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 April 23, 1999 Volume 6, Number 15

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Year 2000

COMMENTARY

May the home of Lady Victorine be preserved for its heritage status and beauty


Mary Tastad



It began on a spring day a couple of years ago on a walk around Campus Drive. As I neared the grain elevator, I noticed for the first time a lovely old building. I fell in love with it on the spot. Each time I passed it on my walks, my infatuation grew, but I became increasingly puzzled by its appearance. The sign outside identified it as the Poultry Science Building. Since it looks like a barn, albeit an unusually pretty one, I immediately concluded that it was one, meant to house chickens. It struck me as odd that someone would build such an elegant thing for such a purpose, but being unacquainted generally with accommodation for poultry, I figured that perhaps aesthetics had top priority in university architecture.

The graceful gambrel roofs of the main portion of the building and the flanking east and west wings caught my eye initially and it was this aspect of the building that gave me the impression that it was a barn. Large, beautifully-shaped windows with round heads and centre medallions grace the upper story of the central part, each set under a dormer with a gambrel roof. The lower storey of that part of the building and the first floor of the east wing possessed equally lovely multi-paned windows. It seemed amazing to find such fabulous windows in a barn. Did chickens need a lot of light I wondered?

It took me some time to find the courage to venture into the building, primarily because I feared the smell of chicken ordure. One day though, my curiosity had to be satisfied and I went in - no smell at all. The greater surprise lay in the character of the first floor space: it contained what seemed to be four, quite large, offices. Then I found the staircase to the top floor and emerged into a spacious room with a 12-foot-high ceiling, well-lit by those long Georgian-style windows. Tongue-in-groove paneling covered every wall and ceiling of the entire interior of the building. Some barn!


Impeccable pedigree

Now I was not only smitten with this building, but I had to solve the mystery of its creation. Finding historical records about the origins of this building proved quite difficult. Through Professor Don Kerr's publication, Building the University of Saskatchewan, I discovered that the Poultry Science Building possesses an impeccable architectural pedigree, having been designed by the University's official architects, Brown and Vallance of Montreal.

Although unable to establish the actual date of construction conclusively, it's possible that some skilled carpenters erected it in the first wave of building on campus during the period between 1910 and 1917, because as many writers note, in the spring of 1910, tenders were called for the College Building, Saskatchewan Hall, the Agricultural Engineering Building, the Livestock Pavilion and the Power House, plus a number of wooden agricultural buildings, including the large horse barn, which was constructed between 1910 and 1912.

In terms of vintage, location and style, the Poultry Science Building appears to belong with the rest of the barns situated in the complex of buildings devoted to agriculture at the east end of the campus. But it isn't a barn.

Next, I looked at the architects' drawings, held by the University Archives. They gave me the strong feeling that the structure had been custom-designed for the Poultry Science Department. In fact, it may be that it was tailored to meet its specific needs in collaboration with first head of the department, for the plans show one of the offices on the first floor of the main building as being for Professor Baker, the first head of Poultry Science. The other spaces were earmarked for a laboratory, an attendant's room, and a library and records office.


A barn after all

The architects designated the loft floor as a lecture hall. In the basement, the plans describe space for egg testing, incubators, and feed storage. Even more interesting, the drawings of the east wing indicate that it is a brooder house: its basement contained individual rooms (stalls? roosts?) for chickens. One floor up, the architects provided a poultry judging room. So, it was a barn after all. I found out from another source that students lived under the eaves of the third floor of the Brooder House. Imagine! Within the confines of one modestly-sized and traditional barn, the architects managed to combine research, teaching, administration, and living quarters for man and fowl.

Incidentally, the files of the Poultry Science Department mention that a resident of the Brooder House, one "Lady Victorine," a product of the Department's breeding program, laid 358 eggs in 365 days, thereby setting the world's record in 1927. Sadly, the achievement of this famous pullet, which garnered the University international attention at the time, has failed to make the University's 'First and Best' list.

I fear that this unusual and lovely building may meet a tragic end; possible demolition of it lies in the future. It's not that it isn't sturdy enough to continue to stand, although it needs attention, but expansion of another building demands the space it occupies.

Having lost its use as the home of the Poultry Science Department, the building is a now a sitting duck. I don't think that my deep affection for it supplies a reason for saving it, but I think that its heritage status and beauty does. Leaving it in its current location with the other original agricultural buildings honors the commitment of Walter Murray and others to the then novel notion of including a College of Agriculture within the University.

Alternatively, if the Poultry Science Building can't stay where it is, then moving it to another spot on the grounds makes good sense, as it represents useable space for any number of purposes. Then it could be barn again.

- Mary Tastad is a reference librarian in the Law Library.


The Poultry Science Building on Campus Drive. The architects managed to combine research, teaching, administration, and living quarters for man and fowl under one roof.




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