Chris Redmond

Chris Redmond, Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo (October 1998)

I discovered Simon the Troll in the nick of time, in December 1996, when the University of Waterloo was about to enter its 40th anniversary year. As editor of the UW Gazette I was wondering what we might do in print to recognize the anniversary and tell the present generation of students, faculty, and staff something about Waterloo’s origins and history. Perhaps a series of ponderous conversations with the dignitaries of long ago? Interpretive articles based on close reading of forty years’ paperwork preserved in the university archives? Or just pure fiction? None of these possibilities had great appeal.

And then suddenly there was Simon, refusing to meet the public directly but willing, sometimes more than willing, to ramble on about what he had seen and heard since the university’s gestation. All I had to do was listen respectfully, write it down, and have it typeset for serialization in the Gazette, beginning in mid-January 1997.

Well, perhaps not all I had to do. There is no harm now, I think, in revealing that occasionally I had a little doubt about some of Simon’s memories, and that I spent many hours consulting the archives and other resources through 1997 and early 1998 to verify what he was telling me. (The series appeared in the Gazette weekly, with a few gaps, through March 1998, and has been collected in this volume with only modest editing.) The labour was not small, but I was glad I had made the effort when—for example—it turned out that Simon was completely in error in his assertion that in the early 1960s, some arts students lived in a kind of hobo jungle near the Phillip Street railway tracks. On the other hand, I also came to realize that there are details of Waterloo’s history that somehow escaped Simon’s notice. Regrettably, he never mentioned the notorious incident of the alarm clock prank, which disrupted one of the early convocation ceremonies, and so the reader of these reminiscences will hear nothing of it.

Still, I was often amazed at the variety and completeness of Simon’s reminiscences as he whispered, grumbled, and ranted away. My own direct experience of Waterloo began in 1972, save for a few weeks in the muddy summer of 1970, and so I was unable to compare the Troll’s memories of the university’s first fifteen years with any of my own. For the subsequent decades, however, his recollections and mine were almost entirely consistent. More than once, I think, we must have walked the same hallway within seconds of one another, or sat in the same audience for a speech that seemed, at the time, to be of some importance.

If the Troll’s memory is fallible, of course, so is mine. Thus I am grateful to many people in the university who have helped me in confirming the details of his statements and taming some of his extravagances. Very important assistance came from Jane Britton of the university archives, who also helped repeatedly in finding photographs to illustrate the narrative. (I must emphasize that the Troll bears none of the responsibility for the photos, which are entirely of human provenance.) My gratitude is also due to the official university historian, Ken McLaughlin, who helped me more than once, and, in absentia, to James Scott, author of the original published history of the University of Waterloo, Of Mud and Dreams, which despite its eccentricities gave an enormously valuable context for Simon’s commentary on the first ten years. Other hours of close reading were devoted to past issues of the Gazette and of the UW Quarterly, published from 1959 to 1970, which now seems quaint for its very brash insistence on being modern.

I must also express my thanks, as Simon moves from the newspaper page to a more convenient and permanent form, to the president of the University of Waterloo, James Downey, who was immediately (I might almost say recklessly) enthusiastic about sponsoring the project; to Martin Van Nierop and Janet Rohrbach, my colleagues in the office of information and public affairs, who have helped in countless ways; and to Linda Kenyon of the new publications office, who came along just in time to act as editor and project manager, making a rather silly dream a reality.

Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs University of Waterloo
October 1998

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