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OCAD U pays tribute to beloved professor Morris Wolfe

A photograph of a man with a wide brimmed hat and glasses sitting at a table in a cafe, holding the handle of a coffee mug.

Image: A photo of the late Professor Morris Wolfe captured by his daughter Jennifer Wolfe and edited by his son Ben Wolfe.  
 

OCAD U pays tribute to beloved professor Morris Wolfe

The OCAD University community is celebrating the life of beloved professor Morris Wolfe, who taught at OCA, which later became OCAD U, for 30 years (1971-2001) and was known for supporting students throughout all stages of their creative careers.  

Wolfe, who chose a medically assisted death on November 27, 2021, was a prolific cultural critic, writer and editor. His legacy lives on in the hearts of the many students and colleagues he impacted throughout his life as an educator.  

“Morris Wolfe changed the lives of so many students over his time teaching global film studies at OCAD U. First a teacher, then a mentor, he often supported them well beyond their years at the University,” reflects Dr. Caroline Langill, Vice-President, Academic and Provost.  “He helped so many find their voices as creative scholars. His deep sense of empathy coupled with a commitment to social justice affected all of those who studied with him.” 

Judith Doyle, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Art reflects on her time studying with Wolfe in the 1980s: “Morris transformed me with his confidence. Film studies went by jurisdictions of the new, then - New York Avant-Garde, French New Wave, Brazilian Cinema Novo, Italian Neo-Realism. Morris taught these with a rattling 16mm projector on a cart, his erudition tempered by the aplomb of a podcast host. His courses were so popular that students sneaked in the back to watch." 

 
About Morris Wolfe  

Born to working-class Jewish-Polish immigrant parents in 1938, Wolfe began his career as a freelance writer, composing stories on loose pieces of yellow legal paper.  

He published numerous texts in his lifetime, including monographs, essays, columns and book reviews in magazines and newspapers across Canada. His inquisitive nature brought him to reflect on topics as far ranging as Sesame Street to the Vietnam War.  

He edited the landmark collection, The Spice Box: An Anthology of Jewish Canadian Writing in 1981. One of the first books of its kind published in the country, its texts contain reflections from each author on being Jewish in Canada. 

“His support of the book, in all its forms, led him to a lifetime of focused and caring writing, which included a portrait of his daughter Menya’s palliative journey after a devastating bout with cancer,” notes Langill.  

Wolfe wrote the moving account of his daughter’s death from breast cancer in Menya: An End of Life Story in 2003. Menya was named after Wolfe's maternal grandmother, who died in Auschwitz.  

In a review of the book in The Globe and MailCome From Away author and journalist who did research for Wolfe, David Macfarlane, writes of his incredible kindness, advice and support when he was an emerging writer and calls the book both “moving” and “lovely”.  

In his 2002 book, OCA, 1967-1972: Five Turbulent Years, Wolfe recounts the events surrounding the hiring of former OCA President Roy Ascott, his controversial 10-month tenure and subsequent departure. 

“He took on what we now refer to as the Ascott years, bravely chronicling what was a notoriously transformative time for the institution. As OCAD U was permanently changed by that time so were those of us who were lucky enough to study under Morris Wolfe,” says Langill. 
 

Remembering Morris Wolfe 

“He was simply the most influential teacher in my life. Through him I discovered world cinema and that I had something to say. Morris imparted an ethic of intellectual curiosity, social justice and kindness. He was indeed a mensch,” reflects Faculty of Art Professor Emeritus Richard Fung. 

“I am thankful for the mentorship Morris provided me when I was a student. For challenging me, intellectually and politically. For encouraging me to take on the essay form and for being such an amazing presence at OCA when so many of us needed his critical perspectives. He was a caring teacher and I was significantly fortified to have had his support at that time,” reminisces Faculty of Art Professor b.h. Yael. 
 
“Morris was a tremendous friend to me. I was introduced to him at OCA in 1999 when I was going through a difficult period. He showed me incredible kindness and I am grateful forever to him. We developed a friendship. Morris would share his work with me. He was a beautiful and sensitive writer. We shared the same birthday. For the last twenty years we would get together on our birthday and get shawarma, talk movies, books and baseball. Morris was an excellent human being and I will miss him greatly,” shares former student, Matt Bahen. 

“Morris thought and taught across the disciplines long before the University embraced this principle. He invited students and faculty from across campus to explore with him what new media was becoming at OCA,” remembers Faculty of Art Professor Michèle White.   

"I recall him in rooms with every surface piled with books, magazines and papers. In a sunken chair by a footstool where the readings piled highest of all, Morris delved into slow, solitary work - marking, annotating the archives, or building the transformative coursework of social change. A fire burned dangerously nearby,” Doyle recounts. 

Thank you to Professor Michèle White for her support in writing this tribute and to all those who shared their memories of Professor Morris Wolfe. 

Sources:    
The Toronto Star
Grubstreet Books
“Cruelties of fate and a legacy of kindness” by David Macfarlane (2003), The Globe and Mail