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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What did Northrop Frye's wife have to do with the University of Toronto's emerging student diversity?

Answer In 1951, Helen Frye was a volunteer typist for a campus group that welcomed international students to U of T.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

In the 1950s, the campus gradually began to take on an international flavour. There were many new Canadians, almost exclusively from Europe. There were very few members of visible minority groups among the students, as a glance through any issue of Torontonensis for those years shows.

It was extremely difficult for persons from developing countries to immigrate to Canada. Until 1956, immigration from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean was limited to the spouses and children of persons already citizens of Canada. In that year, the government permitted very small quotas from Commonwealth countries. The 1962 government regulations sought to eliminate discrimination based on colour, race, and creed. It was not until 1967, however, as was observed by Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock in their study of Canadian immigration policy, that the "regulations finally removed all explicit traces of racial discrimination from Canada's immigration laws."

The number of students coming from developing countries on student visas was increasing, but the total was still very low, compared to today's. The Toronto branch of FROS - Friendly Relations with Overseas Students - estimated in 1950-1 that there were only about 60 Asian, 20 African, and 20 West Indian students at the University. In total, there were only about 250 visa students in the early 1950s, compared to more than 2,000 today. In the early 1980s, the number was over 4,000, but later it decreased, when foreign students began to be charged higher fees.

FROS played a crucial role in making foreign students feel welcome and in bringing them into closer contact with Canadian students. Along with World University Service of Canada, which held seminars and arranged study tours abroad, it helped create greater understanding and links among students at an international level.

FROS was started on the campus in 1951 by a Toronto graduate, Catherine Steele, then the educational director of the Royal Ontario Museum and later the principal of Havergal College. With Sidney Smith's support, space was provided in the Lillian Massey Building at the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road. Helen Frye, Northrop's wife, became the first volunteer typist. Many members of the faculty and staff contributed to the work of the organization. John Wevers of Near Eastern studies, James Ham of engineering, Jarvis McCurdy of philosophy, and Michael Powicke of history successively chaired the organization after Catherine Steele's tenure. Ham met his wife, Mary Augustine, while both were working for the organization.

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