University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

An Inoffensive Song

By Louisa You | Jan 14, 2019

Innis started out as a college of solely undergraduate students at a tiny portable building not far from its current location. There was no residence; students took classes at University College. While the newly-founded college was focused on deciding school colors and drafting a constitution for the governing council, student Bob Bossin submitted “An Innocuous, Inoffensive, Totally Respectful and Reverent albeit Tongue-in-Cheek School Song for Innis College” as a contender for the official Innis school song.

Enrolling in 1965, just a year after Innis’s founding, artist and activist Bob Bossin was engaged in the College and in his program of study, playing for the Engineering Skule Band. Then known as the Lady Godiva Memorial Band, the band has since changed its name to a “Bnad” to match the program’s ongoing joke of intentionally misspelling words. The band is known for its open admission policy and now incorporates a working cannon, Ye Olde Mighty Skule Cannon, which still comes around to Innis Residence once a year during Frosh Week.

Not only was Bossin musically gifted, he also stood out academically in his school days. When Bob graduated in 1968, he was awarded the prestigious John H. Moss Scholarship, which recognizes students who have shown outstanding academic and extra-curricular leadership during their undergraduate careers.

After graduation, Bossin found great success as a musician and social activist. He co-founded the Canadian folk group, Stringband, which played for 15 years, recording 9 albums, and touring shows around the world. Now in his 70’s, Bossin is still active in his community. His recent work includes a song protesting the Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion in British Columbia.  A complete departure in tone and content from the Innis Song, the Youtube video of the pipeline song features Bob performing along with images of real protestors onsite.

Bob Bossin performs at his Class of 1968 reunion on June 1, 2018 (Photo by Chiao Sun)

In 2014, Bob came back to Innis to do a one-man performance show. In June 2018, for the 50th anniversary reunion of his graduating class, he even sang a few lines of this very song.

However, “Who the Hell was Harold Innis?” never made it as the official Innis school song. In the October 1966 edition of the Innis Herald, the ICSS commented on the back page, “Bob Bossin, take note, the “Innis Who” school song was rejected by the Executive as an officially recognized anthem.”

In a recent interview, Bob was happy to comment on the song and his memories at Innis. He also offered some sage advice as well for current students hoping to make a difference in the world:

“Thank you for reminding me of “Who the Hell was Harold Innis?”. I remember writing it but had forgotten most of the lyrics, which actually aren’t bad, eh? I don’t remember a debate about making it the College’s official song but the thought of such a thing makes me chuckle.

“I arrived in ’65, the second year of the College’s existence. We inhabited a portable – left over from the war years? – next to the old observatory on front campus. At that point, the College had neither its own classes – which we took at U.C. – nor its own residence.

“We pretty much all knew each other. We were all or virtually all white, but otherwise pretty varied: right-wing, left-wing, academics, activists, athletes and acid heads. Mine was the graduating class when Ken Stone ripped us his degree on the stage of Convocation Hall. It made the front page of The Star and was a source of chagrin or pride depending on your political persuasion.

“That was 1968 and Innis and the campus, indeed all campuses, were aboil with activism: Vietnam protests, and demands for a more liberal university. Not everyone was caught up, but enough were to elect an activist SAC, with me as the Innis rep. (I think there were two of us.) Mine was the era that gave birth to Innis’s (somewhat) modern curriculum with film and environmental studies and a briefly extant free-form course called Contemporary Social Something-or-Other, which, in its short life, generated considerable controversy and would merit an article of its own. I was one of the “resource people.” Ah, those were the days.

Bob Bossin

Bob Bossin in the Common Room of Innis’s original home—the “Biscuit Box”—at Hart House Circle, circa 1965 (Photo by Robert Patrick)

“You ask, “How do you think students can effect change?” That’s a simple one: any way they can. And they’d better be quick about it. If not, I won’t be around to suffer the consequences, but you will and the consequences of inaction look to be dire. As we used to say, “If you keep going the way you’re going, you’re gonna wind up where you’re headed.”

“I had to laugh when you asked me for advice for contemporary students. I was asked this once before by Innis when they decided to put pictures on the wall of notable Innis grads, along with our advice. Mine was “Snort it before you shoot it,” which seemed to me to be a useful tip. But it was a bit racy for the walls of the College, so they suggested I try again. No problem: “Just ’cause you are saving the world, it doesn’t mean you have to have a bad time.””