Archives donation reveals Kerr Hall history

South gates to original campus on Gould Street. The parking lot is now Lake Devo, and O’Keefe Breweries Head Office seen in the distance is now Heaslip House (August 1961). (Courtesy Ryerson University Archives)

South gates to original campus on Gould Street. The parking lot is now Lake Devo, and O’Keefe Breweries Head Office seen in the distance is now Heaslip House (August 1961). (Courtesy Ryerson University Archives)

A donated collection to the Ryerson Archives shines a new light on the construction of Howard Kerr Hall. It is the first complete visual collection to document the building’s formation.

The Charles Roy Horney collection, gradually donated to Ryerson over the past four years, contains more than 100 scrapbook photographs and more than 200 slides.

This collection fills in some gaps in what Ryerson Archives staff are calling “The Ryerson Story.”

Archives technician Rosalynn MacKenzie said a lot is already known about campus history, including Kerr Hall, through blueprints, construction photographs and documents.

But until now there were still unanswered questions.

“From blueprints and things that we have on site, we knew that Kerr Hall was built in three units,” said MacKenzie, who helps curate memorabilia, photos and documents which chronicle the university’s history. “But what was unit one? What was built first?”

The Roy Horney collection provides details that other documents didn’t. Horney was a former Ryerson professor, registrar and assistant chairman from 1952 to 1983. “Little did we know he was such an avid photographer,” MacKenzie said.

The photos are high-quality, in “fantastic” condition, and contain a month, day and year on almost every photo.
Horney annotated some of the photographs with his personal notes to identify the contents of the photos, making the archivist’s job much easier.

Horney gradually started to give Ryerson his collection in 2011. But when he died on July 1, 2013, his family continued to donate the rest of the collection.

Kerr Hall was the first major change to the old campus and the first building Ryerson constructed. Before this point, neighbouring buildings were purchased and re-purposed for the university.

Ryerson Archives staff know that its construction began around 1957 and was completed in 1963.

These photos, however, have taught them the order in which these sections were built.

The first section to be built was the northeast corner at Church and Gould Streets. The construction process also included moving the Egerton Ryerson statue from its original location to its current spot on Gould Street.

Archive staff believe the section-by-section construction process of Kerr Hall allowed for students to keep attending the school during the construction period.

In addition, the collection offers before and after photos of the construction.

This provides physical proof and a visual timeline of the campus’ older buildings, such as O’Keefe, Heaslip and Oakham Houses when they were first acquired by Ryerson.

This is also the Ryerson Archive’s first complete digitization project since the digitization program began five years ago.

The first project – which involves a collection of about 7,000 negatives from campus media relations and Ryerson publications – is being scanned for preservation, but it is still only one-third complete.

MacKenzie said, however, that the majority of the Roy Horney collection will be digitized and available to the public on the collections database by the end of 2014.

“Everything that gets donated to the archives sheds a little bit more light on the evolution of this university, and this shows a better picture of the early days,” she said. “Everything we get in adds to the Ryerson story a bit more and this added a big chunk from its past.”

For now, a simple walk into the Kerr Hall Quad can give students a glimpse of the past.

The facade of the Normal School, the entrance to what used to be Ryerson Hall, still stands today as the entrance to the RAC.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 5, 2014.

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