Stories of Support

Paul Shaffer honours his parents with a Landmark project bench

Paul Shaffer’s parents had loved their time at U of T and in Toronto, so he wanted to honour them both with a Landmark Project bench.

Paul Shaffer smiles as he sits on a bench outside University College, with one arm stretched out along the top
Paul Shaffer (BA 1971 UC)

As far back as he can remember, musician Paul Shaffer (BA 1971 UC), former bandleader on The Late Show with David Letterman, knew the University of Toronto was his destiny.

“That I was going to U of T was predetermined, preordained, and I didn’t question it,” says Shaffer, whose father Bernard Shaffer (BA 1936 UC) was a student at University College in the 1930s.

“I knew U of T was a great school; it was his school. I was raised on stories about my father’s student days, his fraternity hijinks, performing in the UC follies. He loved the place. U of T put him on the path to a very successful career as a lawyer in his hometown of Thunder Bay. So it was only natural that he wanted me to have the same experience.”


In addition to being the father of one of North America’s most celebrated musicians, Bernard Shaffer was known as one of Thunder Bay’s “sharpest legal minds.” After completing a BA from U of T, Shaffer went on to graduate from Osgoode Law School and set up a successful legal practice in his hometown.

“He was a remarkable lawyer,” Shaffer says, “but secretly my dad—and my mom—loved show business.” According to Shaffer, Bernard’s happiest times at U of T were performing in the University College Follies, alongside Saul Rae (father of former Ontario Premier Bob Rae), Johnny Wayne and Frank Schuster. “Frank Schuster was around during the early days of Saturday Night Live—his daughter Rosie wrote for the show,” says Shaffer. “Of course I brought up my dad when I met Frank for the first time, and he made a big fuss about him. It made me feel so good.”


The Landmark Project is one of the most significant open space projects on the St. George campus of the past 200 years. This extraordinary initiative will reclaim the historic campus core for pedestrians by moving surface parking around King’s College Circle and Hart House Circle underground and introducing new plazas, pathways, trees benches and gardens to create a campus experience more befitting a world-class university.

For Shaffer, a commemorative bench situated in front of University College was an opportunity to recognize the area on the St. George campus where he and his father each spent the majority of their time as U of T students.

“For my dad, University College and Hart House were special places,” says Shaffer. “For me, it was Sir Dan’s, where I was in residence for two years. So I wanted to recognize that part of the campus with this donation.”

Shaffer also wanted to honour his mother Shirley’s considerable influence on his life. “It would have been more obvious to just dedicate the bench to my dad since he was a U of T graduate,” Shaffer says. “But my mother was a Toronto girl. She was born and raised here, and she loved the city. It makes sense to me to include both of their names because the two of them were certainly partners in raising me and shaping who I’ve become.”


A variety of gift recognition opportunities are available through the Landmark Project, including commemorative benches and granite paving stones. These opportunities offer a unique and meaningful way to pay tribute to a loved one, celebrate a milestone or honour an important memory of your time at U of T.

“I thank my parents for instilling in me the importance of a good education,” Shaffer says. “It’s a value I’ve passed along to my own children. The University of Toronto is a wonderful school, and I continue to apply what I learned there. Interpersonal sociology was my specialty when I was at U of T. Being a bandleader—you know, dealing with people—that is an interpersonal situation! I’m very appreciative that through the Landmark Project I’m getting the opportunity to honour my parents and all they did for me.”

Join us in reimagining U of T’s downtown campus as an even more inspiring place to learn, live and work. Find out more at

Posted on October 15, 2018