- Recollections of Waterloo College
Recollections of Waterloo College, described as a memoir by one of Wilfrid Laurier University's best-known and most revered instructors, is a very strange book. Flora Roy's recollections are sometimes disingenuous and often misleading, as she recalls events based mainly on gossip, hearsay, and social conversation. She regularly describes herself as an outsider, and admits that she knew little of university politics and did not participate in them. She chose not to read the local newspaper, but notes that someone had told her 'something' and that was enough for her. Names are misspelled, even that of the institution that became the University of Waterloo; and critical dates, including the formative decision of the Lutheran Synod as a result of which the former Waterloo College became [End Page 292] an independent university, is off by three years. The notion that the truth is in the details seems to have escaped the author of these recollections. It makes one wonder what else is amiss.
Roy's narrative has its redeeming features when she refers to Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, a rollicking and humorous account of university life in postwar England, and describes the 'Lucky Jim party' in her own department. Roy is also a character who could have been invented by Amis. Like Lucky Jim, she arrived at a small redbrick university. She had not completed her dissertation, but was made a full professor and head of her department. This, she alleges, was a ploy on the dean's part to make it impossible for her to move to another university. Her description of an early visit to Waterloo is out of a Kingsley Amis novel. While in her hotel room, she received a phone call inviting her to the bar for a drink. Immediately, 'I put a chair back under the door handle of my room that night, the trick I had learned in the Saskatchewan hinterland.' When 'a young woman who allowed herself to be picked up in a fairly respectable coffee bar' was found dead in a field, Roy alleges that the chief of police did not pursue the matter vigorously, and as far she could tell the case was dropped. When Roy was invited to the dean's house for a social evening, she believed that the evening was pleasant and she was sure that all would be well for her in Waterloo, except that 'I don't think I was ever seated at the table again.' Then there was the question of her clothing. When a colleague suggested that she dressed perhaps too soberly, she was quick to point out that her clothes were made by the seamstress who made clothes for the wife of a future governor-general, and if this was not good enough, Roy sewed her own blouses. She arrived at Waterloo, she said, 'with a perfect wardrobe that I could have worn with assurance to Buckingham Palace.' Attending the local Anglican parish, she found it difficult to pay attention to the well-meaning rector while the 'intellectually challenged (then called idiot) son of the caretaker was in the front pew, but sitting half turned around so that he could make faces at the congregation all through the service.' What does one make of Flora Roy's memoirs? Endearing, perhaps. Malicious, sometimes. Insightful, depending on one's point of view or demand for scholarly accuracy. Read them, but be wary.
Kenneth McLaughlin, Department of History, University of Waterloo