Lost campus: Virtual tour exposes bizarre, forgotten history at University of Manitoba

There was a time when University of Manitoba students had a rifle range, a diving platform into the Red River, and nap rooms with pillows and blankets that could be checked out.

Those are some of the peculiar stories that have resurfaced in a new virtual tour that delves into forgotten places during the university’s 145-year history.

“It gives you a different view of what life was like in the past for students and staff and faculty. You just get a sense of a different kind of lifestyle,” said Shelley Sweeney, former head of archives and special collections at the U of M.

“When I saw it, I thought ‘I love this.’ Oftentimes it’s hard to digest history because it’s too much all at once, whereas I think this gives you kind of a bite-sized picture.”

The virtual tour features old photos and anecdotes juxtaposed against current locations on the main campus in Fort Garry as well as a satellite campus by the Health Sciences Centre and a long-gone downtown one.

University of Manitoba’s diving platform and dock. (University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections)

The tour was assembled by Wayne Chan at the university’s Centre for Earth Observation Science, who says it stemmed from hearing UM alumni comment on how much the campus has changed.

He says he created it “to bring those lost places back to light” and preserve them in some way.

“With each new generation of students, they have no idea what was here on campus before them,” he said.

Some stories are fascinating while others are unsettling, such as the practice house where third-year home economics students lived for month-long stretches.

They took turns cooking, cleaning and taking care of a child “borrowed” from the provincial welfare system.

WATCH | Home Economics newsreel footage from 1945:

“It’s horrifying by our standards and yet, on the other hand, if you looked at what was the alternative for the children at that time, it was to be in an orphanage, which is institutional care,” Sweeney said, noting the students were supervised.

And there was an upshot — most, if not all, of the children became adopted, she said: “They exposed them to people in the area and people would fall in love with the babies.”

The 2½-storey brick house was torn down in 2009 to make way for the ARTLab.

The 2 ½-storey home economics practice house was torn down in 2009. (University of Manitoba Winnipeg Building Index)

The university also once had a UFO-looking rink, where Parking Lot D now exists. Bison Gardens, as it was known, had a bit of a secret, though.

It wasn’t uncommon to find dead rats stuck to the ice in the morning, according to Chan’s tour. As well, its refrigerated atmosphere was useful for storing monkey cadavers used in research.

At one time, the university had its own fire and police departments and water tower. The latter was needed because the campus wasn’t connected to the city system.

“It just shows you in a way how the campuses are almost complete communities in themselves,” Sweeney said.

Bison Gardens had a bit of a rodent problem. It was torn down, along with the neighbouring rifle range, in 1982. (University of Manitoba Winnipeg Building Index)

There was a fur farm, a coach house for a horse-drawn sleigh, and even an underground particle accelerator called the cyclotron for nuclear physics research — the first in Western Canada and second in the country.

A small log cottage near the river, on land now occupied by an apiary, was used by wardens overseeing convicts clearing brush for the campus to be built. Later, a man who worked in the swine barn lived there with his wife and three kids.

Isolation and mysterious death

Another alarming entry is the soundproof isolation dome that used to be on the roof of the Duff Roblin Building.

Research in sensory deprivation was conducted by Prof. John Zubek, who subjected volunteers to constant light or total darkness for up to two weeks at a time. Another apparatus immobilized people in a coffin-like mechanism.

“It was really creepy because it looks like a torture device,” said Chan, who saw it in storage. “Yet that’s not out of step with a lot of psychological and sociological research back [then]. It’s amazing what they got away with because there’s no ethical approval or anything that was required.”

The controversial experiments ended when Zubek went missing in 1974 and his body was found in the river. 

Guns and alcohol

Rifle shooting was popular during the 1950s and ’60s, with the university’s intramural league holding competitions between faculties.

“One day in 1981, the police arrived on campus with guns drawn after a report of a male seen walking through a building carrying a rifle and a liquor bottle. It turned out that he was returning from the rifle range after winning a shooting contest,” the tour explains. “The prize? A mickey of liquor.”

As for the nap rooms — separate for men and women — they were equipped with bunk beds and set up on the third floor of University Centre.

“Isn’t that brilliant? Because we know now that kids of that age need extra sleep,” Sweeney said.

The nap rooms, which were separate for men and woman, had bunk beds. Pillows and blankets could be checked out. (University of Manitoba/1971 Brown & Gold yearbook)

A 1972 pitch for co-ed rooms was nixed by administration, and the rooms were discontinued by the 1990s.

Most of the facilities no longer remain. The rifle range was torn down along with Bison Gardens, which was right beside it, in 1982.

The cyclotron, located below what is now Parking Lot A, closed in 1989. The swimming dock was abandoned by the 1970s but wooden pilings can still be seen when the water level is low.

The current site of Memorial Park, across Broadway from the legislative building, was once home to a cluster of buildings that made up the U of M’s Broadway campus. (University of Manitoba Winnipeg Building Index)

Lost Broadway campus

The current site of Memorial Park, across Broadway from the legislative building, was once home to a cluster of buildings that made up the U of M’s Broadway campus.

The main four-storey building opened in 1901 and was originally intended for science classes, though other subjects were later taught. Additional buildings were erected in the 1920s as annexes.

The site was vacated in 1950 and classes consolidated at the Fort Garry campus.

The buildings continued be used by the provincial government until they were torn down in 1961-62. The cornerstone of the original one is preserved in a concourse at the main campus.

U of M Broadway campus is seen on the triangular lot in the centre of the photo. (Archives of Manitoba)

View original article here Source