Heritage buildings on campus deserve more respect

Treatment and maintenance of older buildings on campus should be a growing, consistent concern

Image by: Tessa Warburton
Chiara Gottheil in front of a damaged window in Theological Hall.

Queen’s prides itself on legacy. 

An integral component to this legacy is the historical significance of being one of the first academic institutions in Canada—something made clear by the beautiful limestone buildings around campus. 

However, on the interior, these symbols of historical significance aren’t being maintained to the standard

they deserve.  

Our campus’ aesthetic is a major contributing factor to prospective students hoping to attend Queen’s, yet minimal effort is put into preserving these spaces for the students who use them.  

As someone with a love for historical buildings, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring and studying in heritage buildings such as Theological Hall, Ontario Hall, Kingston Hall, Nicol Hall, and Kathleen Ryan Hall—to name a few.  

The ambience of a study space has an impact on how much work I can complete. Clean and aesthetically-pleasing spaces to learn and study in on campus are a basic necessity for everyone.

However, for Arts and Science students, this necessity is either nonexistent or often goes uncatered.

During my time at Queen’s, I’ve observed a disappointing lack of historical features inside the buildings that thousands of Arts and Science students use every day, as well as questionable standards of upkeep.

Queen’s not only disregards the historical significance of these buildings, but also the needs of the students who use them. Renovations in the 1950s and ’60s stripped away most historical features inside the university’s heritage buildings. 

Exposed brick walls have been painted over in coats of white, and original floors have been replaced with dull speckled pieces of tile.  

Wooden features, like classroom doors, have been covered with layers of paint over the years.  Layout changes in heritage buildings have included installing distasteful cinderblock walls.  

These types of changes have been made in most of the older buildings on campus. It gives them a homogenous interior—lacking the features which once made them significant.  

These renovations negatively affect the buildings. 

The unique historical and aesthetic aspects of Queen’s as an institution have been stripped from its interiors. 

Furthermore, it’s clear heritage buildings, even after renovations, aren’t properly cared  for or tended. Chipped paint and dirty floors discourage students who enter their classes expecting clean and constructive places to learn.  

The answer to why the heritage buildings retain none of their original interiors may lie in the fine line between preserving old buildings and repurposing them.  

Older buildings must be adapted for newer technology, plumbing, and safety features.  Sometimes they require renovation for new uses—like how Queen’s former central library in Theological Hall was converted to the

Rotunda Theatre.

Yet, still, the university has showed almost no sensitivity to maintaining historical integrity while doing so.

Standing as one of the oldest and most distinguished academic institutions in Canada, the so-called Harry Potter Reading Room shouldn’t be the only historical room remaining in Douglas Library. 

Theological Hall is an important symbol of the university’s beginning as a small, religious college, yet the Morgan Memorial Chapel is the only untouched room within it.

Large faculty buildings that receive more donations such as the New Medical Building and Goodes Hall are spotless, and in perfect condition. Meanwhile, the heritage buildings—which house smaller programs like drama, religion, fine arts and languages—don’t receive such treatment.  

This shows an interesting progression of values at Queen’s. The university evolved to seemingly favour faculties who receive greater funding.  

At such an esteemed institution, students of all faculties should be met with the same standard for their learning environments.   

There are ways the state of the heritage buildings at Queen’s can be improved. More funding and a greater effort to seek out alumni gifts could translate into cleaning and physical maintenance.  As an incentive for donations toward these buildings, the university could offer to name some of the classrooms inside in honour of the individuals who have donated.

Ideally—and at the very least—the University could make efforts to undo some of the damage heritage buildings. In the future, more care could be taken to avoid putting the historical features of older buildings on campus in peril.

Many people may not consider this an issue of importance, but I firmly believe that by improving the state of heritage buildings, it would generate a positive impact. 

Not only would Arts and Science students have better quality classrooms, but students from other faculties who use the facilities for studying or club meeting space would benefit as well.  

Soon, changes in the university’s approach to maintaining heritage buildings might be too late. If infrastructure continues to be neglected, these buildings may reach a point where their interiors must be stripped entirely—leaving no way to commemorate the early beginnings of Queen’s.  

Modern buildings don’t come with beautiful stained-glass windows and hand-carved woodwork. 

Historical buildings each have an individual story to tell that relates to the foundation of Queen’s—and they should be treated like the works of art they are.  

As an institution that prides itself on legacy, Queen’s should maintain these symbols of  historical significance accordingly.

Chiara Gottheil is a third-year Life Science student

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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