Ryerson’s hallowed ground

In Features /

OK, so it turns out Ryerson wasn’t built on a graveyard. But the land we spend most of our time has a pretty freakin’ cool history. Kai Benson unearths Ryerson’s undead past

Ryerson University has history to be proud of. After all, its land carries a rich tradition of the two staples of university life—education and drinking. Sure, there were churches, houses and stores here, but the most important parts were all boozing ’n’ book learning.

In 1846 Egerton Ryerson convinced the government to fund the Upper Canada Normal School, a teacher’s college that became known as “the cradle of Ontario’s education system.” The campus, called Saint James Square, was essentially where Kerr Hall quad is now. Ryerson bought the patch of swampy land before it was within Toronto city limits and made it into an educational landmark.

The Normal School became a military training center during World War II, and was later a re-establishment centre for veterans. In 1948 this became the Ryerson Institute of Technology, and in the 50s, Kerr Hall was built around the three original buildings at Saint James Square. Destroying those interior buildings took until 1963. Now only the façade remains, forming the gateway arch to the Recreation and Athletics Centre.

In the late 1800s, Eugene O’Keefe—yes, the O’Keefe House guy— bought and renovated a brewery at Gould and Victoria Streets, where we now have a bookstore, a Tim Horton’s and a parking garage. What the hell, modern world?

After buying and renovating the brewery, O’Keefe moved into a house on Bond Street and added a third floor. O’Keefe House still is Ryerson’s oldest residence but it has notably fewer badass brewers living in it.

The brewery was demolished in the 80s after well over a century of keeping Canadians happy and well-lubricated.

Across from the brewery, at the site of today’s Victoria Building, was a public school, labeled only as “public school” on one map (apparently that qualified as a complete name for a school in the 19th century).

Of course, many other historic sites grace the land in and around our campus. The Imperial Pub, formerly the Imperial Hotel, was around before the Great Depression. There was also The Empress Hotel, which until last April was the Salad King venue. It was a music hotspot in the 50s and 60s. Unfortunately, it burned down in January. Ryerson was considering buying the property— maybe they’ll build us a new brewery.

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