If These Walls Could Talk

Mice, bats, and a killer staircase

Illustration of 237 Alfred Street, Kingston

Illustration by Wendy Treverton

Fall of 2016: Kim Chatterson (BA’92) is skimming her Facebook feed when she comes across a post by the daughter of a friend, a young sometime client of Kim’s Montreal-based fitness business.

Jamie Handfield (PHE’19) is just starting her second year at Queen’s and her post is a picture of her with friends posing in tricolour gear on the porch of Jamie’s new student-quarter digs.

Kim smiles to herself with a certain maternal pride, then looks a little closer. Those steps. That transom above the door. The numbers painted on the transom: Two. Three. Seven.

Kim hurriedly writes a comment, which is all caps in her mind, if not on the page: “JAMIE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE?”

Jamie remembers reading Kim’s comment. “I was floored,” she says. 

“What are the odds?” adds Kim.

Actually, the odds are probably pretty good. Queen’s students come and go, but Queen’s student houses are eternal, passed down from alumni to sophomores, from time immemorial.

In this case, the legacy house is 237 Alfred St., a Victorian-era brick semi. In the fall of 1989, it was passed down to Kim Chatterson and another friend from Montreal, along with three guys from Halifax. The boys moved out after second year and 237 hosted five girls from then until grad.

Twenty-four years passed, mostly in three- and four-year increments for 237, as students came and went. The campus grew, the student-run pub Alfie’s was renamed the Underground, the internet changed everything.

Everything, that is, except how student houses changed hands. In 2016, Jamie and her four Montreal friends were bequeathed 237 by another Montréalaise on her way out.

“It was newly renovated, so that was attractive to us,” says Jamie.

Kim is jealous about the renovated kitchen. In the ’90s, she says, “the kitchen was very basic, old wooden cupboards.” And 237 didn’t have a coin-operated washer and dryer in the basement as it does now.

Parties were common in Kim’s time. She remembers one party where “a few hours in… we decided it would be really fun to sign our kitchen wall with permanent marker.”

Jamie says 237 Alfred was a party house in her time, too, but often the revellers were rodents. There was the time that her roommate reached into the dryer, grabbed something soft and fuzzy, and pulled out a dead bat. That was preferable to the live bat that spent a week flying between the upstairs bedrooms, Jamie says.

At the beginning of fourth year, she says, the roommates returned from Montreal to find the house covered in mice poop. They disinfected everything with bleach, set traps, and waited for the exterminator, she says.

One feature of 237 Alfred impressed both generations of roommates: a narrow, winding set of back stairs to the kitchen. “It was just a hazard,” says Jamie. “We’ve all fallen down it, every single one of us.”

Kim admits the stairs don’t make a lot of sense in the modest house, but when the landlord sent someone to check on the house following the permanent marker incident, the back stairs allowed for a quick getaway.

The house’s real challenge, both agree, was its single washroom. “A typical afternoon in 237 Alfred was one girl on the toilet, one in the shower, and one brushing her teeth,” says Jamie. “During Homecoming, it would have been one brushing her teeth, one peeing in the shower, and one peeing in the toilet.”

“The four walls are one thing; it’s what went on [inside 237 Alfred] and the memories we share,” says Kim. “I will always look back on [that time] as the greatest years of my life.”

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

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