By Yohannes Edemariam
Fifty-five years ago next week, The Ryersonian published its first issue and became the official student voice of the then brand-new Ryerson Institute of Technology. The paper was originally to be named RIOT but the idea was dubbed “too inflammatory,” and it was dropped.
The year was 1948. The Second World War had ended three years earlier and many war veterans were encouraged by the Canadian government to enroll into post-secondary school.
Percy Ploss, now 76, was one of those veterans and was an original member of The Ryersonian’s first masthead.
Today, Ploss spends his retirement years in Oshawa, Ont., snowmobiling, and tearing up the countryside. He remembers Ryerson as “a training ground for vets.”
According to Ploss, the first Ryersonian took the entire first semester to put together.
“There were no deadlines,” says Ploss. “It took probably two months to fill the paper, by the time you got all the editorials and type set.”
Ploss was one of four students on the masthead enrolled in the printing management diploma program, which was offered by Ryerson’s School of Graphic Arts. Ryerson did not begin offering its journalism program until 1950.
Arthur Farrow, 78, who now lives in Brockville, Ont. was The Ryersonian’s first student publisher.
Farrow helped with everything at the paper except the actual writing.
“We did everything,” says Farrow of his student staff. “We would set the type, do the press work and the bindery.”
All the printing was done the old fashion way, using line type and letter press machines: Individual letters on the page were crafted from steel.
A plate of metal would then be heated and the letters, arranged as the stories, were imprinted onto the malleable sheets.
The Ryersonian had three letter presses, two line type machines, and a variety of binding equipment.
According to Ploss and Farrow, a big part of their education was learning how to use these machines.
“I think I could still work a line type,” laughs Farrow. “It was tedious but I enjoyed it.”
Farrow remembers that the first masthead was relatively inexperienced.
“We had growing pains, of course,” says Farrow.
In the first issue, then school principal Howard Kerr (yes, the Kerr of Kerr Hall fame) addressed the student body on the cover of the paper.
In his address, Kerr wished the entire school a Merry Christmas and congratulated The Ryersonian for producing its first issue. Kerr concluded his piece by writing: “If you do whatever lies within your power to develop your own personality and character, you will look back upon these days you spend within these walls as one of the happiest periods of your life.”
Also on the front page was an article bemoaning the lack of women at Ryerson and rejoicing the arrival of “one hundred beautiful co-eds” into the School of Furniture Crafts. The event was referred to as a “blessing.”
Another cover story explored the difficulties of women who work in the newsroom.
The story discussed how a young blonde woman had brought a baby to the Ryersonian because a babysitter could not be found: “On returning tonight [the blonde] brought along a baby, yes, belive it or not, a real live baby.”
After 100 words of outdated language, the article concluded by saying, “and so, with the night’s work ahead of her, Blondie starts out with a typewriter in one hand and a baby in the other.”
The Ryersonian masthead worked out of an old two-storey building on Gould Street which had previously belonged to the airforce. The building was situation where the Egerton Ryerson statue now stands.
Over the last 55 years, many things have changed at Ryerson, but apparently some things never do. In a page three story, The Ryersonian complained that nobody was showing up to cheer Ryerson’s sports teams. The story begins by saying: “Hello sports fans of Ryerson or should I say where are all the sports fans of Ryerson.”
It should also be noted that the editorial in that first paper drew a parallel between the birth of Jesus and the birth of The Ryersonian.
Today, Farrow and Ploss admit that the editorial was a bit of an overstatement. In fact, both Farrow and Ploss refer to their time spent at the paper as a brief, fleeting moment in their lives.
“Did I enjoy it? Yes and no,” says Farrow. “I was just a big city boy. I just wanted to get out of Toronto as fast as possible.”
A few years after he left, Farrow got a job at a printing press in London, Ont.
Ploss says that, much like it is now, the paper was just a small part of his life while he was working towards completing his education.
“It was part of our training, I don’t know if you would call it a good time, but I had fun while doing some of the stuff there,” he said. “I didn’t dote on it.”
Ploss graduated in 1950 and immediately got a job as a production manager for General Printers in Oshawa, Ont., a town in which he has spent much of the last 50 years.
Although Ploss says that he and Farrow are perhaps the only two people alive who helped produce the first ever Ryersonian, they have not kept in touch.