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School’s foundation survives test of time
Over 1,000 limestone pieces recovered from foundation of former Murray House
The building blocks of Manitoba’s early educational history will soon reunite with its alma mater.
Excavation crews recently dug up the limestone foundation of the old home of Donald Murray in West Kildonan, which held the first classes of Manitoba College in 1871 and which later became part of the founding institution that made up the University of Winnipeg.
"Institutions that can find evidence of a direct link back to their beginning, I think that’s a real treasure," said Richard Graydon, a local resident and University of Winnipeg graduate and honorary fellow who discovered the site years ago when he moved into the area, and put them on the school’s radar.
As Graydon tells it, competition between the city’s religious groups to establish a higher level of learning institution in the city began to heat up in the mid-1800s.
The Anglicans established St. John’s College, the Roman Catholics set up St. Boniface College, the Presbyterians Manitoba College, and the Methodists Wesley College, which still stands as part of the University of Winnipeg campus.
Murray, one of the original Selkirk Settlers, hosted the first classes of Manitoba College in his home near the Red River where the Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery and West Kildonan Collegiate stand today.
In 1925, the Presbyterians and Methodists, along with the Congregationalists, joined to form the United Church. Both Manitoba and Wesley colleges would later became merge into the United College, which became the University of Winnipeg in 1967.
According to the university, the foundation — broken into more than a thousand stones, each weighing between five and 150 pounds — are being stored at a local masonry.
The university won’t know what the plan is for the stones until September, a spokeswoman said.
The stones were removed by Headingley-based Glenat Enterprises, which did the work pro bono, said Randy Bean, who supervised and led the meticulous excavation.
"We took our time, took out some bigger stones that were worthwhile to transport," said Bean.
Bean, who’s been in the excavation business for 30 years, was surprised by the quality of the limestone, especially for being in the ground and exposed to composition-changing elements, such as water, for more than 150 years.
"We could have made rubble out of those stones quite easily," he said.
"It was a lot more resilient than I thought."
It’s impossible to know for sure, but Bean believes the limestone could have been quarried and shipped from Stonewall, or from a former quarry that existed in Little Mountain Park.
Bean hopes University of Winnipeg alumni will take interest and help the university incorporate the stones on campus in some way.
"There’s going to be a bit of a cost to take the stones from where they are, put them in storage, and incorporate them into the building or make a memorial wall," said Bean, a U of W grad.
"I see it as a good news story, the old school pride. It would be nice to see someone come forth and help the university."
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