Leaving a legend
U of M's century-old Taché Hall a residence no more
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2011 (4120 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Skating rinks in the hallways.
Cows and iguanas and chickens wandering from room to room, pickerel swimming in the washing machines.
Motorcycles roaring down the corridors, down Rat Alley or Broadway and other names cherished by generations.
And — don’t let your children read this — rumours that male and female students may even over the course of a century have visited each others’ rooms.
In the past 100 years, at least 50,000 University of Manitoba students lived in the opulent Taché Hall residence — a magnificent setting of marble, hardwood and high ceilings in bigger rooms than you’d find on most campuses.
Where in 1911 except the then-remote fields of Fort Garry would a student find a bedroom that came with an auditorium, a gym, and two indoor swimming pools?
But alas, Taché Hall has bid farewell to its final student.
The residence is becoming part of the magnificent new School of Art and the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music complex, replaced by a towering new structure that will be the highest building on campus and the tallest in all of south Winnipeg.
“A lot of the highlight stories we hear are from the ’70s — they’ve attained legendary status,” laughed Joe Danis, director of housing and student life.
Students would open all the windows and doors in winter, then put down plastic and flood it with the firehose to create an indoor rink.
But they always cleaned up afterward and rarely caused any damage, said Penny Bylholt, the building manager. “They didn’t do much vandalism. It was a lot of cleanup.”
Even when the students made a mess — say, for instance, bringing in a dump-truck load of sand for an indoor beach party — they always cleaned up and didn’t pull stunts and pranks that caused harm, Danis said. “The students looked after the building a little better than they do now.”
There will always be students who try to bring an exotic pet from home, but other creatures sometimes shared the dorms; remember, Taché Hall was neighbour to the faculty of agriculture.
“We’ve had chickens in the elevators, a few iguanas walking through the halls,” Bylholt said. “We’ve had fish in the washers, pickerel.”
Jello wrestling has been a regular feature of student life in residence — no, we don’t have photos.
When Taché Hall opened in 1911, only a handful of faculties was clustered in the small Fort Garry campus far from the then-main downtown facilities. They were forced into a tight cluster, because of the rail line that delivered coal, said U of M archivist Shelley Sweeney.
“It is kind of a queenly building — it’s a solid building, you can see they intended this (to last) for a long time,” Sweeney said.
“It was a state-of-the-art building… in terms of a residence (in 1911), nothing like it in Canada,” Danis said.
The residence had male and female quarters separated by a centre block whose boundary was never, absolutely not ever, to be crossed by the other gender. So, it goes without saying, that never happened.
“The radiators are still there,” said Bylholt, who pointed out Taché Hall has endured as a classy place because marble was replaced by marble and hardwood by hardwood, whenever it needed repairs.
The entryways have a keystone mosaic, but the university laid down carpet because the pattern looks like a reverse swastika, Sweeney said.
Officers billeted at Taché Hall during training for both wars, Sweeney pointed out.
The Oak Room where students ate featured tablecloths and real silver back in the day, Sweeney said. “That sort of luxuriousness is not (typically) Manitoban.
“It’s sustained so much of its original character.
“There were two swimming pools — they were called plunge baths,” said Sweeney, who said their traces can still be found if you know where to look. Same with the back area of the former women’s area, where old jars of beets and pickles have been found in the former cold room.
Former women’s area? Former? Surely, you don’t mean… ?
The U of M introduced mixed-gender floors to the residence in the 1970s, Danis explained. That includes mixed roommates in the two-room units if students wish, though it’s still officially one person to a room — there is no accommodation for couples, or for families.
Bylholt said girls and young women feel safer having guys they know and trust on their floor, and the communal lounges and bathrooms — every stall and shower unit separate, of course — add to the community atmosphere.
Students feel much more pressure to perform academically than they did a few decades ago, Danis said, so they need quiet in the dorm for study.
A century ago, of course, no one had dreamed of the word helicopter, but neither were there today’s helicopter parents who “hover” over their adult children in university.
“We deal with a lot more parents now than ever before,” Danis said. Each Labour Day weekend, U of M staff watch parents move their kids into residence, the university provides the parents with their own orientation to university, then urges them to leave and let their kids get on with their lives: “We call that the cutting-the-cord speech,” Danis said.
Occasionally, students will have an extra roommate sneaking in and sharing a unit for financial rather than romantic reasons — when they’re caught, they’re both gone.
Danis said the new residence opening in September will have 360 rooms, all doubles, with their own bathroom. International students are demanding more privacy, he explained.
The new residence will be far better wired for technology, but the rules will stay the same.
Hot plates “are not allowed, but you’ll find them in any room,” Danis said. “Alcohol’s allowed — they’re adults, it’s their home. We’re probably the last university in the country to do this, we banned smoking in the rooms.”
And don’t even dream of lighting a candle; such fire hazards are strictly forbidden.
As far as consenting young adults visiting each other’s rooms? Naw, it didn’t happen in 1911, surely that’s not happening now.
THERE’S one final chance to visit the 100-year-old Taché Hall residence at the University of Manitoba before it closes.
The U of M is conducting open houses from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and Saturday. Some residence rooms have been furnished as period pieces.
Archivist Shelley Sweeney will lead tours.