Student dollars for a clock tower

Construction of Grant Hall made University Avenue focal point of Queen’s, historian says

The money needed to build Grant Hall, shown here in 1905, was raised through a student-run subscription campaign.
The money needed to build Grant Hall, shown here in 1905, was raised through a student-run subscription campaign.
Photo supplied by Queen’s Archives

At an AMS Annual General Meeting in March 2005, undergraduate students agreed to contribute $25.5 million dollars to the construction of the new Queen’s Centre.

At the AGM, 545 students voted in favour of contributing to the Queen’s Centre and 212 voted against. The decision to institute the fee drew controversy because it didn’t go to a student-wide referendum.

For the past three years, full-time students have paid a mandatory $71 student fee to go towards the Queen’s Centre. This fee will increase in the 2010-11 school year to $141 and will remain at that level until the student fee has generated $24 million. An additional $1.5 million is set to come from “Campaign for Queen’s” donations.

The decision to have students pay part of the Queen’s Centre’s costs isn’t a first—more than a century ago, students set a precedent for the future when they agreed to foot the bill for Grant Hall. But the $1 million Grant Hall, by today’s estimates, pales in comparison to the Queen’s Centre’s $250 million—and rising—price tag.

In 1901, when advocating for a new convocation hall, Queen’s first looked to Frontenac County to fund the construction. The University previously successfully lobbied $50,000 from Kingston County towards the construction of Kingston Hall, completed in 1900.

“Kingston Hall was built with the gift of the city,” said Brian Osborne, a geography professor specializing in Kingston history. When Kingston Hall was completed in 1900, the University planned to erect an architectural “twinning” convocation hall. For the suggested “Frontenac Hall,” the University looked to Frontenac County to establish a bylaw that would grant them $20,000. However, the county voted against the by-law on Nov. 1, 1901.

Osborne said the reason behind the failed vote may be due to many Prohibition-supporting residents’ resentment towards Queen’s then-principal George Monro Grant’s political stance on Prohibition.

“They were irritated by Grant because he had spoken against the Prohibition,” he said.

According to a Journal article printed at the time, even before the ballots were counted, it was clear the bylaw wouldn’t pass. AMS president James Wallace and another student, J.J. Harpell, came up with a plan to collect the needed funds for a new convocation hall from students, alumni and faculty. They decided an instalment plan of collecting financial subscriptions from former alumni and students—in which each subscriber would agree to pay a set fee of choice for no longer than 10 years—would be the most effective way to fundraise. Subscription plans were common methods of fundraising at the time and Grant had already established several endowment funds that way. This plan gathered support from students and even before polling had closed for the Frontenac bylaw, Wallace and Harpell already collected $2,500 worth of subscriptions from 25 students.

The next eight months were spent rigorously campaigning to raise money from current and former students, as well as faculty members and Kingston citizens. Faculty and alumni support flooded in.

By the spring of 1902, the subscriptions from students, alumni and trustee members exceeded the $20,000 amount from Frontenac County. Board of Trustee minutes from April 30, 1902 said enough money had been pledged through the subscription campaign to begin construction. “Messrs. James Wallace and J.J. Harpell on behalf of the students reported that they had received subscriptions for building a new Convocation Hall to be called “Grant Hall” to the amount of nearly $34,000 over $12,000 of which had been subscribed by the students and $4,500 by the Professors and the Board to undertake the erection of the same,” the minutes reported.

After their successful fundraising campaign, Wallace and Harpell proposed a name change of the hall from Frontenac to Grant Hall, to honour their principal. Grant initially declined the offer, but after Wallace cheekily countered that because students raised the money they could name the building as they pleased, he accepted.

After Grant’s sudden death on May 10, 1902, the completion of the hall became a symbolic commemoration and tribute to the deceased principal.

Not unlike the in-progress Queen’s Centre, construction on Grant Hall was hampered by delays and costs overrun. In June 1902, the Board of Trustees established a building committee to oversee the hall’s construction, but funding issues continued to cause delays. A letter written on Aug. 15, 1902 from Sir Sandford Fleming, then-chancellor and creator of Universal Standard Time and Canada’s postage stamp, to Mr. MacDonnell, trustee, urged for a delay of all construction due to lack of money.

“I have grave doubts as to [the construction] impending, on any ground whatever, of proceeding to let this continue with only one-fifth of the funds provided,” Fleming said in the letter. However, Fleming said he still wanted to have the cornerstones laid in the fall despite the delay because he didn’t want to delay Grant’s memorial service any further.

On Nov. 6, 1902, cornerstones for Grant Hall were laid and official building work began, and the University held a memorial service for Grant himself. An editorial in a special issue of the Journal published on Nov. 6, 1902, said they “hope[d] to see it completed next summer.” “When the scheme was standing, the Hall was to be a recognition of the Principal, but before one single note had been turned or stone laid he was taken from us, and now the Hall stands to be a memorial,” it said.

The editorial also said there were shortcomings in the subscription campaign. “The cash value of these is of course not represented by these amounts, as some of them extend over a period of five or ten years,” it said. “Still already over eleven thousand dollars has been paid in … cash.” The University selected the Toronto architecture firm Symons & Rae to design the tower. In September 1903, the architects estimated Grant Hall’s cost to be about $25,000. Though there were originally plans to build a dining hall and a basement in Grant Hall, the architects rejected the option, stating that it was “impossible to build” for reasons now unknown. The architects also reduced its seating capacity from 1,200 to 1,000. In October, the land to build Grant and Ontario halls, and the architects’ tenders were completed, envisioning the Hall designed in Romanesque Revival—a popular architectural style at the time that imitated 11th and 12th-century Romanesque architecture—and other European influences.

“The main entrance from University Avenue is a replica of that in the Church of St. Michael at Salon [in France],” said W.L. Symons, one of the principal architects, in an architectural note published in the Journal on November 16, 1904.

The construction was completed in November, and Grant Hall’s opening ceremony took place on Nov. 7, 1904, almost two years after the initial memorial service for Principal Grant. About 2,000 students, as well as James Wallace (now a graduate), Fleming and other faculty members were present at the ceremony.

In his speech to the students at the ceremony, Wallace addressed the issue of fundraised money. “[The $35,951.69 subscribed] has been found to be altogether insufficient to build and furnish a hall equal to the present need,” he said. “Could not the students who have entered Queen’s since the scheme was launched come forward and make up what is lacking?” A Journal editorial, published on November 16 of that year reported $35,951.69 subscribed, only $16,350.77 was actually paid in cash at the time.

“By a very simple mathematical process it is discovered that nearly twice as much money has been paid out as has been paid in and that Grant Hall has actually cost $8,582.81 more than has been subscribed,” the editorial said.

Neither the Journal nor the Board of Trustee minutes say how the remaining balance owing was paid.

According to Canadian Historical Statistics by Urquhart and Buckley, $44,000 in 1904 is equivalent to about $1.1 million today.

Aside from its symbolic importance of the students giving back to the University, the tall stature of Grant Hall brought much change to the University’s, and Kingston’s architectural landscape. This fit in with Principal Grant’s goal to formalize Queen’s as an official university, said Jennifer McKendry, architectural historian and member of the Kingston Historical Society. “Going back to 1900, there were no tall buildings anywhere near it,” she said. “There were lots of open land behind it too; it stood out tremendously.” Grant Hall’s construction also made University Avenue the central street for the University.

“It was one of the first buildings to face the University Avenue. The older buildings face Stuart Street,” McKendry said.

“It was good to take one building that can be a dominant one. Because of the tower, it became a landmark, literally.”

How much Grant Hall cost:

Free & Litton masons: $19,225.00

H. Wilmot, carpenter: $10,500.00

Dominion Bridge Co., iron beams: $2,854.00

McKelvey & Birch, heating etc: $2,975.00

Robinson Bros., painting: $1,500.00

R. McCausland & Co: $1,000.00

Breck & Halliday, Wiring & Co: $780.50

Symons & Rae, architects: $1,800.00

Extras: $1,000.00

Grading: $9.00

Seating, estimated at: $2,000

TOTAL: $44,534.50

Source: Queen’s Journal, November 16, 1904

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