An old boy network or society can refer to social and business associations among former pupils of top male-only public schools (independent secondary schools)…and indirectly to preservation of social elites over time without regard to merit.
My high-school, Upper Canada College, is often touted as one of the best schools to attend in Canada. Someone once said that it provides Canada with a disproportionate number of leaders, of whom include a Governor General, five Lieutenant-Governors, 24 Rhodes Scholars, and nine Olympic medallists.
The faculty was exceptional. A passionate, charismatic group, some of them former professors, notable businessmen, intellectuals. The facilities were top notch; football fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, indoor/outdoor pools, squash courts. Even the bands and theatre groups had access to exotic instruments and props. I remember for a production of Hamlet they hired a fight choreographer to lend his expertise in orchestrating the final fight scene.
School isn’t just about the education though. It’s as much about the experience. The classmates. The connections. The Old Boy network.
When I first started at the prep at age seven, I was cycling along a bridge with another little seven year old UCC chap. He said to me, ‘My mother is so happy that we are friends because you are going to be able to do so much for me in later life.’ I remember thinking, ‘I wonder what it is that I am going to be able to do for this chap?’ Then I grew up and realized, ‘So that’s the way it is. That is what people expect.’
—Lord David Thomson (1964–1967, 1970–1975), Chairman of Thomson corporation, Canada’s wealthiest man, sixth wealthiest in the world
The influence of the elite legacy of the Old Boys is far-reaching. Compounding this is the age of the school, and perhaps a degree of nepotism. A related male at the school significantly increased the chances of getting in.
Like his grandfather, John was in McHugh’s house. If had a brother or a son, they would belong to Jackson’s.
Years later, I insisted that my sons, Hugh and Stafford, go to UCC simply because I knew from my own experience that once a boy had gone to Upper Canada, he would never again be in awe of great family names, money, power or social standing. He would know that although a good private school like UCC can produce the best, it can also produce the worst.
—Conn Smythe (1908–1910), founder, Maple Leaf Gardens
It was only when James Fitzgerald, an Old Boy himself, published his best-selling book Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College in 1994 (from where these quotes are taken) that the blemishes of UCC came to light.
Beneath the veneer of of navy blue blazers and polished shoes were issues like any other school. There were drugs (though much higher-classed because of better funding). There were sadistic headmasters who looked for an excuse to cane their pupils. There were teachers who molested — or seduced — their students.
I learned to be a sexual masochist at Upper Canada. I’m not kidding. Whenever the housemaster caught me masturbating, his way of dealing with it was to cane me. Caning is a rotten method of teaching anything. What it taught me, of course, was the erotic connections of caning. They are still with me to this day.
—John Gartshore (1935–1943), musician
A couple months ago, I received a copy of Old Times, the semi-annual publication for alumni. In a section called “Class Notes”, they bring others up to speed on their classmates. In the last issue, for example, they mention that Michael Ignatieff, class of ’65, had just joined the race for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
There are updates starting from the graduates of 1941, including my graduating class, the class of ’99. Out of curiosity, I looked back on my yearbook, The College Times, Canada’s oldest student publication. I had to wonder just how much the prestige of the school had helped them. To compare my idea of where I believed my fellow classmates would be, with what they’re doing now.
The memories I had didn’t always match up with their current achievements.