Massey College murder game drama

Every year, many participated in organized sports (volleyball, basketball, hockey) and got involved in squash ladders and ping-pong tournaments. There were laser tag evenings. But the sport that engaged most of the college for the better part of a week each year was, of course, the Murder Game. As [Michael] McGillion observed, it was “always a huge stirring up of your life. If you take it very seriously at Massey, your life stops, really. Your studies are halted. People are in rooms with maps and positioning systems. We had alarms set up. It was ridiculous how seriously we took it.” In the course of one game he recalls an episode “involving the master and Matthew Sullivan, who was in law, a Buddhist, an interesting character, and very quirky. I was his victim and the master was my victim. I saw the master as he bolted and went after him. Matthew went after me. And we had this chase, which must have gone on for half an hour, up and down the stairs of all the houses. The master can move. He’s very quick. He’s hard to catch.” [John] Fraser himself recounted another memorable moment that concerned Daniel Bader (JF, 1998–2000, 2004–5), theology student and successful killer. A devout Catholic who regularly spent time in the Newman Chapel, he was indignant to find himself “killed from behind” while “on his knees” there. Afterwards, he and another junior fellow (a fundamentalist Protestant) expressed their concern to Fraser about this “outrage to religion.” The master probably did not help matters when he responded: “Well, there is precedent. There was an archbishop killed in the Church of England.”

Grant, Judith Skelton. A Meeting of Minds: The Massey College Story. University of Toronto Press, 2015. p. 546–7


The Massey College Rule of Courtesy

One of the items discussed each September when the don and committee chairs elected the previous April explained the college’s various structures and committees to the incoming group is the Rule of Courtesy. This rule, which has governed college behaviour since Robertson Davies’s day, essentially restates the Golden Rule. Here’s how it was explained on 17 September 1998: “[We] only ask that you be courteous, to think of how your actions may affect others with whom you live. [We] get a lot of mileage out of our one rule. [It] includes: not blaring loud music from your rooms, screaming across the quad (especially at night), cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen and bathrooms, not eating others’ food or using their laundry detergent, responding promptly to invitations. [It] also comes into play tonight: listen to those who have the floor, respect the opinions of others. Also included in the rule of courtesy is respect for the diversity of our community.” Breaches of the Rule of Courtesy — particularly in regard to hot plates [meals set aside in the JF fridge for Junior Fellows who cannot attend meals because of academic or other commitments] — were frequently under discussion at house committee and JCR meetings during John Fraser’s first term.

Grant, Judith Skelton. A Meeting of Minds: The Massey College Story. University of Toronto Press, 2015. p. 536–7

Note: Aside from my explanation of hot plates, the square brackets are in Grant’s text.

Morneau linking economic growth to social stability

Asked about de-growth and related concepts as a response to the apparent unsustainability of quality of living improvement based on economic growth:

If we have declining GDP per capita, it is very hard to have social harmony against that challenge.

Former Canadian Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, at a 2023-04-28 Massey dialog

Lunch with Julie Payette

Thanks to the Science at Massey program, I had lunch with Canadian two-time Space Shuttle astronaut Julie Payette.

As a group, we talked about her International Space Station construction missions STS-96 and STS-127; new technologies for crewed space missions, planetary exploration, and habitation elsewhere in the solar system; extremophiles and the search for life beyond Earth in the solar system; and the many experiences of launch, microgravity, and living and working in space.

Payette was very accessible, humble, and kind — and clearly seemed happy to hang around with a bunch of nerds to talk about science and look at photos from her missions.

Grant on the Massey College Murder Game

In 1994–5, the last year of Saddlemyer’s mastership, one innovation was so popular that it immediately became a college tradition. This was the Murder Game, played in February when the stress of term work and the gloom of winter had become oppressive. Robertson Davies’s assessment was characteristically astute: he saw the game as creating a false tension during a period of real tension, a false tension whose arbitrary removal eased the real tension. It was introduced to the college by Kelli Shinfield (JF, 1994–6), then doing an MA in English and later married to Darren Novak (JF, 1995–8). Initially, she conceived this elaborate game of hide-and-seek as being focused on one person who was “it” or the “murderer,” “who would kill off the college members one by one or get accused first (but if a player made a false accusation they would be eliminated). Instead, it became a circular game, where every member who elected to play had a target to ‘kill’ while simultaneously being a target for someone else.” Shinfield recalls being “caught completely by surprise that anyone would object on moral grounds” and feeling “heartened by Master Ann Saddlemyer’s staunch defense of the game, letting people opt out.” She thought the game was eminently suited to a college whose residents were “so preoccupied with each other and inhabiting a perfect building in which to hide and hunt.” She also thought it would be a different (albeit slightly paranoid) way for people to relate to each other, [and] that it might create unusual and interesting friendships and alliances between people who would not otherwise get to know each other.” [Opening quotation mark absent —MPI] In her experience,

some of the quieter Junior Fellows turned out to be remarkably sneaky, aggressive and competitive, and those of us who were more outgoing tended to get knocked off early. Some students were passive, some were furious when eliminated. We speculated on who was holed up in their room stocked up on canned goods. Some people opted out and watched the rest cavorting with a sense of “what fools these mortals be” and some with great care and humor stalked their victims’ every move. It was a fabulous distraction from the dreary grey of February watching the remaining few tigers circle each other, each knowing the other’s identity, enlisting friends and acquaintances to help get their targets alone.

Marc Ozon, a resident junior fellow in 1994–6 and an early participant in the game, adds a few details:

It’s not to everyone’s taste, frankly. Some people took it very personally. One could opt out, but at the same time, it’s a small enough community that there’s an implicit peer pressure in comments like, “Come on, it’s only a bit of fun.” It is relatively innocuous, but there is a certain tension. You’re walking around; you could be “killed” at any point. As I recall, at the beginning of the game, each person drew the name of a victim. If a person was alone anywhere in the college, they could be “killed.” The idea was to continue “killing” without actually being a victim yourself. You inherited your victim’s victim. So A kills B, who was supposed to get C, so A then goes after C. You never quite knew who had whom. The game was very good at identifying those who had the time, energy, and competitive spirit to really throw themselves into it. There were accounts of people hiding out in hallways, around one of the corners, or in the shower. You can see why some people got a little up tight. So this is like sports, a way to blow off a bit of steam. It’s a bit of organized fun with people you know. Inevitably there’s someone who gets a little upset. It takes as long as it takes for the last person to be standing. My recollection is that it took about a week with the last day or two being just the last couple of people. There was also a rule whereby you had to kill someone once every twenty-four hours. If you’re just sitting and not doing anything about your prospective victim, a designated person can come and get you, and take you out of the game.

Grant, Judith Skelton. A Meeting of Minds: The Massey College Story. University of Toronto Press, 2015. p. 415–6

I don’t know about earlier, but by the time I played after 2012 there would always be two people alive at the end since they would close the circle and end up as one another’s targets. If there was a single winner, it was because they had the most points from kills and from any other bonuses awarded by the game administrators.


Grant on the Massey College quad

Robertson Davies once told a group of architects that they were “the designers of the scenery against which we act out the drama of our personal lives.” Ron Thom seems to have taken this observation to heart in designing the college’s public rooms and especially the quadrangle, which, with its elegant clock tower, rectangular pools, splashing fountains, irregular walls of old gold and cinnamon brick, flagstone walkways, and pleasant lawns, has a captivating, ever-changing beauty. Shadowy morning light gradually gives way there to the direct sun of noon, the angled shadows of afternoon and evening, and the dark of night, the passage of the hours marked by the clock, by the striking of the bell, and by the flow of fellows to and from meals, classes, offices. As the seasons change, so too does the colour palette, the fresh green of spring slowly darkening into the fall, replaced in turn by the clean white of winter’s new snow. The quadrangle invites quiet contemplation from the Common Room and from residents’ windows, permitting unobtrusive observation of others’ lives. Indeed, this outdoor living room is perhaps the most observed space in the college.

Grant, Judith Skelton. A Meeting of Minds: The Massey College Story. University of Toronto Press, 2015. p. 312


Virtual memorial tomorrow

Elizabeth “Liz” Hope, who had been the Head Porter at Massey College since before I first visited the place, recently and unexpectedly died. As the chief authority in the lodge controlling entry into the college, her company was a day-to-day experience for all resident Junior Fellows and visitors. For me, she did a lot to establish and help me understand the character and workings of the college, and I am grateful for her evident care toward Junior Fellows and contribution to the unique college atmosphere.

Among her prominent roles was distributing information relevant to college members by email, which inspired a song by Junior Fellows.

Nathalie Des Rosiers appointed new Principal of Massey College

Yesterday the Massey College Governing Board announced that they have selected Hugh Segal’s successor as the head of Massey College. Their message says: “Massey College is delighted to welcome Nathalie Des Rosiers as its new Principal. She is a distinguished scholar and respected leader who, throughout an impressive career, has shown a deep respect and understanding of the academic community and a profound interest in the development of graduate students and young scholars. She will bring to Massey a fine mixture of intellectual seriousness, curiosity about the world, and a sense of fun and community.”

The college has posted a biography.