History of the Ontario Classical Association

by Leonard A. Curchin (University of Waterloo)

Early in 1944, through the initiative of the Toronto Classical Club, a memorandum was sent to every high school and university in the province, inviting Classics teachers to a special meeting to discuss the possibility of forming an Ontario Classical Association. The meeting, scheduled during the annual convention of the Ontario Educational Association, took place on April 11, a rainy Tuesday afternoon, in the Board Room of Trinity College. Only 16 professors and high school teachers attended this initial meeting, though a further 11, from points as distant as London, Barrie and Manotick, sent letters supporting the proposal. The tone of that meeting was far from optimistic. Several of those present pointed out that previous attempts at federation had been short-lived, and that the wisest course was for Ontarians to belong to one of the American classical societies. In the end, however, a motion was passed, authorizing the establishment of an association. The OCA was born!

At a second meeting on April 24, the OCA elected a five-member executive committee (all residents of Toronto) as well as an advisory council of five representatives from across the province. Eric Havelock of Victoria College was elected as president, Dorothy Thompson from the Royal Ontario Museum as vice-president, and Mary White of Trinity College as secretary-treasurer; the remaining committee and council members were a mixture of secondary school and university instructors. Within a few months the committee decided to split the onerous job of secretary-treasurer; Lottie Baker of the Bishop Strachan School was appointed secretary, with Mary White remaining as treasurer. Membership dues were set at $2. ($1. for students), with a rebate of 50 cents to local classics clubs.

The fledgling Association undertook three ambitious projects in its first year. Greece, the birthplace of classical civilization, was liberated from Nazi rule in Oct. 1944, and relief supplies were badly needed for the starving populace. The OCA decided to raise money for the Greek War Relief Fund by sponsoring a festival of Greek music and dancing, in cooperation with the Greek Community of Toronto. The Greek Festival, held in the Eaton Auditorium on Nov. 6, raised $2,389. for the relief fund. A second project was the provision of visual aids for teaching. Sets of 3.5 x 3.5 inch slides (or photographic prints for those who preferred) were prepared, on ‘Greek Private Life’, ‘Classical Architecture’, ‘Roman Domestic Architecture’,’Occupations and Industries’ and ‘Greek Sculpture’. Each set contained 20-30 pictures of outdoor monuments and museum artifacts, and the price was reasonable: 30 cents per slide, 5 cents to 20 cents per print! The availability of such teaching slides was particularly important at this time, since war conditions made it impossible for school groups to travel to the R.O.M. by bus or train.

The most ambitious project was the creation of a classical journal. There were no Canadian classical journals in those days, and the OCA was unlikely to attract members unless it could communicate with them. Various names were proposed-Atlantis, Apollo, Classics, The Ancient World-before the committee settled on The Phoenix, with Mary White as editor. The main problem with producing such a journal was that four quarterly issues at 16 pages each would cost an estimated $300. a year. Since the OCA had only 32 members, even raising the annual dues to $3. would not cover the bill. At last an inexpensive printer was found in Kingston who would produce the journal for $3. per page, not counting the cost of paper and shipping. A generous financial contribution from a Toronto lawyer, C.S. MacInnes, covered the cost of the first issue.

Volume 1 No. 1 (24 pages including the printed covers) appeared in Jan. 1946. Its grey cover bore, in addition to the title The Phoenix: The Journal of the Ontario Classical Association, a medallion depicting a phoenix-the design adapted from a Hadrianic coin-surrounded by a quotation from Ovid (Metamorphoses 15.392) praising the fabulous bird’s ability to regenerate itself. Volume 1 (1946-47) included two such numbers, plus a double-length supplement printed by the University of Toronto Press.

In the first volume, Eric Havelock indicated that the aim of the OCA was not only to promote classical teaching and scholarship, but to build a society for “all Canadians who feel drawn, however vaguely, by ties of knowledge or sympathy to investigate the glories of Greece and the grandeurs of Rome”. Membership in the Association was open to “all who wish the classics well” [Phoenix, Spring 1947, p.  3-4].

Meanwhile, the OCA had begun to hold semi-annual meetings for its entire membership. The first of these (not counting the inaugural meeting in April 1944) was celebrated on April 3, 1945 with a tea in the Small Dining Room of Trinity College. Twenty-seven members and guests attended, to approve the provisional constitution and to discuss the activities of the Association. It was decided at this meeting “that the officers continue as at present that they might be given a chance to prove their worth” (!). This prolongation of the original executive’s power for an additional year set an important precedent: to this day, the president, vice-president and councillors are elected for two-year terms.

With the success of the journal, the meetings and other activities, membership skyrocketed from 52 members in 1945-46 to 152 members in April 1947. In Oct. 1946 the OCA decided to explore the possibility that a nation-wide classical association might be formed. After preliminary discussions with representatives of the other provinces and with the Humanities Research Council, a meeting was held at McGill University on May 24, 1947, at which the Classical Association of Canada was born. Members of the OCA became members of the new CAC as well. Phoenix expanded its horizons to become a national journal, and the OCA transferred responsibility for its production to the CAC. Of every $4. membership fee collected by CAC, $1. was remitted to the OCA, which in turn gave 25 cents to the Toronto Classical Club.

The OCA also sponsored two dramatic performances. Sophocles’ Antigone, translated, produced and co-directed by Ernest A. Dale of the University of Toronto, ran from Oct. 8-10, 1947 at Hart House Theatre. The total audience, many of them from out of town, exceeded 1400 persons. The cast included Dale himself as Creon, Margaret Dale as Antigone, and Grace Irwin ( still an OCA member today ) as ‘Second Messenger’. Three members of the OCA executive committee were also involved: M.D.C. Tait led the men’s chorus, while Gilbert Bagnani served as business manager and W.P. Horwood as advertising manager. A performance of Euripides’ Medea by the Queen’s Faculty Players, directed by Elaine Reed and jointly sponsored by the OCA and the Ontario College of Education, was presented in the University of Toronto Schools auditorium on Oct. 15, 1949. Eric Smethurst (OCA Vice-President 1950-51) translated and produced the play, and played Jason opposite Viola Smethurst in the title role. A local newspaper review called it “a distinguished performance”.

The spring and fall meetings were at first held at the University of Toronto or at local restaurants such as Diana Sweets or George Coles’ (both in the vicinity of Yonge and Bloor). Eventually other institutions provided the venue for some of the fall meetings: McMaster University in 1948, University of Western Ontario in 1950, Queen’s University in 1952, Upper Canada College in 1955. From 1957 to 1963 the spring meeting was held at Prince Arthur House, which offered greater privacy than the restaurants used previously. Even in those early days, the OCA attracted some impressive guest speakers, such as H.T. Wade-Gery from Oxford (spring 1948), Lily Ross Taylor from Bryn Mawr (fall 1949), and Sir Frank Adcock from Cambridge (fall 1955). The fall meetings sometimes included panel discussions, on such topics as the place of Latin in the new(!) curriculum (1950), the value of classical training (1951), and whether Latin literature is really superior to Greek (1952).

The governing body of the OCA from 1947 to 1958 had a somewhat different appearance from today. In addition to a past president, president, secretary and treasurer there were several vice-presidents (at least four and sometimes six or seven) serving concurrently. Besides these officers, there was an executive committee of six members and a council which averaged eight. Both the committee and the council contained a blend of university and secondary school members from all over Ontario, though only the committee met regularly, usually at the University of Toronto. The redundancy of having both a committee and a council was eventually recognized, and the latter was disbanded in 1958.

The presidents of the Association in this period were mostly university professors, and five of the first seven were from the University of Toronto. The second president, R.S.K. Seeley (1946-48), was Provost of Trinity College and hosted OCA receptions in the Provost’s Lodge. His successor E.T. Salmon, the distinguished Roman historian of McMaster University, was the first president from outside of Toronto. The president in 1950-52, Dr. W.A. Scott, was an obstetrician and gynecologist who taught for the Faculty of Medicine but maintained an interest in Classics. In the first twenty years of the OCA’s existence there were only two high school presidents, Cyril Washington (1952-54) and Winifred Alston (1960-62), who was also the OCA’s first woman president. Unlike other members of the executive, the secretary and treasurer were often renewed for extended terms. Stuart Nease held the office of secretary for 14 years before becoming president, while Harold Orr served as treasurer from 1948 until the late 1960’s.

The early 1960’s saw what was probably the most acrimonious debate in the OCA’s history. Each year, the OCA held its spring meeting in conjunction with the Ontario Educational Association’s annual convention. The OCA and the Classics Section of OEA had separate membership lists; some classicists belonged to both groups, but many belonged to only one. University professors tended to belong to OCA, while the OEA membership consisted largely of secondary school teachers. This dichotomy led, on the one hand, to much duplication of effort and expense, and on the other, to rivalry for membership between the two associations. Combining the two into a single organism would be more efficient and would make a stronger association. To this end, the president of the  OEA Classics Section, Alexander G. McKay, and two members of his executive, were invited to the OCA executive meeting in April 1962 to discuss a merger. A draft document entitled “De unificatione societatum professorum linguae Latinae antiquae” was prepared for circulation at the general meetings of both societies later that month.

There was bitter opposition to the proposed amalgamation in both camps. Two OCA vice-presidents spoke against it in committee. An anonymous memorandum (clearly authored by an OCA member) was circulated, pointing out that the two associations had very different purposes (the OCA to promote classical studies, the OEA to develop teaching aids and instructional techniques) and combining them might sacrifice the one purpose to the other. In the event, the OEA Classics Section voted in favour of unification, but the OCA membership approved only “a plan of cooperation” for the time being. The two secretaries exchanged mailing lists, and the two associations held joint meetings in fall 1962 and spring 1963. At the latter, on April 16, at which OCA founding president E.A. Havelock (Harvard University) was guest speaker, the amalgamation was finally approved. A new executive was elected that included members from both associations.

The new organization, which retained the name of OCA, had a new constitution. The president and vice-president (alternating between secondary school and university members) would hold office for two years, the secretary and treasurer for five. The executive committee would include these four officers, the past president, an honorary president, and six councillors (three from the universities and three from the high schools). Mary White, the first secretary-treasurer of OCA, was chosen as the first honorary president.

Since the 1963 amalgamation, the OCA has continued its routine of fall and spring meetings. These have been held at educational institutions across the province, as well as at such elegant locations as the Royal York Hotel (1965-66) and the Chateau Laurier (1992). In Oct. 1981 the OCA held a joint meeting with the Classical Association of the Empire State at the Holiday Inn in Grand Island, N.Y. In April 1991, OCA held a joint fall meeting with the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, at the Sheraton Hotel in Hamilton. The OCA began a new tradition in 1990 by holding its fall meeting at the Stratford Festival, where members received a backstage tour and saw a performance of Julius Caesar. A repeat visit to the Festival was organized in fall 1993 to see Euripides’ Bacchae. Ever since its founding, the OCA had stressed the need to communicate with its members. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, notices of OCA activities (such as the high school Latin sight competition held jointly with OEA) and reports of annual meetings appeared sporadically in the CAC journal Classical News and Views. However, the need for a newsletter of our own became increasingly evident. In March 1980, E.J. (Ted) Barnes produced a ‘specimen’ OCA newsletter, with the doctored motto,  Si incipiat, fideles, ut permaneat . The reaction to this experiment was so positive that the OCA Newsletter has continued to appear on a regular basis (except for a brief hiatus between editors), under the direction first of Ted Barnes (until 1983), then (since 1985) of Mary McBride; in October 1987 it received a stiff, coloured cover and the imaginative title Minervan Meanderings.

The OCA constitution shows that the Association has succeeded in continuing the purposes of both the OCA and OEA. The three stated aims of the Association are: (1) to discuss the problems and promote the efficiency of teachers of Latin, Greek and Classical Civilization; (2) to encourage interest and scholarship in the Classics; (3) to stimulate, maintain and extend interest in the Humanities. By a constitutional amendment in 1980, the executive committee was renamed the executive council. At the same time, the terms of the secretary and treasurer were reduced to three years, the editor of the Newsletter was added to the executive, and the number of councillors was doubled (six university, six secondary school).

The OCA is an active supporter of projects beneficial to the classics in the province.  It sponsored the compilation of an up-to-date bibliography of books on Greek and Roman civilization, edited by Alan Booth and published in 1987.  The OCA has also provided financial support to conferences and to classical publications such as  Labyrinth.   Since 1995 it has administered the Harry C. Maynard Scholarships for high school and university students, the result of a legacy from Mr. Maynard who was a dedicated Latin teacher for many years. In 1999-2000 the OCA collaborated with the Ministry of Education and TV Ontario in producing a training video for Classical Studies.

In recent years, the chief issues facing the OCA have been curricular change and teacher certification. In 1972 the OCA urged the Ministry to introduce guidelines for Classical Civilization courses in addition to the existing Latin and Greek courses; these became part of the high school curriculum. The Secondary Education Review Project of 1981 seriously undermined language studies in Ontario;  the development of Ontario Academic Courses in Latin, Greek and Classical Civilization, in which OCA members played an important role, to some extent ameliorated this situation.  In 1999 the provincial government completely revamped the secondary school curriculum, including the elimination of Ontario Grade 13. As a result, the Latin curriculum was reduced from four years to three.  OCA members made up the writing team for the new Latin curriculum, as well as for Greek and for a new Grade 12 course in Classical Civilization.  The Association has also collected and analyzed data on course offerings and enrolments at both secondary and post-secondary levels. 

Teacher education and certification is another problem which the OCA has been addressing, trying to ensure a supply of well-qualified teachers for the future.  In 1997 the OCA successfully lobbied for revision of the academic requirements for teachers to pursue the Honour Specialist qualification. The old requirements included more courses in Latin and Greek than could be obtained at most universities; the revised version allowed a mixture of classical language and classical civilization courses to be counted. The OCA then succeeded in getting an Additional Qualification Course and an Honour Specialist Course in Classical Studies: Latin/Greek, offered at the University of Toronto in 1997. Three years later saw the introduction a pre-service Bachelor of Education degree in Classical Studies: Latin/Greek. Another AQ/Honour Specialist course was offered in 2006. Future offerings of teacher training courses will depend on a sufficient number of candidates. The OCA also maintains a registry of current and potential teachers, with a view to providing candidates to fill retirement vacancies as these occur.

The OCA has not only met the challenges of the past, but looks forward with enthusiasm and devotion to promoting the teaching of classical languages and civilizations in the years ahead.