If These Walls Could Talk

The sisterhood of the dazzling porch

Illustration of the house at 283 Albert St.

Illustration by Wendy Treverton

In the fall of 2016, eight first-year students on the fourth floor of McNeill House decided they simply had to live together for rest of their time at Queen’s. Except for two from Carleton Place and two from Aurora, the young women had known each other for less than two months.

“We didn’t know how to split,” says Katelyn Hochgeschurz (PHE’20). “There weren’t two different cliques… We were all just so close together as a group.”

Their parents were dismayed.

“We had everybody yelling at us not to do it, that we couldn’t survive with eight people in the house,” says Cassidy Van Stiphout (Artsci’20).

More to the point, University District houses with eight unoccupied bedrooms were rare. Yet, by early November, they had signed a lease on 283 Frontenac St. just north of campus, a century-old, seven-bedroom house that the landlord offered to renovate. There “was one big room… He put a wall up and it was then an eight-person house,” says Emily Elliott (Artsci’20, Ed’21).

As it turned out, the bedrooms were incidental to the real charm of the house: the front porch. Running the length of the house, the porch had a roof supported by jack posts, and its floor had seen better days. The roommates loved it.

“Morning coffees on the porch, that was key to starting off the day,” says Ms. Van Stiphout. “If you were home and able to be on the porch, you were.”

“We would stretch the season, too,” says Ryley McAndrew (Com’20). “We were out there in October, early November, when it was not warm enough to be outside.”

They were back out on the porch by March, says Mackenzie Kaleta (Artsci’20). “As long as the sun was shining, I was out there.”

The porch became the social hub of the neighbourhood, says Sarah McGee (Artsci’20). “There was always someone walking by that we knew who would stop and chat.”

During Homecoming and St. Paddy’s Day, “we used to rent massive speakers and… put them on the porch,” says Gillian Baker (Artsci’20).

Outside, there was the porch. Inside there was the mural. It took up a whole wall in the living room, and was designed by committee and rendered by Ms. Baker. “We made such a home of 283 that we wanted to leave our mark there.” Painted entirely in Queen’s tricolour, it includes stylized silhouettes of the roomies.

Erica Lewick (Artsci’20, Ed’21) still lives in Kingston and reports the new tenants of the house love the mural, and have added to it.

Ms. Hochgeschurz says 283 Frontenac’s other touchstone was in the kitchen.

“We had a horseshoe-shaped counter and it had just enough room for all eight of us to be up there dancing.”

Dancing on the counter was pretty much an everyday event. “We would have plans some nights to go see friends but we would get so carried away with having fun, we wouldn’t make it out of the house,” says Ms. Van Stiphout.

COVID-cancelled classes broke up the group in spring 2020, and now its members are spread across Eastern Ontario and around Toronto. Ms. Lewick and Ms. Elliott will soon leave for work in London, England, and Saint Maarten, West Indies, respectively. But all eight chat online every night, says Ms. Baker.

It’s gone beyond mere friendship, the women agree. You might call it the Sisterhood of the Dazzling Porch, founded in residence and perfected at 283 Frontenac.

“We really are sisters and that’s how sisters work,” says Ms. Van Stiphout. “You’re going to get in little kerfuffles, but at the end of day we all love each other. That’s undeniable.”

Tell us about the University District house you lived in and the memories you made.

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