Case 11
Frye as Principal

Between 1959 and 1967, Frye served as Principal of Victoria College. At the height of his fame and despite a strong desire to build upon his existing body of work, he reluctantly accepted the position as Vic’s academic administrator, fearing that the additional responsibility would conflict with his writing. Vic was at that time experiencing a considerable expansion and increases in staff. Frye’s predecessor, Art Moore, along with many of the staff at Vic, sought to appoint a high-profile academic for the position, and his name was suggested several times. When Moore first discussed the possibility with Frye, Frye named three professors whom he regarded as suitable. Moore followed up on Frye’s suggestions, but the recommended academics were occupied with other responsibilities.

After a board member recommended a candidate who was considered unsuitable to both Frye and the rest of Vic staff, Frye finally agreed to accept the additional responsibility. He was formally installed as Principal during an official ceremony at Convocation Hall. His speech, likened to a “fiery religious sermon,” emphasized the vital role that universities play in society: “The university stands for what humanity can do, and for what the rest of society is free to do if it tries.”

As head of faculty, Frye appointed F. David Hoeniger and John Robson as members. He also oversaw the construction of the new Victoria University Library (later named after E.J. Pratt). Originally, the west side of the building was designed to be made of glass, but Frye insisted that it should be made of concrete, as the reading room would become too hot and uncomfortable during the afternoon hours. He also provided support for the renovation of the Vic chapel (which by that time had become “dingy” and “unpopular”). The restorations transformed it into “one of the brightest chapels” in the downtown area.

John Ayre, Northrop Frye: A Biography. Toronto: Random House, 1989.