If These Walls Could Talk

A house on the move – and a tub for two

An illustration of a two-story, brick building with victorian plaster decorative embellishments on the top floor.. There is a staircase leading up to covered front porch.

Illustration by Wendy Treverton

Brian Sterling (Sc’74) returned to Queen’s for a reunion recently. Sitting in his car outside the Donald Gordon Centre waiting for a friend, he glanced up from his phone and spotted the handsome Victorian brick home he had shared with friends during his last two years at the university. 

He was surprised. The house was two kilometres from where he left it more than 45 years earlier. 

It had been 166 University Avenue back then. Now it’s 451 Union Street. 

“I knew it had been moved,” Mr. Sterling says, “but I didn’t know where.” 

The transplantation of three houses – 162, 166, and 168 University – was big news in the summer of 1992. That August, the homes had been jacked up, placed on flatbed trucks, and taken up Princess Street and down Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard to their new resting place. The university had been clearing land for the construction of Stauffer Library and the three homes, built around 1895, were deemed too grand to be razed.  

When Brian Sterling moved, with five others, into the top two floors of the home in the fall of 1973, he was impressed by the carved banisters, the high baseboards, and the woodwork. (Also, the big claw-foot bathtub in the second-floor bathroom. Mr. Sterling remembers that “occasionally, someone might have a friend join them.”) 

Mr. Sterling had been living with three friends in a William Street home the previous year, but one of his roommates was leaving. Meanwhile, 166 University was undergoing renovations to change from a triplex to a duplex – a married-students’ apartment on the main floor and a six-bedroom unit on the two upper floors. The attic had been occupied by three women the previous year, and they needed the guys to move in so they could keep their rooms, Mr. Sterling says. 

But it wasn’t that simple, says Kerry Clark (Com’74), one of Mr. Sterling’s roommates from William Street. He remembers 166 University being part of the Queen’s Community Housing pool, and says the six prospective tenants had to win a lottery to get a lease. In the end, it all went smoothly, Mr. Clark says. 

He credits Mr. Sterling for much of the home’s success. “He’s got great organizing skills.” 

Mr. Sterling doesn’t recall things quite that way, but admits he’s been told that before. He was the only roommate with a car, he says, and he liked shopping the grocery-store flyers Saturday mornings. Each roomie chipped in 10 bucks a week for groceries, and it was more than enough, he says. 

“We all ate really well,” he says. “Sixty dollars a week, that was a fair amount of money for groceries then.” 

The second floor had a kitchen and dining room with a large wooden table in front of the big bay window. “You’d sit there having coffee in the morning watching people going back and forth and waving,” Mr. Sterling says.  

Among those routinely passing was next-door neighbour Ralph Clench, the beloved and eccentric calculus teacher who would stride by in his oversized coat with his two transistor radios slung around his neck. Visitors to 166 University were invariably charmed by a Clench sighting. “It was like living next door to Ryan Reynolds,” says Mr. Sterling. 

The home’s location was a large part of its attraction, the roommates agree. It was across the street from the John Deutsch University Centre and just inside the northern boundary of the main campus. But 166 University also had style; they can see why it was preserved. 

“I liked the location, but I also felt it looked great,” says Mr. Clark. “I felt very proud to be living there.” 

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

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