Some Memories of My Time at Trent
Jim Redditt '67
“Back in the Day…..”
What a ‘trip’: to remember those first few days in Peterborough that September of 1967. It felt so good to be away from home. Like, this was university man! My new friends and I have already discovered Merv Pass’ Confectionery on Rubidge and have scoped out the Crypt where some older Trent students were playing cards and looking pretty sophisticated. Having picked up our new schedules at the Registrar’s office we needed to figure out where all these lectures are going to be held. Some were at the church across from Rubidge and others at Traill, Peter Robinson and Champlain. This meant there’d be plenty of time on those ancient buses getting to know each other. Before long, we would become ‘sophisticated’ too, hanging around the Crypt, the Book Store, the library, using the card index, maybe trying to drink coffee or just grabbing a popsicle at Merv’s before the bus came.
Trent only had about 650 students in 1967 so it wasn’t long before we got to know pretty well everybody. Most of us had come because of the size, the residential colleges, the closeness to your profs, the tutorial system, access to sports and activities, the smaller lecture halls. It seemed like the place was so young, still discovering itself, literally still filling in the blanks. In those times, we were all required to purchase green academic gowns and wear them to lectures and seminars as well as to the evening meals in the colleges. “Oxford on the Otonabee”. At Champlain, we had to gather on the steps of the Great Hall until the faculty had come out of the Senior Common Room and had taken their places at Head Table. We were then permitted to stream in and stand at our table places and thence, (yes, thence), be seated whereupon a fellow student filling a part-time job brought out our dinners, prepared lovingly by Fritz the chef. Going to Scott House at Traill for Sunday dinner was a great way to see who’s who in the zoo but you had to be out of there by curfew, or else. No clandestine trysts nor slap and tickle in the dorms. Word got out pretty fast at Traill about guys who were catching the first bus back to Champlain.
In 1967, Champlain College was a strictly men’s-only college sitting out all by itself on the banks of the Otonabee. That first grey winter seemed a bit monastic. It got so Mondays were a good thing - going into town, doing classes, and especially chancing upon a heart-stopping conversation with a pretty girl on a bus. Activities like “L’Ordre de Bon Temps” and the Commoner pub across the river helped break up the winter. Playing the guitar endlessly and jamming with friends was better than books. “Hootenanies” at Peter Robinson were the scene. Experimenting with liquor meant doling out drinks like gin and Orange Crush.
There were no smart phones, lap tops or computers. No TV. Just newspapers, letters, radios, record players and black telephones. Rotary Dial. And Professors. These amazing, learned, engaging, sometimes eccentric fonts of knowledge who actually cared about what you thought and why you thought it.
It is said that we are shaped by our times and those of us who went to Trent in the 60’s were certainly shaped by ours. We had the joy of living in a kind of bubble back then. We made great friends and learned at close range from eminent and energetic scholars. It all felt like a new venture. Somewhere out there in the not too distant future we would be growing up (yikes) and taking our places. But we didn’t want that to happen right away. The 60’s were marked by changing forces that oscillated through our times, sometimes as undercurrents -- sliding around just below our adolescent consciousness - and sometimes as ‘overcurrents’, grabbing us by the throats. Prominent were the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear arms build ups, Viet Nam war, Civil Rights, assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. These awakened us to a world of extremes. We worried about that real world, the one beyond the bubble. Distrust of the Establishment seemed the mantra for young people. The music, the hair, the anger, the protests, the drugs, the pill, the free love: they saturated the images of those times. And yet for most of us, we thought there had to be a more sane way to grow up, while still pushing for what was right if it appeared to be missing. And the great thing was that so did our professors! So did our President THB!! As I reflect on those times, I come away feeling that Trent did represent a kind of bastion of sanity. On some level we knew we were there to discover where and how we could make a difference. An above average difference. The place just seemed to expect that of you. Trent was unique in a changing world. It’s values were self-evident as the right stuff: about learning, challenging, enabling, and justice. By implication, we understood as we progressed through those years, that to benefit from all this meant an obligation to give back to some greater good.
But in that first year of 1967, I confess to being only somewhat mindful of that stuff. You mostly wanted to get on with figuring out who you were, where it was all going to land. We came to understand that to be in it, at it and of it at Trent was the thing. Those nascent influences, ‘back in the day’, fostered a desire to make our worlds a little better, in whatever fields we have chosen. I’d wager that something similar is still happening at Trent. We Alumni exhort todays Trent students to also be in it, at it and of it.
Life has been a wonderful journey. Trent was a helluva trip.