By Georgina H. Thomson
The University which Dr. Tory had started on the prairie was just seven years old when I left the farm to attend it, but to me it seemed a very impressive institution. The new Convocation Hall was dedicated shortly after the term opened, and we freshies sat in the gallery and watched the procession of dignitaries, very much awed by the array of gowns and hoods. There was much speech making, and Lieutenant Governor Bulyea was given a complimentary degree, but for us the figure that stood out from the crowd was that of Dr. Tory, splendid in his scarlet doctor's robes, our own president. As time went on, he became a more human figure to us. The war played havoc with his plans for the university, draining its classes of young men. It was also a great grief to him, for since he had no children, the boys who went from the U of A were like his own family. There was the day the high pressure recruiting officer came from the East and made a fiery speech before the assembled students, with appeals to their patriotism and slurs about "slackers." He had hardly sat down when Dr. Tory was on his feet, informing the officer how many had already gone from the university and how many had fallen, while most of the young men present were taking military training on the campus and would leave for overseas as soon as the term finished. If his eyes were angry then, there were other times, when the casualty lists were heavy, that the tears were not far off.
It was always hard for him to hide his emotions. There was the matter of the 'one-step.' Dr. Tory had been reared a strict Methodist, and he probably never really approved of dancing at all. We used to hold our dances in the dining room of Athabasca, where we circled in the waltz, and the two-step, with an occasional French Minuet or a three-step. On a certain occasion, however, a jolly American girl named Sally Weston startled everyone by introducing the 'one-step.' It caught on immediately, and the students, with a great sense of daring, began dancing it. Just as the fun was at its height, Dr. Tory looked in. To say he was scandalized would be an understatement. He was actually horrified. Some of the patronesses led him gently away, while he gave vent to his outraged feelings. The outcome was that the Board of Governors or some such august body issued a decree that anyone caught dancing the objectionable dance, which Dr. Tory insisted must have come from the lowest of dives, would be brought before said august body and fined five dollars.
Dr. Tory was nearly always open to conviction. At that time, the women resident students, who were very few in number, lived in a section of Athabasca. From time to time Dr. Tory would call us together and tell us that since Athabasca was not a fireproof building, he would prefer to have the girls move into Pembina. We, however, liked it in Athabasca. It was much more interesting to be in a building where one met men students and junior lecturers in the lounge, and ate with them in the large dining room, than to be segregated in a separate residence. So, like the leaves in Susan Coolidge's poem, we pleaded, "Let us a little longer stay," and Dr. Tory couldn't bear to say us nay, though he told us he often lay awake thinking what might happen to us if Athabasca caught fire at night. I was there four years and I never did get banished to Pembina.
In a much more important matter, Dr. Tory showed his love for democracy. He did not approve of any organization on the campus which was not open to all students for membership, and never during his presidency were college fraternities or sororities permitted. He considered them snobbish and undemocratic. The motto which hung in the Wauneita Rooms, "Each for all, All for each," was more to his liking.
In our freshman year we had a privilege which I do not think any succeeding class enjoyed. Once every two weeks we had a lecture from Dr. Tory in British Constitutional History. He would come hurrying into the lecture room as though his innumerable administration duties were in full pursuit. He had no text book and no notes, but stooping over, he would ask some student, "Where did I leave off last day?" From there he would go on, just talking in an informal way, but with all his facts marshalled in beautiful clarity. I still have his notes somewhere, but much more important, I have the realization which he gave us that the British Constitution is a rich heritage, as well as a vital growing thing, that will not be easily overthrown by any upstart "ism".
As the war went on, so many of our students had gone overseas, that Dr. Tory decided to take the university over to them and to the other Canadian students there. This was the beginning of his famous "Khaki University." The day he and Mrs. Tory left, a group of us went down to the station to see them off. It was not an organized send-off, just a little informal good-bye. Dr. Tory was quite touched to see us there. He and Mrs. Tory came out and stood on the back platform of the train, and just as it was moving slowly out, we sang:
"Oh, Dr. Tory, you're a friend of mine.
With your hand in your pocket
And your gold chain and locket,
Oh-oh Dr. Tory, you're a friend of mine."
He waved good-bye and we could see him wiping his eyes.
After that Dr. Tory went from triumph to triumph, and became a great national figure in the National Research Council and other fields. We never saw much of him after that train pulled out, but we still remember him as a very human president, and as a man of vision who made his dreams come true.
Published April 1947.