The first student to register at York establishes a hockey bursary

When York University opened its doors on September 15, 1960, the first student to register was Douglas Rutherford (BA ’63). With two parents and a brother who attended the University of Toronto, Rutherford – a future Superior Court Justice – was attracted to York University because “the opportunity to do something different appealed to my adolescent sense of independence.”

Superior Court Justice Douglas Rutherford“We weren’t sure what we were getting into other than that it was something different,” said Rutherford.

Right: Superior Court Justice Douglas Rutherford

The historic significance of his decision didn’t register until later that same day when a reporter approached him for a photo. To this day, Rutherford views his unique claim to fame with characteristic modesty.

“My decision to register at York in the fall of 1960 can hardly be heralded as bold, let alone principled, but in retrospect I think it was a good decision for me,” he said. “The small, fledgling institution allowed me to engage in student activities including hockey, student government, academic and social life, in quite a different manner than would likely have been the case in a vastly larger environment at the University of Toronto.”

One of 76 students in the founding class, Rutherford would accomplish a few more important “firsts” before graduating. He was elected president of the first student council in 1960-1961 and again in 1961-1962, and was a member of the University’s first organized hockey team. “Anyone who could skate could join,” he recalled. The team competed at the lower level against various University of Toronto Faculties and won its division in its second year.

 Rutherford (front row, second from left) was elected president of York first student council
Above: Rutherford (front row, second from left) was elected president of York first student council

In 1962-1963, during its second year at Glendon, York formed its first intercollegiate hockey team with Rutherford serving as captain. “We didn’t do very well – I hope the statistics are buried somewhere,” he joked. “But even though we weren’t a strong competitor, we had a lot of fun. It was an enjoyable balance to our academic life.”

York undergraduates were in those days especially privileged, with a range of extracurricular activities organized for their benefit, said Rutherford. There were art exhibitions and a guest speaker series that brought celebrated artists and thinkers such as novelist Morley Callaghan, theatre director Mavor Moore and portrait artist Cleave Horne to campus. “It gave us all a sense of access to exciting people and events that you wouldn’t have got as one of the thousands of first-year students at a larger university,” he said.

After completing a bachelor of arts degree in psychology in 1963, Rutherford earned a law degree from the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. He went on to a distinguished career as a prosecutor, lawyer and judge, including six years as assistant deputy attorney general of Canada beginning in 1980. In 1986, he was promoted to associate deputy minister of justice, a position he held until 1991 when he was appointed to the bench of the Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.

He currently resides in Ottawa.

Through the years, Rutherford says he has managed to follow the progress of his beloved Yeomen-Lions thanks to the outreach efforts of former head coach Graham Wise. “Graham took it upon himself to reach out to hockey alumni and not only encouraged us to make the odd contribution, but kept us very much in the loop,” he said.

Rutherford had equal praise for current head coach Jim Wells who took time out from a road trip last season to visit. For Wells, the feeling is mutual: “The strength of York’s hockey program is built on the foundation that Douglas and the other founding hockey alumni established 50 years ago,” said Wells. “To have their support is a huge boost for the current roster.”

 A picture of yorks first hockey team in 1962
Above: York founded its first intercollegiate hockey team in 1962, Rutherford (second row, second from the left) was its first captain

The hockey alumni meeting was an opportunity to engage Rutherford as an alumnus and bring him up to speed on York’s hockey program, Wells explained. But when a friend established a scholarship at another Ontario university, Rutherford was inspired to do the same for his alma mater – especially when he heard about the matching opportunities through the Ontario Trust for Student Support (OTSS) program.

He generously gave $12,500 to establish the Rutherford Hockey Bursary at York University. The endowed award, matched one-to-one through the OTSS, will reward one deserving hockey athlete in need each year, in perpetuity, beginning in 2012. “It just seemed like a really effective use of my dollars to match them with the provincial government and double their impact.

The gift was also a welcome opportunity to reconnect with the hockey program that formed a central part of his academic experience, he said. “To be able to do that and create this bursary which will have a continuing impact is a great source of satisfaction.”