A Place Like This

VICTORIA BANDEROB looks into the differences between urban and rural universities in Canada

A Place Like This
Click the X to peruse students’ instagram photos from urban and rural universities in Canada.

Located in the midst of a thriving urban centre, the University of Toronto, although an active player in the city at times, is often an accessory in the comings and goings of local and commuting Torontonians and the quick snapshots of tourists’ cameras. Students of the university view themselves not only as students, but also as residents of the City of Toronto, an active force in and around the institution.

The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Ottawa are all universities in big cities. The urban environment that these universities inhabit has many other top employers and businesses that keep the city running and other aspects, such as vibrant cultural life, attract residents to live there. The university happens to be in the middle of it all.

In a small university town, the picture is quite different. The city that that the university resides in is relatively small — sometimes so small that one of the top employers in the city may be the university, as in the case of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where it is second only to the Canadian Forces Base, employing just under 10 per cent of Kingston’s workforce. The University of Guelph is Guelph’s second highest employer in contrast to the University of Toronto which, despite occupying one of the top spots of employers in the city, is among 13 other companies that employ similar numbers of people. Similarly, the majority of residents in a university town might be students, as in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, home of St. Francis Xavier University, a town with a population of 4,524 and a student population of 5,185 (2011).

When students are choosing whether to go to a university in an urban or rural environment, these technical factors are often not their central concerns. Academic programs offered and the reputation of the school’s social life are critical considerations for incoming students, and these are often tied to the school’s location in a city or a town. Homecoming at U of T and at Queen’s have entirely different reputations; while Kingston does not offer the same cultural vibrancy that Toronto does.


Hands-on learning

While all universities typically offer a normative selection of academic programs, their settings impact the unique interdisciplinary studies they can offer.

The University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and Concordia University in Montreal, are all located in the heart of busy cities, and all also host Urban Studies programs. These universities are accordingly surrounded by a living, breathing Urban Studies classroom — the city itself.

Being immersed in a city while learning about urban environments has its obvious advantages. David Roberts, a professor in Innis College’s Urban Studies program, points out: “Starting in the first year with our Innis One class, we have our students getting out in the community and actually involving themselves in seeing the processes that make the city run.”

The various organizations located in cities create increased opportunities for service learning and experiential learning that U of T, and numerous other universities, offers its students. Service learning is described as course-based learning, allowing students to participate in an organized service activity that engages the community, where further reflection allows greater understanding of the content. Many service learning courses can be found at U of T. The Dementia course (HMB440) explores aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2009, the students raised $1,000 by participating in the Alzheimer’s Society Walk for Memories. Not only does service learning help in strengthening understanding of a subject in the present, but it also can help provide knowledge of future opportunities in that field.

In contrast to urban universities, the University of Guelph, an example of a university located in a university-town, specializes in Agriculture — with a faculty of Plant Agriculture and programs such as Organic Agriculture and Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics. Guelph is a rural area that allows programs such as these to flourish, as they are enhanced by an on-campus farm, the Guelph Urban Organic Farm, as well as greenhouses and open land so the students have an opportunity for off-campus research experience akin to U of T’s service learning.

Colbey Templeman, MSc student in Plant Agriculture at Guelph, comments: “Pursuing an education at the University of Guelph has allowed me convenient access to numerous field locations and research facilities. My graduate research requires me to travel to multiple field locations to collect data. Fortunately, Guelph is ideally situated for such a requirement, and I can be out of the city within as little as five minutes. This would be far more difficult in larger cities.”

Although the topics of research may vary between universities in large cities and those in small towns, the quality of research is not necessarily enhanced by being located in a big city. Emily Greenleaf, researcher of teaching and learning in the dean’s office and lecturer for “The University in Canada,” a University College course, suggests: “Especially among academics, their main community is other academics all around the world in their field. So although a university may be in a small town, the academic life of a university is often really cosmopolitan and globally connected… I think the ideas coming into the university, especially on the academic side of things, are really very cosmopolitan no matter where the university is located. Especially when we’re talking about universities with a research mandate and universities where faculty are very involved in the forefront of their field.”


City versus school

Conflict can arise between the institution and the city which hosts it. This divide may be more prominent in a small town than in a big city.

In a university town, transient students are moving in and out of residential areas where families are raising children and elderly residents have lived for their whole lives. Disruptions, such as the Queen’s University riots in 2009, can easily cause a community to resent the students and the university that they attend. The Queen’s Town-Gown relations Department was formed in 2011 as a result of the riots and aims to bring students and their community together.

Respecting and accommodating all the residents is a very important aspect of sharing a small community. The City of Waterloo has received an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant to support an initiative that will change a student neighbourhood’s reputation, which has been burdened with negative stigma attached to large parties and poorly maintained properties.

While there are challenges, cities and towns can combine forces for mutual benefit. A university town experiences benefits from the university including — the building and expansion of infrastructure to support the student population, such as restaurants, small neighbourhood stores, and even larger grocery stores. Urban centers and university towns alike benefit directly from some of the facilities within the universities themselves.

The University of Waterloo’s Earth Sciences Museum is largely used as an earth-science teaching museum for local schools and natural-science interest groups in southern Ontario. The university at the heart of a university town will also sometimes represent the interest of the community it is hosted by. In 2004, for example, the University of Guelph launched the Ontario Farmland Trust, an organization whose focus was to preserve Ontario’s lands for farming.

With the infrastructure and graduates produced from the University of Toronto, small businesses with big ideas are able to leverage public and private partnerships to hire, innovate, and create growth opportunities with the funding from larger institutions and governments. For example, the MaRS Discovery District allows entrepreneurs in the medical, science, and social fields to build their small ideas into global businesses. Opportunities like this create jobs for students, research for faculty, and tactile objects to teach about at the university; in turn, the company gains people and money for its projects.


Student life

School spirit, involvement in clubs, and social gatherings are all aspects of student life outside of the classroom. Enthusiasm for these activities differs greatly between students of a college-town and a large city.

Becky Eckler, a graduate of Queen’s University, suggests: “Students who choose to go to school in a big city are often picking that school for the city — not for the school. However, students who pick a school in a small town are picking the school for the school. You see a lot more school spirit because they are a lot more enthused about the institution.”

At small town universities, homecoming is the event of the year — school colours are painted on faces, and throughout the rest of the year these colours continue to paint the landscape. Noteworthy homecoming events include those at Western and Queen’s, which have been the subject of controversy due to the disruptiveness of the celebrations in their respective host towns.

While university-town institutions far exceed urban universities in terms of school identity, personal identity may form to a greater extent when one lives in a city, free of the confinements of a town.

Roberts notes: “The community aspect of student life is a lot more spread out [in the city]… you can find your niche outside of the university,” which can help you find new interests and past-times, or just separate your mind from campus and university life. Museums, concert venues, restaurants, and community activities are abundant in a city, but still exist in small towns due to the fact that a university is there. The large demographic of young people attracts businesses to a small town that may not have chosen to set up shop in a small town without a university.

Greenleaf adds: “[A university] is obviously a great creative force — it brings in young people, but it also attracts artists and all kinds of entrepreneurial things that cater to students and faculty. And so, the food in a small university town will be a lot better than the food in a town of comparable size without a university. And the music, and the movies that get shown, and all of that — it creates an audience for the kind of cultural activities that we often associate with a bigger city.”

When choosing your university, it’s not uncommon to hear the advice that whatever university you choose will be the best one for you — you just have to take advantage of what it has to offer and make it the best one for you. Emily Greenleaf notes on the choice of an urban institution like U of T: “[A] real trait of urban universities, [is] that they can attract people who have a choice to be anywhere; but they want to be in a place like this.”

Illustration: Wendy Gu

The art of being Bowie

Latest exhibit at the AGO is a thematic trip through the musician's influences, career, and life

The art of being Bowie

Walking up the steps to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), I wasn’t sure what I’d find. David Bowie has all the ingredients of a fascinating exhibit, celebrating a man my father deemed “the original Lady Gaga.” I can recall us going through old album covers together, his eyes sparkling as his brain relived the rebellion and recklessness of his youth.

I was intrigued. I wanted to know what kind of person could do that to someone ­— what lit that spark.



From the moment I put on the exhibit’s interactive, intuitive headphones (they respond as you travel from section to section — no more pushing buttons), a theatrical hum filled my ears, as if to immerse me into Bowie’s mind. The exhibit itself is sectioned off into various rooms in order of influence, age, and era. It was here, taking the first few steps, where I began to see where my father’s adoration came from. Bowie, a trendsetter from the moment of inception, seemed to always be searching for something bigger. At one point debating the idea of full-fledged Buddhism, he declared his goal was to become a “trendy person, rather than a trend.”

In a world peppered with Internet celebrities, child stars, and reality television, Bowie couldn’t be more right. That’s one aspect which struck me as I walked from room to room — Bowie’s vulnerability. Sure, he may look like an alien, with his unique eyes and bone structure holding court from miles away. He may be very different indeed — yet he holds the same desire for originality, fighting the same demons many of us face in life. When asked about his reason for acquiring such fame, Bowie was recorded saying, simply: “I wanted to be well-known. I wanted to turn people on to new things.”



Bowie’s endured failure, rose above it, and countered bowing down to the masses by creating a new world with new identities to dominate. Whether he is Bowie or Ziggy Stardust, by claiming to be somebody else he could be himself. In a time when rock and roll was raw and rugged, Bowie would add Kabuki-inspired makeup, vague, embellished wording, and costumes that continue to shape the styles of today. He saw inspiration and influence in everything, and whether you follow him or not, Bowie shaped us.

His big break occurred during the moon landing of July 1969, when the BBC aired his single, “Space Oddity” alongside the miraculous footage. It seems that on that day, two things skyrocketed into our living rooms: the moon and, perhaps, the man whose mind resided there.

Bowie lived for creation in all forms, citing A Clockwork Orange and 1984 as major literary influences. Between music videos, songs, and performances, he refused to exist within a single dimension. The plethora of costumes and drawings shown in the exhibit provide a peek into what rock used to be — a time when individuality was the only option, and social networking had nothing to do with posting a “selfie” on Instagram. Things were either brutally honest or brutally ethereal — you couldn’t claim one as the other.



In the exhibit, a few things resonated with me. Bowie had a fondness for a program called the Verbasizer, which took paragraphs, sentences, and bits of news and scrambled then into new phrases. Sometimes, these compilations would speak to him such that it enabled him to write a song, full of lyrics with meaning for the listener. That is the beauty of Bowie, his words are vehicles that take you somewhere untravelled.

I could write pages on Bowie’s impact on our generation, on his androgynous style and the importance of celebrating it. I could devote paragraphs to the beauty in his layered music, his synthesized beats and cultural trailblazing. But I won’t, because I want you to experience it for yourself. Find refuge in David Bowie’s fantasy, find comfort in his life.

His world is your world, and I strongly advise that you inhabit it.

“David Bowie is” is running now until November 27 at the AGO.

Frosh in photos

A visual recap of some of the highlights from #startUofT 2013

Frosh in photos

Frosh in photos
























A Guide to Arts at U of T

Find the perfect outlet for your creative expression

Welcome to U of T, a school with a diversity of students who, in turn, have a broad range of interests. That may seem like a cookie-cutter statement, but the endless list of Arts and Culture (A&C) clubs and societies at our university certainly does the cliché some justice. The A&C clubs and events at U of T range from college-specific to campus-wide. Each college has at least two of the following: a dramatic society, a newspaper, or an Arts Review. This guide highlights just some of the many artsy clubs and groups at U of T, some college-related and some not. There are way too many groups to list them all here, so explore the clubs fairs and Ulife to find even more.

Hint: Often, students can join college-specific groups or attend college events even if they aren’t part of the college itself.


Campus-Wide Must-Knows


Hart House


This student life hub houses the historic and cozy Hart House Theatre which stages both student and professional plays and musicals year-round. Hart House also holds classes in dance, photography, filmmaking and theatre.


University of Toronto Arts Centre

The University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC) and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are the campus’ two galleries, both of which offer a breadth of material ­— from artwork that dates to the Middle Ages to that of contemporary visual artists. Located in the centre of campus, it doesn’t hurt those seeking a quick foray into the art world between classes that these two galleries are closer than the AGO or the Gallery District.


Victoria College 


Motion Victures

This club began with a group of friends with a comedic bent, an improvisational tendency, and the good judgment to film and upload their performances to YouTube. Since its modest beginnings, Motion Victures has written and performed advertisements for the Bob — Vic’s comedy revue — and has created a feature film, all of which are on its YouTube account. (Email)


Acta Victoriana

Vic’s annual literary journal, which has included the works of now-famous Canadians Margaret Atwood and Lester B. Pearson. (Website)


Woodsworth College


22 Pages

A comic book club that allows students to team up with their peers to publish collaborative works.  The club also gathers to discuss comic books and comic book culture, rendering it ideal for aspiring comic writers and artists. (WebsiteEmail)


The Art Society

A forum for students engaging in artistic endeavors to meet, discuss their work, and share ideas. (Email)


Trinity College


Trinity College Literary Institute

Also called “The Lit,” the Trinity College Literary Institute has been one of Trinity College’s most deeply-rooted traditions for nearly 200 years. Although it was originally a forum for serious debate surrounding current issues, it has now adopted a more satirical format — where the object of debate is often a joke and the objective is to make the audience laugh. (Email | Email)


Trinity College Theological Society

The society meets weekly to discuss and debate theological and academic topics. The TCTS also hosts guest speakers and occasional outings. (Email)


Innis College


Free Friday Films

As a reward for those tough weeks at school, enjoy a free film at the Innis Town Hall. The event, hosted by the Cinema Studies Student Union (CINSSU), features a diverse array of film styles — from French New Wave to
Hollywood blockbuster. (Email)


Innis Jamz

A bi-monthly music session for both experienced and novice instrumentalists. Check out their Facebook page for more details.


New College


Caribbean Film Festival

Besides the proverbial “sun and sand,” the Caribbean provides great fodder for documentaries and dramas. The festival is free and includes discussions with filmmakers, whose films shed light on Caribbean politics and culture. Although it is not formally a part of New College, the festival is sponsored by the Caribbean Studies Students Union (CARSSU), housed at the college, and the CINSSU. (Email)


New Faces

Check out New Faces’ Facebook group for updates on events and auditions around campus.


St. Michael’s College


Kelly’s Korner

Held on the last Wednesday of every month by the St Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), Kelly’s Korner is an open mic night that allows students to showcase their artistic talents. Finger-snapping might not be mandatory, but St. Mike’s monthly coffee house certainly warrants it.


Annual Musical

A surefire way to make new friends and sing off midterm stress. Past shows include Sweeney Todd and Hairspray. Auditions begin just after frosh week.


University College


UC Review

A collection of students’ short fiction, poetry, and visual art. Aside from being a great forum to have creative work published, the Review also allows students to get involved in other capacities, such as graphic design and editorial positions. (Email)


The Gargoyle

FORSH by ucgargoyle

In the editor’s own words, “The Gargoyle glides past the drudgery of report journalism in favour of a sometimes farcical, sometimes serious consideration of things similar to art, politics, and sharks. In order to facilitate a tasteful and truthful conversation of the world we all tenuously occupy, The Gargoyle is accepting of made-up words, meta-isms and smartassery, and averse to poor writing, meta-meta-isms and dolphins.” (Email)


U of T as you see it

Instagram photos reveal students’ perspectives of campus

U of T as you see it

Capturing the extraordinary side of nature

"Genesis" at the ROM looks at life untouched by modernization through the lens of Sebastião Salgado

Capturing the extraordinary side of nature

Born in 1944 in Brazil, Sebastião Salgado is a Pulitzer Prize winner and leading photojournalist, known for his captivating images of the natural world. The Royal Ontario Museum is fortunate enough to be displaying some of his most remarkable photos in a new exhibit entitled Genesis.

Over a span of eight years, Salgado traveled to 32 locations, documenting the strength of nature against the threat of industrialism. The ROM’s black and white collection features a combination of raw landscapes and the groups of people living there.

The exhibit is set in multiple rooms, with each devoted to a location in which the photos were taken. From the Amazon to the Canadian Arctic, Salgado has brought the wonders of the natural world to Toronto.

One of the exhibit’s first photos was taken in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Upon walking towards the piece, one observes a black landscape with various shades of grey toward the foreground. Amidst the darkness, white lights shimmer, forming an image that seems to resemble a city skyline. But on closer examination, the photo becomes something far more extraordinary: Salgado captures a group of Yacare Caimans, a reptile of the Crocodilia order, in the Pantanal wetlands. Despite its modern feel from afar, up close this photo depicts something unseen in any urban setting.

Just a few steps away from the Amazon section is a collection of photographs taken in the Galápagos Islands. Displayed here is perhaps the most striking piece of this exhibit: a photo of a large silver hand with thinly curved claws gripping the ground. This piece was unlike any other in the show; the metallic and rough skin was something so surreal, it looked man-made. Salgado’s description explains that the industrial-looking hand actually belonged to a marine iguana. This juxtaposition of nature and the urban can be seen throughout Genesis as the viewer observes extraordinary places untouched by man.

Salgado’s iguana was used in the Genesis advertisements across Toronto. Although its metallic claws are visible just by looking at the ROM from Bloor Street, one can only comprehend the beauty of the photographs up close.

The exhibit concludes with scenes from the Canadian Arctic. With its snowy mountains and Inuit tribes, these last photographs truly capture the Canadian experience. Gazing upon an icy river scene, one can imagine the daily struggles experienced by those who live in the Arctic.

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis is more than a collection of photos; it is an experience of life before modernization.

Out of sight, but helping out

A look at some of the services our fees support

Out of sight, but helping out

One of the benefits of being connected to U of T’s massive community is the availability of a wide range of services here to help you.. Yet with so many resources at your disposal it is quite possible to completely overlook some of them. To many of us, these organizations can appear as just another line on our never-ending invoices for tuition and student fees. But for others, these niche communities offer a lifeline in a time of need, or a chance to nurture a new passion or friendship. The photos below show just a few of the many groups ready to help you out or show you something new.  You may not directly benefit from these services, but the hundreds of volunteers and dedicated individuals involved with them work together to strengthen the community we are all a part of here at U of T.


Sexual Education Centre (SEC)


The Sexual Education Centre, founded in 1976, aims to provide information, education, and supplies from all aspects of human sexuality in a nonjudgmental environment that fosters sex-positivity and understanding.



Conrad, Julian, Kayla, and Sarah are only a few of the 60 volunteers who help out regularly at SEC on a regular basis.

Bike Chain


Founded in 2005, Bike Chain operates a free educational bicycle repair space as well as running a free bicycle-lending program for students, aiming to promote bicycles as a form of sustainable transportation. Bike Chain is supported by a team of passionate student volunteers and also hires students for part-time work study positions to help with bike repairs and other duties.



At any given moment there are around a dozen active volunteers helping out at Bike Chain.  Kelly, Kate, Carter, and Troy are happy to help you maintain your bicycle.

Women’s Centre

Founded in 1986, The Centre for Women and Trans People advocates for equality for systemically marginalized groups, and is committed to making connections between U of T and other communities.  The centre is non-profit, volunteer driven, and seeks to prove a safe, secure, and supportive space for all students.



Kim and Sabera are two of the 80 active members that contribute to the Centre throughout the year.


The Campus Community Cooperative Day Care Centre offers a safe place for children of students and faculty to stay during the workday.

Hot Yam


Hot Yam is a volunteer-run vegan kitchen. Those involved are passionate about food issues and strive to raise awareness about food accessibility and sustainability.


Oviya and Samiya volunteer every Wednesday at Cumberland House to cook a delicious four dollar vegan lunch.

View UTSU SERVICES in a larger map

Art and intrigue

Vic’s Underground Art Gala features innovative artwork by U of T students

Art and intrigue

The annual Victoria College Art Gala showcases some of U of T’s  best student photography, multimedia, and design works. This year’s event — inspired by the theme “Underground” — will take place on March 11  and offers cash prizes to the winners in each of its six categories:  Portraits, Landscapes, Vic Life, Travel, Arts and Culture, and Exclusion and the City. To learn more about the gala, The Varsity sat down with co-president of VicXposure, Thomas Lu and president of Victoria College’s Arts and Crafts Club, Ella Gorevalov.

The Varsity

Victoria College hosts an Art Gala every year. What are the goals of the event?

Ella Gorevalov

Basically, the Gala is a way for students to show off their artwork in a relaxed environment, away from the structured, formal academic world. It also provides a way for students to showcase different mediums of art, whether it be photography, design, or painting.

Thomas Lu

The Gala also aims to be interactive, and to have a non-competitive atmosphere, even though there are prizes to be won for first place finishers.

The Varsity

What inspired the “Underground” theme for this year’s gala?

Ella Gorevalov

 We wanted it to be mysterious.

"Nature's Christmas" by Shijie Zhou

Thomas Lu

The theme changes every year. “Underground” seemed like a good way to add a sense of intrigue to the Gala, and inspire some alternative artworks.

The Varsity

VicXposure — Victoria College’s photography club — is one of the three groups hosting the gala. How does the club help students improve both their photography skills and chances of placing in the gala?

Thomas Lu


"Pow Wow" by Ian Poon

VicXposure … basically helps students get better and more confident in their photography skills. The club is open to anyone — amateurs or people who have previous photography experience. We even have a camera rental program, where students borrow slrs, film cameras, as well as a variety of lenses. We also go on a lot of photo walks around Toronto, mostly to obscure places that the average person wouldn’t come across so that our students get a wide range of subject matter to photograph. We also offer classes on how to use your camera or shoot different subjects. Once they’re confident in their photography skills, we send our students to different events around campus, like Frosh Week and pub nights.


The Varsity

 Vic’s new Arts and Crafts Club is also involved in organizing the event. What is the focus of this club? Can students involved in the Arts and Crafts club contribute to the Gala?

Ella Gorevalov

 [Arts and Crafts was] initiated this year and [is] run out of Old Vic. Basically it’s a drop-in club where students from every college get together and make whatever they want out of the materials we provide for them. Initially, the gala was intended for photographers who wanted to showcase their talent, but in recent years we’ve been seeing a lot more non-photography submissions, like formal artwork and even multimedia installations.

The Varsity

What do the judges look for when determining winning submissions?

Ella Gorevalov

All four judges are students at Vic, along with one prof, to help eliminate any biases. So the judging is pretty fair and consistent.

Thomas Lu

There aren’t a lot of judging criteria. They’re basically looking for the submission that best fits a category.

The Varsity

What is the most rewarding aspect of being in VicXposure and the Arts and Crafts Club?

Ella Gorevalov

It really takes my mind off studying and reading — basically boring academic stuff. The thing I love most about A&C is that there are no set rules; you’re free to create whatever you want, as opposed to the strict, regulated academic world. I’ve also gotten to meet some of the most creative and innovative students on campus, who have some of the craziest ideas!

Thomas Lu

"Zhouzhuang, China" by Ian Poon

I’m not really into the ‘artsy’ type of photography — photojournalism is more of my passion. What drew me to photography initially, and what I enjoy the most, is that it’s another medium of telling a story, other than just the written word.

The Varsity

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers and crafters who want to get more involved on campus and get their work “out there”?

Thomas Lu

Submit! Send your work — whether its photography, videography or design — to anyone and everyone. There are so many campus publications that are always in need of photographers to capture events happening around campus.

Ella Gorevalov

For anyone who’s interested in A&C, check out the Gardiner Museum. They always have exhibitions on contemporary art, and even offer pottery-making classes. As to where to submit your work, start with next year’s Gala! Profs have even been known to bid on their favourite artworks.

The Victoria College Art Gala runs from 6-9 pm at Old Vic on Monday, March 11. The dress code for the event is semi-formal.