From a faux ‘French starlet’ to the competition for the title of snow queen, The Varsity archives include some dramatic and romantic stories. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, The Varsity decided to look back at some long-lost but highly memorable sagas related to love and sex at U of T.
64 inches of Gallic beauty
In 1956, The Varsity announced that the “Blue and White” student society would be selling raffle tickets for a chance to win an all-expenses-paid date with Michelle Boudet, a French starlet.
Described as 20 years old, “64 inches of Gallic beauty,” and an ardent water skier, The Varsity told readers that Michelle had won recognition at the Cannes Film Festival the previous summer and was on her way to a career in Hollywood. Two enterprising student politicians had arranged her visit to U of T, as well as the accompanying raffle. The raffle was meant to supplement an ongoing multi-cause campus charity drive to fundraise for United Appeal.
The project had only one issue: Michelle Boudet did not exist.
At first, The Varsity noted worries that too many students would already have a date lined up for the designated Saturday night — how things have changed! — and therefore they wouldn’t enter the raffle. However, a steady stream of promotional coverage in The Varsity helped to generate interest, including a former Varsity editor’s account of a candle-lit fling he’d had with Michelle after a chance encounter with her in France. Ticket sales exploded.
On October 13, 1956, Michelle debarked her plane at YYZ wearing a leopard print coat and went to a Varsity football game. A cabal of art students had plotted to kidnap her at the airport — collegiate kidnapping being a common pastime in those days — but aborted the scheme out of sympathy for the charity drive. At half time, Michelle walked out into the stadium and — before a crowd of 15,000 people — drew a name from a hat, then drove off in a Cadillac convertible.
The lucky winner — engineering student Terry Dawson — was promptly kidnapped by his friends but released in time to get picked up for his date. The two had dinner at the Granite Club and went dancing at an undisclosed location before Terry rushed home at 11:00 pm to meet with his steady girlfriend of two years.
After midnight, it came out that Michelle’s identity had been a hoax. The supposed French starlet was, in fact, an undergraduate student at the University of Montreal named Isabel Lafontaine. She had, in fact, met the former Varsity editor who wrote about her, but not in France — at the Canadian University Press conference held in Ottawa two years previous.
The Varsity refused to name the orchestrators of the scheme, but admitted that they had been in on it the whole time, writing, “[We] had a major part in the fraud… and we’re not sorry.”
The story was reported on far and wide. The Varsity of the time claimed it even reached TIME Magazine, although we at today’s Varsity could not confirm this. The duped engineer told The Varsity he was not upset by the lie, and added that, starlet or not, he would never forget her. In general, it seems that the 1,174 students who paid 25 cents for a chance to go out with Michelle — raising a total of $300, surpassing the fundraising efforts of University College, Trinity College, and St. Michael’s College — took the reveal in good spirits. In the aftermath, students interviewed by The Varsity lauded the affair for bringing energy and vibrancy to an otherwise dead and dusted campus.
Also in the 1950s, an annual Winter Festival culminated in the crowning of a campus “Snow Queen.”
University administrators had deemed a beauty contest an inappropriate fair for a centre of thought and learning, so the carnival organizers agreed to instead judge contestants by more substantial attributes including “freshness,” “log-sawing,” and “enthusiasm.” The queen-aspirant would also compete at snowshoeing and pancake-flipping out at the Caledon Hills farms.
The Varsity announced that the winner would be crowned by the warden of Hart House, to a serenation by the Glee Club.