Living at O’Keefe House was like living with a large family for students who moved away from home to live in downtown Toronto.
The Ryerson residence, which housed students for 55 years, will no longer be used as a residence building in the fall of 2018. For students who had an opportunity to live there, it was a place where many fond memories were created.
“You’re kind of living together as a family in this really big house, so it creates these friendships,” said Julianna Cummins, a Ryerson grad who lived in the house from 2007 to 2008.
“In the house there’s a kitchen in the basement, and everyone shares the kitchen and you’re all cooking together, you’re sharing bathrooms,” said Cummins. She said that created a “family vibe.”
It’s a very different vibe from what the one you can expect at the university’s new residence building. The HOEM residence building is set to open next semester with 30 floors and 593 rooms, compared to O’Keefe’s three floors and 33 students.
There were yearly traditions that happened at O’Keefe house. One of those was the “Food Olympics,” in which Cummins took part in 2007.
“I remember I had to eat an entire pack of, I think veggie dogs, or something like that to win the competition,” she said.
Another one of the traditions O’Keefe had is an alumni football game. The game was held with the current residents at O’Keefe House playing against graduates who used to live there.
“The first-year students, we call them squids,” said Cummins. It’s a chance not only to play some football but “it’s an opportunity for the first years to get acquainted with people who lived in the house before and kind of get a sense of its history.”
O’Keefe, which is 163 years old, has had many students walk through its doors over the 55 years it was a residence. There have even been rumours that the building is haunted by Eugene O’Keefe, the original owner. O’Keefe purchased the building in 1879, and lived in it until his death in 1913. He was found dead in his second floor bedroom on Sept. 30 that year. O’Keefe House is named after him.
“There were always jokes that if someone had left food in the fridge and it went missing, or if someone stole someone’s cheese from the fridge, the joke would be, ‘Oh, the ghost took it,’” said Cummins.
Although Cummins left O’Keefe House 10 years ago, the experiences she had there and the people she met are still an important part of her life.
“All of my closest friends from university, they’re all people who I lived with when I was at O’Keefe House,” said Cummins.
“It’s not like Pitman or ILLC (the other residences) where students come in, and they leave, and you don’t necessarily really get to know people who maybe lived on the same floor as you in the past,” she said. At “O’Keefe, you get a sense that this is something that’s important to people even after they leave Ryerson.”
She said that it’s disappointing that O’Keefe will no longer be used as a residence next year but not a surprise given that it’s an older building.
The provost and vice-president of academics at Ryerson, Michael Benarroch, said the future of the O’Keefe building remains uncertain.
“We haven’t decided that, we haven’t put out a call for proposals of what we might be using it for,” said Benarroch. “There are some people who have some ideas of what they’d like to see in there, but that decision hasn’t been made yet.”