, and with them, our ability to connect with and impact others across the globe, Nancy is the perfect example of someone who has approached her career with a strategically open mind and adventurously open arms. And as we conclude our conversation, each a world away from the other, connected only by a few of clicks, she leaves off with the words she’s always lived by: “Climb the mountain, not so that people can see you, but so that you can see the world.”


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.

Tech Savvy: Alex Clark ’06

Alumna, Alex Clark talks good policy, giving back—and how she’s bringing opportunity to a new generation of entrepreneurs.

If you spent a good part of the past year seeking small business gems on social, listening for the comforting sound of the delivery truck, or contemplating the items in your virtual cart, you’re in good company. With consumers bereft of their bricks-and-mortar go-tos, online shopping hit an all-time high during the pandemic—and it looks like it’s here to stay.  

For alumna Alex Clark ’06, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Canada’s e-commerce powerhouse Shopify, the ability to support retailers beyond your local mall is exactly the kind of diversification the system needs.

“Consumers over the pandemic embraced online shopping, wanted to support local businesses, and cared about the ‘about us’ stories more than ever before. My hope is that this continues. More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few … we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating.”

“More voices, more power in the hands of the many and not the few—we’ve rediscovered the online version of Main Street and it’s exhilarating,” she explains earlier this summer. “If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship, we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”

It seems Alex has always been keen to bring fresh talent to the table—and that means fighting for good policies; finding innovative ways to expand reach; and providing opportunity to those who, historically, were often overlooked.

“If the government can use the momentum we’ve seen through this pandemic around supporting entrepreneurship—bringing them to the table and addressing the real barriers—we could have a much more diverse, interesting and stable economy moving forward.”

“Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door,” she shares. “It’s an advantage to have one of those, let alone all three, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”

It’s a community mindset she comes by honestly. Her grandfather, Old Ridleian Ian Reid ’44 and grandmother, Margot instilled its importance in their family; both received the Order of Canada in recognition of their community service.

Alex is part of a long line of Ridleians: her grandfather, Ian; uncles, Tim ’78 and Ross Reid ’71; aunt, Sarah Cameron ’84; and sister, Jillian Clark ’03 all attended Ridley. When she was 16, Alex decided to turn her focus from competitive tennis and considered where to spend one final, adventurous year—and, having listened to plenty of Ridley stories around the dinner table, Alex knew the school would check the right boxes. She enrolled for the 2005-06 academic year.

“Some of this [service mindset] comes from self-awareness of opportunities I’ve had that are not available to everyone. Looking back, I was able to leverage my education, my network and even life experiences to get me through the door. It’s an advantage to have one of those—let alone all three—as you go through life and your early career, so I’ve always believed in finding ways to allow more people to participate that otherwise couldn’t.”

And from the moment she arrived on campus, she made the most of it, serving as captain of the First Girls Rugby team, House captain of Gooderham West (she’s held on proudly to her House ring), and assistant captain of the then newly formed JV Girls Hockey team, which she helped create. “It was a bunch of us that had never played hockey—most of us had never learned how to stop on skates. The boards absorbed a lot of our momentum!” she remembers. “But by the end of the season, we were a dream team. I was surrounded by these badass women who just wanted to have fun and compete.”

The arts soon came calling, too. Alex played Béline, Aragon’s fortune-hunting second wife in the Upper School production of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire). “A special dedication to my grandfather,” Alex wrote in her sunny Acta entry later that year, “without him blazing the Ridley trail, I worry I would have missed this influential year … Thank you, Ridley for opening your doors to me and welcoming me into the family.”

Though Alex left after graduation to pursue a degree in Political Science (first at University of British Columbia and then Carleton University), she kept in touch with her peers in the years that followed—and the Ridley family afforded her some new connections along the way.

These days, Alex lives in Ottawa with her husband, Jarett and their eight-year-old dog, Boomer. When we spoke in June, she and Jarett were expecting their first child and predicting life would soon be busier than ever—and that’s certainly saying something. The proud alumna currently sits on the leadership board of the Women’s Training Camp with the Ottawa REDBLACKS and is on the Board of Directors for Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women and helps them to re-enter the workforce. And as Shopify’s VP of Strategic Initiatives, her day job keeps things hopping as well.

Knocking down barriers to success seems to have always been at the core of her career, which from the start has followed an impressive path. Alex started out in politics, working for the Liberals when they were the official Opposition under Michael Ignatieff. Following that, she took what she learned and applied it to helping businesses navigate the system. She spent the next five years working with global clients across all sectors, developing their strategic communications and stakeholder plans, and lobbying on their behalf.

But in helping these companies, it never did feel quite like her win, and she wanted to have more of a direct impact. Alex transitioned in-house at Microsoft as their Director of Corporate Affairs, dividing her time between Vancouver and the company’s headquarters in Seattle—and ultimately working with the B.C. government to build the Centre of Excellence.

“Failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”

That’s when Shopify came calling. “It was a no brainer for me,” she laughs good-naturedly. “A Canadian company supporting small businesses and they have a slide in the office?!”

Though an admittedly excellent selling feature, the company sure boasts more than a slide. If you’re still unfamiliar with the popular online platform, Shopify provides independent business owners with ecommerce and point of sale features to help them start, run and grow their business. More than two million merchants from over 175 countries use it—and they’ve created 3.6 million jobs and contributed $307+ billion in global economy impact.

In 2016, Alex joined Shopify’s team as Director of Policy and Government Affairs, creating the company’s first Global Affairs team and advocating for policy ensuring governments around the world remove barriers for entrepreneurs to be successful.

“It was a unique time for tech and government,” she recalls. “Government is accustomed to a dynamic with the private sector that’s based around value exchange. But if you were like Shopify five years ago, you historically had never needed government—but quickly they were showing up in your backyard making crucial policy decisions, while not always fully understanding the unintended consequences of those decisions.”

As ‘innovation’ became the new buzz word across the country, with solutions being drawn up around everything from attracting talent to supporting young businesses, it became clear that Shopify needed a seat at the table. “That’s what I came to solve,” Alex explains. “It was less about lobbying and more about education.”

From that role, Alex was asked to become Chief of Staff to CEO, Tobias Lütke. She moved deeper into the business, working alongside the Executive team as Shopify went through an exciting period of hypergrowth. Their workforce doubled each year, global expansion took off and their merchant base now sits at over two million. This past year, Alex took on her current VP role, which covers Shopify’s Corporate Development and the SHOP app; she’s also advisor to the Executive team and CEO.

But her passion for small business doesn’t end at their office door. In recent months, Alex co-launched Backbone Angels, a collective of ten active angel investors who invest in women and non-binary founders. These angels—all women who bring years of experience in everything from legal to UX to marketing—prioritize investments in Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour led companies who deserve the capital and support to build the companies of the future. Alex is a founding partner.

“We realized our collective experience was incredibly powerful and by launching ‘Backbone’ we’ll be able to support more companies. We’ve spent most of our careers on the front line of entrepreneurship,” Alex says. “We know the story of the journey and the individual matters just as much as the final product.”

“The future is for the makers.”

More people are choosing entrepreneurship, she posits—and it’s paying off. In the past months they’ve reviewed hundreds of decks, met with founders and have invested in some exciting companies. But though there’s plenty of hope for a new generation of entrepreneurs, there’s work to be done; the pandemic shone a spotlight on the vulnerabilities we have as an economy.

“Canada can sometimes be referred to as ‘laggards’ when it comes to technological adoption,” explains Alex, “and some of that became painfully obvious when we didn’t have the right systems in place to address the needs of individuals and businesses through this pandemic. Businesses that survived were those that quickly shifted to online because now you could no longer depend on your brick-and-mortar store for foot traffic, and you needed to expand to a larger or global market.”

“The silver lining of this is that we’re seeing small businesses doing really well because they removed the dependency of in-person,” she adds.

Now, it’s all about using that momentum to bring those entrepreneurs to the table to address what are some very real barriers. It’s only through inclusive conversations and good policies that the country will move forward and live up to its potential—and Alex is hopeful. One way to bring about change? People need to get involved.

“Getting involved in politics was once seen as this honourable way to serve your country, and now I think it’s seen as this thankless, dirty job that no one wants. We really need to change that narrative,” she says. “We need people shaping this country that embrace the potential of the future and understand where we’re heading—and we need women.”

As we wrap up our conversation, it seems like the perfect opportunity to ask Alex if she has any advice for Ridley’s young entrepreneurs. “It’s really hard,” she replies. “Expect to fail…a lot. But recognize that failure is part of the journey and will only make you a better entrepreneur if you take the time to learn from it. Never skip over understanding why something failed. As we say at Shopify: Failure is the successful discovery of something that did not work.”

So, good reader, following a year filled with uncertainty but lined with the silvery promise of something new, go forth and find your passion—whatever that may be—and go for it. And while you’re deciding, hit ‘buy’ on that shopping cart.


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.

In Dedication: A Century of Giving, Growth & Breaking Ground

“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.


GOODERHAM HOUSE

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.

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.

On Board: Welcoming our New Governors

With the 2020-21 academic year officially in full swing, we’re introducing the Ridley community to the newest members of our Board of Governors.

“Ridley is delighted to welcome its new governors, who each bring a distinct representation of important stakeholder groups to our great school. It is rewarding for me to see the board continue to add to our governance structure individuals of diverse competencies, sector relevance and backgrounds.”

David K. Carter ’88, Chair of the Board

Our Board of Governors and its four Standing Committees are always on the lookout for talented members, who not only bring to the table expertise in a variety of fields—ranging from education to law, business, technology, and more—but a genuine passion for Ridley College. These individuals serve five-year renewable terms, giving generously of both time and energy as our school’s leaders and the stewards of its future.

This year, we’re pleased to introduce our community to our newest governors, each of whom bring the skill, experience, and heart needed to help advance our school. We hope you’ll join us in warmly welcoming them to Ridley.


Dr. Gervan Fearon

Gervan Fearon

In 2017, Dr. Fearon began a five-year term as Brock University’s President and Vice-Chancellor. Before joining Brock, he served at Brandon University as President and Vice-Chancellor and also as Provost and Vice-President Academic.

Prior to his time at Brandon, Gervan served several other academic positions, including as Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University; Associate Dean at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies; a Visiting Scholar at the University of Washington; and Associate Professor at York University.   

Gervan received his PhD in Economics from the University of Western Ontario, after having received his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Agricultural Economics at the University of Guelph. He also holds a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CGA) designation and an ICD.D designation.

Besides academic achievements, Gervan’s career includes several years in the Ontario government in roles as senior analyst at Treasury Board Division, Ontario Ministry of Finance; and executive assistant to Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. He has also served on several boards, including as president of a community social services organization.

Gervan is passionate about the role of post-secondary education in supporting regional development and has served on numerous community boards and helped champion significant community development initiatives.

Dr. Suzanne Johnston

Suzanne Johnston

Dr. Suzanne Johnston is an accomplished visionary health executive, recently retired from her role as President of Niagara Health. She brings a distinctly people-focused approach to her work and calls for an unwavering commitment on the part of every leader to lead with presence, kindness and the belief in people’s desire to do the right thing.

Suzanne received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of New Brunswick and her PhD in Nursing from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She completed executive education at the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania.

Suzanne serves on the Board of Governors of Niagara College and is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University.

Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Mitchell ’98

Andrew Mitchell proudly returns to his Ridleian roots in his new role as governor—and he’ll be serving on the Finance, Audit & Human Resources Committee (FAHR) as well. As President & Chief Development Officer of Permian Industries Ltd., Andrew contributes to the oversight of Permian’s businesses and leads its M&A activities. He is also CEO and sole owner of Select Food Products Ltd., a sauce and condiment manufacturer based in Toronto. Prior to acquiring Select, he was a Manager in Deloitte’s Human Capital consulting practice, specializing in organization design and M&A integration. Andrew is a past Director of The Toronto Golf Club and Bhutan Canada Foundation. He holds a BA from Queen’s University and an MBA from the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management.


Learn more about Ridley’s leadership and governance structure—and meet our Standing Committee members.

Meet our Board Chair! Since 2018, David Carter ’88 has been leading Ridley as the 20th Chair of our Board of Governors.

Be consumed in service. The Board of Governors and its four Standing Committees are always seeking talented applicants who are energized by the advancement of Ridley College. For more information, visit our Leadership & Governance page or apply online.

In Conversation: Michele-Elise Burnett ’86

Michele-Elise Burnett on leaving broadcasting, her Indigenous roots — and how she’s helping reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape

When it comes to her Indigenous heritage, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86 is busy building bridges—and her work is helping to invigorate and reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape. A proud Métis with Algonquin roots, in conversation she’s quick to laugh, wise and measured in her words, with a steady strength she credits her mother, well-known broadcaster and businesswoman, Dr. Suzanne Rochon-Burnett. Michele-Elise left a career in radio to follow in her activist footsteps, and now she’s working to find the creative platforms from which her people can speak.

“My mom was an art collector, and she would tell me that our teachings are in our art forms,” the Ridleian thoughtfully explains. “Whether it be through paintings, opera, music, or modern dance—our Indigenous artists are the ambassadors to our culture and traditions. I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”

“We’re oral people, with oral traditions, and our teachings are in our art forms—our artists are the biggest ambassadors to our culture. That’s how we tell our stories.”

To speak with Michele-Elise is to receive a lesson in conversation—but you might say it’s in her blood, coming from a heritage rich with oral traditions, and the only child of one of Canada’s broadcasting pioneers. Michele-Elise was raised in radio, her time spent playing in production studios, her world filled with music, talk and entertainers. Her father, radio-station owner Gordon Burnett, served two terms as President of the Juno Awards, and brought country music to life in Canada. In 1992, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame as one of the founding members of the Country Music Awards.

“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting,” she says, looking back. “I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.” In 1996, after graduating from Ryerson University’s Radio, Television & Film programme, Michele-Elise and Suzanne took over the radio station and launched Spirit 91.7 FM, a hard-won battle that followed two gruelling years spent in and out of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The women proudly became the first Indigenous people in Canada to be granted licenses by the CRTC.

“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting. I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.”

Before her mother passed in 2006, she entreated her daughter to take over where she left off, to continue sharing the deep-rooted beauty of her people’s culture and traditions through the lens of art. Michele-Elise was heartbroken by the loss. Suzanne was highly decorated and revered in the community, named to the Orders of Canada and Ontario, a founding member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, and the first woman to be inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame. But she was also Michele-Elise’s best friend, her mentor and teacher.

When Michele-Elise left the business two years later, there was no set plan. “In the radio industry, I knew who I was. I lived a great life,” she shares. “But I still have pain. I still carry the pain of my mother, my grandmother, my ancestors. I just knew that I wanted to bridge people together, to find those platforms that would give our people a voice.”

“My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” — Louis Riel

And, over time, the plan came into focus. Michele-Elise now develops projects that are transforming the Niagara’s understanding of Indigenous people—and, looking forward, she’s determined to bring those projects to life across the country.

She officially relaunched Kakekalanicks, the consulting company her mother had started back in the 1980s, which helped champion and sell Indigenous art pieces all over the world. But where her mother focused on visual arts, Michele-Elise takes a multidisciplinary approach, working to promote and educate people about Indigenous ways of life on stage, in outdoor spaces and in classrooms nationwide. The company now supports many of the area’s cultural projects.

Joining forces in 2014, she and business partner, Tim Johnson have since worked together to develop arts and educational programmes across the Niagara region. Projects include the Indigenous Cultural Map—an online resource which brings to life historic and cultural locations along the Niagara Escarpment through artistic expression; the Celebration of Nations event—an annual gathering of Indigenous arts and culture; and Landscape of Nations 360°—an ambitious not-for-profit which works to create, design and implement educational and expressive arts programmes to help transform public understanding of Indigenous peoples.

And Niagara has been quick to respond. In 2018, Michele-Elise won the GNCC Women in Business Cultural Arts Award for her work with the Celebration of Nations. “It felt like I was receiving this on behalf of our artists, our knowledge keepers,” she recalls, honoured to be amongst so many accomplished women. “To have Niagara honour an Indigenous person was heartwarming—because without our community behind me, nothing happens. Things are shifting.”

“I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”

The pair is now working on a new project called Empathic Traditions, a virtual museum created in partnership with the Niagara Falls Historical Museum which will teach people about the region’s rich history. “Before contact, the different chiefs would come to Niagara’s ‘Thundering Falls’ to discuss what was going on in our nations on Turtle Island,” she says, using the name used by many for North America. “It was a migration path for millennia. We’ve found artifacts in Niagara dating back 13,000 years.”

A Brock Board of Trustees member and co-chair of the Aboriginal Education Council, Michele-Elise is also working closely with the school’s inaugural Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement, helping to develop plans for the years to come. “It’s a moment of change,” Brock President Gervan Fearson said in an interview with Brock News. “We’re building an institution that’s inclusive of all peoples—and in particular Indigenous communities.” The university now proudly flies the Two-Row Wampum flag, gifted by Michele-Elise and Tim, and the campus roundabout has been named “Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Circle,” and a scholarship given in her name.

“We need to always think about how things are going to affect the next seven generations: How will doing this or that affect my family? Am I being a good ancestor? Will they thank me for it? Everything we do today will impact everything we do tomorrow—and when you have this philosophy in mind you will do things differently; you will think and not simply react.”

The first training programme of its kind in Canada, the Landscape of Nations 360° Indigenous Education Initiative is going into its third phase, developing a framework for essential understandings about the region’s Indigenous peoples, aimed at educators across the Peninsula. “We in Niagara are the inheritors of a profound story involving many of the Indigenous nations,” Michele-Elise explains, hoping to expand the programme country-wide. “But students have been taught with materials which leave them with no understanding of the world-changing achievements of our ancestors. Policy decisions that negatively impact Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people—these deficiencies result, in large part, from a lack of education beginning in grade school.”

The impressive programme, which aims to soon rollout these materials in classrooms, has been eagerly taken up by schools across Niagara—including ours. This past year, four teachers from Ridley participated in the training sessions. For Michele-Elise, working to bring Indigenous history and culture to its familiar classrooms is a natural fit.

“We’re a Ridley family,” she laughs, sharing that they’re building a memento-filled ‘Ridley Room’ in their new house. “I was no longer a minority when I went there,” she explains. “There were so many different cultures and backgrounds; I was just like everyone else, all raised under the same Ridley roof.”

“To now be working with Ridley and collaborating on LON 360° is incredible. It’s family.”

One of the few women on Ridley’s U.S. Foundation Board, Michele-Elise has been an integral part of our community for years, whether serving on the Marketing Committee (now Advancement Committee), on the Board of Governors, or launching the Women of Ridley—a group where like-minded alumnae can reach out for mentorship and support.

“I was one of the few single mothers. It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”

She dreams of one day establishing a Women of Ridley scholarship. When Michele-Elise had children, it was important to her that they attend Ridley, which provided her with the discipline, global mindset, and friendships she still has to this day. “But I was one of the few single mothers,” she remembers. Her children, Zander Burnett Metz ’12 and William Louis Reich ’19 both graduated from Ridley. “It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”

And, as the region continues to embrace its Indigenous history, our school one of many eager to incorporate a rich and little-known past into its future, Michele-Elise’s commitment to her community only deepens, the footprints on the path her mother travelled now shared by her own steps.

“My people will sleep for a hundred years,” Métis leader Louis Riel predicted more than a century ago, a quote that’s close to her heart. “But when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” For Michele-Elise, who has long recognized the need to rouse us all—be it by brush, on stage, or in the classroom—the voices of our past are growing louder, and the stirrings of these lands are coming to life once more. It’s time to wake up.

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.