Sci ’44 housing co-op turns 70

Seventy years ago, 12 students opened the first Queen’s co-op. Today, 21 houses sprinkle the Ghetto

Eight students live in the Sci ‘44 Co-op at 30 Garrett St. Graeme Melcher, ArtSci ’12 (second from left) says that co-op fosters a commnity environment.
Eight students live in the Sci ‘44 Co-op at 30 Garrett St. Graeme Melcher, ArtSci ’12 (second from left) says that co-op fosters a commnity environment.
Photo: 
Founding members of Sci ‘44.
Founding members of Sci ‘44.
Credit: 
Supplied by Queen's Archives
There are 21 Sci ‘44 Co-ops in the student Ghetto.
There are 21 Sci ‘44 Co-ops in the student Ghetto.
Photo: 

On Wednesday, the Science ’44 Housing Cooperative celebrated its 70th year on campus.

Graeme Melcher, ArtSci ’12, has lived in two Sci ’44 Co-ops during his stay at Queen’s.

“I had some people I was supposed to live with after first year, but that fell through,” Melcher said. “I had heard about Co-op from upper-year friends and decided to try it out.”

He has lived in Co-operatives at 397 Brock St. and 30 Garrett St.

“There are a lot of people [in traditional Ghetto houses] who live together and by the end of the year hate each other,” Melcher said, adding that with each house averaging six to eight tenants and 170 Queen’s students in total, this isn’t much of a problem.

He said co-op’s downside is that it doesn’t always foster a close relationship between roommates.

Leases at the Sci ’44 Co-op are available in four or eight month tenancies, with no contractual obligation to resign after a leasing period. Melcher added that many students choose to rotate the houses they live in during Co-op.

Melcher said there seems to be a negative preconception associated with students in co-op housing.

“There’s a stigma that we’re all a bunch of social outcasts and freaks, but for the most part we’re no different from any other kid you see on campus,” he said.

According to the Ontario Student Co-op Association (OSCA), the first student-housing co-op in Canada was the Campus Co-op Residence incorporated at the University of Toronto in 1936.

Clyde Lendrum and Christopher Nicholl, Sci ’44, decided to attempt co-operative housing at Queen’s as a practical response to Kingston’s housing shortage in the early 40s.

After the Co-op’s 40th anniversary, Lendrum wrote an essay detailing the early years.

“The war had changed Kingston from a quiet university town to a bustling military camp and war production centre,” he wrote.

Trying to better understand how co-ops were run, Lendrum and Nicholl hitchhiked to Toronto’s Campus Co-Op Residence in 1941.

The pair found it difficult to acquire houses for their Queen’s Co-operative because many landlords refused rent to first years.

After speaking to Principal Wallace and Vice-Principal McNeill, Lendrum and Nicholl were able to acquire property at 329 Earl St. Currently, that address is the international students residence Harkness Hall.

“Rent was initially set at $720 a year based on operating costs plus a three per cent return on capital investment,” Lendrum wrote.

In 1945, the new member applications read: “Room and board in $8 per week and five hours of chores per week are required. Each member must pay a $1 membership fee and $10 capital loan. All profits will be returned to members.”

By 1977 rent was up to $60 per month for summer room and board.

Today, an eight month lease costs students $4,165, and with a meal plan fee of $2,000. Students are required to spend three hours a week performing kitchen duties for the house. The refundable capital loan is $50, with a membership fee of $25.

The co-op meal hall is located at 397 Brock St. There, students can receive breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday as well as breakfast and lunch on Fridays. During the weekend only brunch is served, though food is delivered to each Co-op house for one weekend meal.

Fees and ownership have changed substantially since the co-op was founded in 1941.

“In 1967 the members decided that they had no real future and liquidated the co-op,” Lendrum wrote.

Scott Wilson, Law ’70, restarted the co-op using its original charter as well as money from the University, the AMS and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Company. Wilson kept the name Sci ’44 co-op and gave original members priority for rooms.

In those days, the co-op was known for its variety of festivities.

In the early 40s the members voted that Sunday dinner should be more formal and include a shirt, jacket and tie. The next Sunday, one member came to dinner in the required dress, but without any pants.

“The Padre used to come to Christmas dinner and the Queen would be toasted,” a 1976 issue of Golden Words recorded. “On the other hand the 1960 Homecoming game cool-off party at [a Co-op] house had four visits from the police and two from the fire department.”

Some things haven’t changed entirely, said Brent Bellamy, general manager of Sci ’44 Co-op.

During this past Fauxcoming weekend, a Co-op house on Aberdeen was evacuated by police officers.

He said that two years ago, a house on Alfred was also cleared under direction of the fire department.

“They had no real cause to clear out the house,” he said. “The houses aren’t set up like standard landlord houses. There are fire exits on every floor and emergency lighting; they’re designed to house a lot more people.”

Socialization is structured for the most part, Bellamy said.

“We have policies in place for partying. If a house decides they want to have a party, they’re allowed to,” he said. “[Then] to have it sanctioned by the organization, they have to post up a notification in every single Co-op so that everyone is invited.”

The students can be reimbursed for purchases of snacks and decorations up to $75, Bellamy said, adding that, students generally govern their own lifestyle.

“There are no rules. There’s bylaws and policies put to place in the organization,” he said. “As a student housing co-operative we’re not under the Landlord-Tenant Act, we’re governed by the Co-operative Corporations Act.”

The Co-operatives Corporations Act, established in 1990, works on two main financial principles. When making decisions about the governance, maintenance and establishment of the co-op, one vote is allotted to each member. If surplus is gathered during the year, it is distributed to members based on their use of the property.

The Landlord-Tenant Act, on the other hand, allocates a profit for landlords who lease properties.

The largest changes in Co-operative housing that have occurred since its formation 70 years ago are in terms of sustainability, Bellamy said.

“It was initiated about nine years ago by the Board of Directors and built into our mission statement,” he said. “We started with small steps.”

Lindsey Taylor, Sci ’13 and Sustainability Director at Sci ’44, said that it is easier to implement sustainability efforts in co-op housing than traditional ghetto residences.

Bellamy said that seven to eight years ago, 17 Co-op houses would cumulatively use 12 million liters of water in a year. Last year, 21 Co-op houses only used 6 million liters of water.

“We can accomplish more since we’re larger and student-run,” she said. “If there’s a project we can put that into a larger scale than the average landlord-tenant project.”

With files from Rachel Kuper

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