Rho Alpha Kappa was one of several fraternities that flourished in the 50's,
60's and early 70's at Ryerson, in Toronto. It was dubbed "Canada's
only Professional Communications Fraternity" -- and catered to Radio &
Television Arts, Journalism, and Photographic Arts students. In total there were 168 members who
belonged to RHO. In 1972 RHO as a fraternity closed it's doors.
In 1983 the Alumni Association was formed and several reunions where held.
Today, the association aims to keep in contact with as many members as possible --
thru mail, email (and other electronic communications) and regular meetings and
RHO is in its fifth year of offering a $500 cash award to a RTA student at
In September 2002 RHO launched the Rho Alpha Kappa Endowment Fund.
Since then the fund has grown to over $6000 with the target $12,000 in sight.
A History of
RHO ALPHA KAPPA
A retrospective of Rho by Rob
Roland from the
viewpoint of three brothers
– Hal Arthur, Ron Wallace and Derek Boles –
From three different eras.
HAL ARTHUR - One of the Silver Seven and the soul of the
frat’s early years. Hal’s input into this retrospective is a highly edited
version of his legendary fifty page history of Rho. Hall is currently
pursuing life in Pense, Saskatchewan.
RON WALLACE - A brother from the mid sixties notorious for
his antics as a renegade pledge. Ron provides a journalism perspective to
Rho and today owns the R & R Book Bar, a lively bookstore in Aurora,
DEREK BOLES - The intellect of Rho
in the early seventies, Rich was an integral part of all levels of Rho life in
its last years. The Perpetual student, he now teaches media and film
courses at Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill, Ontario.
the spring of 1958 Bob Nichol, Ron Lillie and Al Muir, all first year RTA
students, decided that a fraternity would fill a social void in their academic
lives. Flipping coins Bob became President, Ron the Treasure and
Muir the Secretary. This was Rho’ first meeting. Muir failed his first
year leaving the other two to face the fall with the concept of Rho. Their
efforts produced the first chapter which added Roger Lawson as Secretary, Ken
McKay as Vice-President and founding members Doug Kiefer, Dave McClure, Bruce
Rattray, John Nienhuis and Harold Arthur.
PART ONE -- by
from his original text, Hal wrote the following thoughts which begin at 88 Gould
Street, the first Rho house, late in the fall of 1958:
not sure how I lured Steve into the place, because I am sure until then he’d
led a fairly well ordered life." As they way in Feversham, "Steve
fell in with the wrong crowd".
all slept in a different room every night depending on what was being painted,
plastered, washed or linoleumed. By this time it was getting on towards
December and the nights were getting cold. One night I t got so cold that we
couldn’t sleep so we got up and sang. Eventually we made up our lyrics
and soon we had what became the frat song. The first verse deals with the bedbug
problem. Two of us were stricken by the little brutes.
and I had been to the dance and were on our way down Gould when a fire engine
raced by. We looked to see where it went and sure enough it was 88 Gould. Kotch
made a few optimistic remarks, as was his nature, and we went to see what the
problem was. There were firemen all over the place some even carrying
axes. The party didn’t slow down much in fact most people thought the morality
squad arrived in uniform. The house filled with smoke but the fire could
not be found. Later we found the culprit. Seeing that his honey was in
Chicago our boy Rattray had been tending the fire. Being lonely he built a
big one and smoked poured from the registers, the cellar door and through the
cracks in the floor. None of it went through the chimney. And so it
went. The fraternity was the laughing stock of the entire school, however,
one thing was evident. We all were getting to know each other better.
A friendship was developing. Our meetings were chaos. One minute
we’d be screaming with laughter and he next we’d be screaming at each other.
Here are some quotes from various meetings.
Bruce Rattray brought up the subject of no heat in the house when there was coal
in the bin. He suggested a good fire be kept going at all times.
Doug McClure inquired as to how often the dog was being fed. Kiefer
suggested that we keep a chart to keep the feedings regular. Rattray
suggested we draw up a constitution and was promptly made chairman of the
McKay presented a sheet to clamp down on beer, liquor, coffee and tea purchase.
A lengthy debate followed.
(Treasurer’s report in its entirety)
"Things are pretty rough."
To this day you can still tell Rho people by their
speech. The main sources for this colourful language were McKay, Nichol
and Pember while some of it was invented right on the spot. For example:
“adversity is the mother of profanity”. We had two favourite sayings
in those days that covered just about everything encountered in the house:
it moves, fumigate it.
(2) If it stands still, paint it
Here are some other terms and
their explanations from our early years –
GAMEOVER - done with,
THE WORD – as in “What’s the word on beer?”
ARC – to lower or diminish as in “Arc down the volume.”
FORNICATE – a high class fuck
SNARPY – miserable
THRASH – vigorous
FADE – to ease gently from a situation
One memorable afternoon we had
the floors being redone, voting for pledges and the beer machine arriving all
occurring at the same time. The beer machine was a very significant step.
Let it be recorded that it was Kotcheff who made it possible. How? no-body
really knows. It had long been my theory that a beer machine could be a
heart around which the frat could revolve. A more steady source of income
has yet to be invented. A more refreshing source of delight has yet to be
devised. I was so overwhelmed by the occasion that I sat down with tears
in my eyes and had a beer.
All of us were involved with
RIOT. Mac and I from start to finish Roger Lawson was program director
during the week of broadcasting from Simpson’s. In January four of us
had theses to write and the same four made up half the group that won the IVDL
drama festival at Lennoxville. McKay, incidentally, was also RTA rep for
SAC. All through January I had vague hopes of having one good Internal
Council meeting. The only place I could figure out to have one was in the
car on the way to Lennoxville…
Progress was made in January,
mostly financial. The first dance of the year was thrown by Rho in the
Legion Hall. We made of $200…
After graduation I moved back to
the frat house to hibernate and look for a job. Tony Ianuauilli and I were
the only inhabitants of 88 Gould. I wanted to be an advertising copywriter
and Tony wanted to be a cameraman. Do they ever hire guys like that out of
Ryerson? Tony got on pogey and I got a job. After a while we began
to have impromptu parties; that is we encouraged our alcoholic friends to drop
in. Two of them drank enough that summer to keep the house solvent.
A picture of one of them hangs over the beer machine at the new house at 75
And so ended the first
generation of Rho. Its first grads were out there in the real world of
showbiz and a new brotherhood was already forming at 75 Mutual under President
Kotcheff. Information from those years was unavailable for this writing
but no doubt Rho grew in leaps and bounds and as always new standards were set.
PART TWO -- By Ron Wallace
The frat moved from Mutual
to 620 Church Street in the ‘60’s. Also introduced into the frat were
Journalism Students. Ron Wallace, one of those Schrader clones, provides
us with this perspective.
… In the fall of 1966 two
things had yet to happen in my life. I had no idea what a fraternity was
and I had no idea of the taste of beer. Today I am a hardened veteran of
both. It was with a “what the hell” attitude that I joined a
bunch of guys to go up Church Street to see what this Rho Alpha Kappa was all
about. It was for journalists, and those other guys, I was told, and since
we’re all journalists in one way or another, it was natural that this frat
should be checked out. The address, 620 Church Street, is as vivid today
as it was back then. I remember Jim Elliott ordering a Labatt’s 50 and
me saying it was my favourite number too. Then someone slapped the first
beer of my life into my hand.
In that house I went through my
first inquisition, my first hell week, my first toga party, my first room mate,
my first panty raid, my second love affair, my first hangover and an explanation
of what carnal knowledge meant. In 1966 the phrase “C’mon babe” was
originated and the frosh staged the first sit down strike. That year was
the year that Rho discovered the genius of Don McQueen.
If parties are judged by the
amount of destruction visible in the morning then 620 had the world’s best
parties. But most of all 620 was home and when it was time to leave it was
tough. The frat was as strong as it had ever been at that stage and the
move to 30 Earl Street was to give Rho the prestige of any fraternity in Metro,
even those snobs over on Madison. The character of Earl Street Wasn’t
inherited but created by the genius of the Rho brothers. Major in that
task was the actual lowering of the basement to make it functional for dances,
parties and event my model railroad set.
Rho was in 30 Earl Street when
my first room mate, Jim Hagen, died. One of the frat’s most popular
brothers, Jim’s death hit Rho hard. Twenty-two year olds don’t die.
They live, they love, they share but they don’t die. The news was
stunning and the silence deafening when we heard, but we did what Jim would have
wanted us to do – we toasted one of the finest guys it was my pleasure to know
and threw the glasses into the fireplace. Jim’s death brought to the
fore what Rho was all about – a closely knit group of people who the experts
said would never get along. Media people are by nature extroverts and
extroverts are not normally known for their warm, sharing personalitities, but
Rho proved over and over again that we could live this communal life and enjoy
Life on Earl Street was not
without its scars. I still bear a scar from a stray Kotex machine which
collided with my head during one lively evening in Wayne Fenske’s third floor
tower… Our television room gained added character when a group of us went out
to the boonies and brought back enough barnboard to panel the wall. We
even took the wood when we left Earl Street. The games room, Acadian
Signature Rye, Tom Brennand’s convertible, the theft of Liz Taylor’s chair
from Bassels, my destruction of McQueen’s VW on New Years Eve, the bugging my
bedroom the night I was trying to get lucky and a million other stories made
life all to short at Rho. Just how many times did the police knock on our
PART THREE -- by Derek Boles
Later in the ‘60’s Rho moved
to 365 Ontario Street. It was in the fall of 1968 that Derek Boles had his
first contact with Rho. Here are his impressions.
… Rho was the most powerful
socializing influence of my life. During my four years at Ryerson I pledged in
one frat house and lived in two others. I served in a variety of office and was
President for a brief tenure in 1971. Many old friends and old memories
will be flushed out at this reunion… My first impressions of Rho were while I
was leaving a first year Photo Arts class. A dapper looking Bill Cobban was
inviting prospective brothers to what was termed a “smoker” (a word which
still had a benign meaning in ’68). I was already favourably inclined to
fraternities and was planning on joining one anyway. I was already more or less
committed to another frat but checked out Rho anyway.
I left that smoker with the
distinct impression that Rho brothers had a decided advantage over the other
frat types I had met. I pledged at 30 Earl and got to know the house extremely
well for someone who didn’t live there. Perfectly suited for Rho social
functions and its proximity to the campus probably made Earl Street the best of
all Rho houses.
Unfortunately, we had to move
out shortly after my pledge and for the next two years 365 Ontario Street was
Rho Alpha Kappa. Rho always had a touch of class and I distinctly remember
hiring a chauffered Cadillac limo as a float for the Frosh parade. Since most of
us were attired in fashionable late ‘60’s long hair and beards, many of the
ladies along the route thought we were visiting rock stars. The brothers,
naturally, milked that one for all it was worth. I even recall the limo being
engaged several hours after the original contracted time.
An important member of Rho at
Ontario Street was Fang, Bob Marshelo’s wonder dog. Who can forget Fang
balancing a tasty morsel on his nose for half an hour until Bob gave him the
okay. Or the half-quart of saliva that collected under Fang’s chin as he
waited for his master’s command. When Bob moved out of the frat into
private lodgings Fang missed the company and died of a broken heart. A tad
maudlin perhaps, but that’s the way I like to remember it.
One of the reasons for Rho’s
success was that our brothers always figured prominently among the movers and
shakers of the Ryerson student body. Whether it was the Ryersonian, the
theatre, SAC, or even TRA itself, Rho brothers were always integrated into the
social fabric of campus life and this reflected well on the frat itself.
It also had a practical side. Student council connections got us lucrative
dance sponsorships which kept the frat cash flow solvent for several years.
The theatre was where Rho
brothers shone the brightest. I remember when we had asterisks beside our names
on programs. I also remember when RIOT producerships were handed down from
brother to brother and come February all Rho brothers were involved in the
theatre in some way.
I also remember the Kohut
connection. A summer work opportunity for many brothers – Harv Rogers,
Bill Cobban, George McNabb, myself, Bill Brouwer, Rob Metcalfe and “Bobbie”
– to work at what was, briefly, on of the finest private camps in the United
States. It’s sad to relect that, like Rho, Kohut fell on hard times
later in the seventies.
We also ran into the problem
that was to eventually do us in in the early ‘70’s. Frats were
decidedly unhip and recruiting new brothers was becoming increasingly difficult.
Other frats had financial equity in their buildings but Rho, always a renter,
was dependent primarily on live-ins. After two years we had to move again,
this time to 165 Robert Street near the Spadina-Bloor intersection. Some
argued that this house would no longer be within walking distance of Ryerson, a
prime advantage when recruiting.
Robert Street had on distinct
advantage over Ontario in that the upstairs had many revenue producing bedrooms.
Despite that fact Rho survived the last two years with the aggressive hustling
of summer boarders. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough and near the end
there simply wasn’t enough income.
Rho died in August of 1972
when the rent couldn’t be met and the landlord seized the contents of the
Now, 10 years later,
fraternities are once again becoming fashionable on campus. It’s
interesting to note that one of 1982’s biggest box office hits details the
tough initiation rights of military college. Many brothers talk of
Rho Alpha Kappa has been a true
communications fraternity. It is probably closer to the actualities of
true brotherhood than any other fraternity and probably was the most powerful
social influence on all our lives. We are all social in that we want to
know our brothers as friends and not as acquaintances. We are professional
in that Rho provided a focus for all our interest and ambitions when we needed
When the initial idea for a
reunion came about early in 1982 it was with the idea that w could all share
memories, renew friendships and rekindle those common interest and bonds that
once drew us all together. As I take stock of who my friends and business
acquaintances are today, I note that the word Rho still comes up more often than
not. In that respect Rho has done what it set out to do and it is hoped
that this short history and the reunion will rekindle the spirit and brotherhood
that was once Rho.