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Dedication of Jim Wrong House

Dedication of Jim Wrong House

In October, 397 Brock Street was re-named Jim Wrong House, in honour of the co-founder of Science '44 Co-op.

[Jim Wrong]By naming this residence the “Jim Wrong House”, the board and staff have taken a concrete step to commemorate the trailblazing spirit demonstrated by my father and the other engineering students who co-founded the first co-op residence at Queen’s.

Many of you can identify with the excitement and stress associated with moving away from home to start or continue your academic studies. Settling into new surroundings at university, learning new household routines, and keeping up with assignments and exams can be challenging.

But, just imagine what it was like in 1940. My father came to Queen’s, from his home town of Ottawa, to obtain a degree in civil engineering and soon became part of an early experiment in student housing.

Let me share with you some comments from Clyde Lendrum - a co-founder of the Co-op - as he highlights the spirit of those student housing pioneers.

“The Science ‘44 Co-op boarding house on the Queen’s Campus was a child of the times. The year was 1940. The war had changed Kingston from a quiet university town to a bustling military camp and war production centre. Barriefield and Vimy military camps had swelled the number of people on the streets and new industries like Alcan and the Nylon plant had made serious inroads into the number of rooms available to Queen’s students. In 1940 there were no male residences and student support schemes were virtually non-existent.

The freshmen of Science ’44 were among the first victims of the war effort. One frosh, James Wrong, had an idea: Why not organize a student’s cooperative boarding house?”

After establishing an Executive Board and a real estate committee, Dad’s group of engineering friends obtained university support for the purchase of a house, which the university then donated to the Science ‘44 Co-op to establish the university’s first co-op residence, known as Collins House.

In typical engineering style, the Board developed an application and management system that ensured social and fiscal responsibility amongst all residents. In addition to paying $8 per week for room and board and bringing his own blankets, each member was required to do five hours’ work per week (including peeling potatoes, washing dishes, and serving tables). At the close of the fiscal year, the net profit was returned to all members as a dividend, on the basis of the money paid in. Each member paid a $1 membership fee and a $10 capital loan into the cooperative.

The Science ‘44 Co-op was a success in its first year and expanded to include other houses in Kingston. Looking back, it seems impossible that a group of freshmen could have raised the equivalent of $100,000 in today’s dollars between Christmas and the end of the term to buy Collins House. Today, the Co-op accommodates 170 students in 21 houses.

After graduation in 1944, Jim went on to a career focussed on construction of rock jetties, railway projects, oil refineries, electricity generating stations, and eventually, he concentrated on paper mill construction. With his wife Mollie, my brother and me in tow, Jim accepted job opportunities that took us to Oregon, California, Washington State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Italy, Romania, Poland, and eventually back to Canada.

While he was no longer living in Kingston, he valued the friendships he’d formed at Queen’s and Collins House. Over the years, Jim attended former roommates’ weddings and funerals, as well as a Queen’s 50th class reunion.

It seems that the bonds developed at the Co-op never weakened…

Indeed, when I came to Canada in the 1970s, from Paris, to study at McGill, I was kindly met at the Montreal airport by the wife of one of my dad’s Co-op friends. Knowing that his daughter was going to a city and country with which she was not familiar, my father was confident that he could arrange a warm welcome and helping hand from a fellow Science ’44 Co-op roommate, residing in Montreal.

He captured the importance of his university and Co-op days in a poem he wrote for the 50th reunion in 1994. I thought I would read it to you, as it displays his lingering fondness for Queen’s and awareness of the impact that aging has on all of us. And, please keep in mind, that my father was an engineer and not a poet laureate!

1944-1994 Class Reunion

‘Twas my class reunion and all through the house, my wife was crying, “Get a haircut – you look like a louse!”.
Planning went on for many a day
And letters were written requesting I pay.
And so, I sat down and wrote them right back
And signed it and mailed it to keep me on track.

I would see my old classmates of fifty years passed –
Some in poor health but with fortunes amassed.
But how would I recognize Sammy and John, Billie and Rae?
The trick came in a letter I received the very same day.
It said, “Send us a photo of you in times by
And we’ll all know each other from memories bye and bye”.

So, I packed my bags and my wife packed her jeans
And we took off for the campus of friendly old Queen’s.

When we arrived, we were welcomed with cries of great glee
From strangers who all seemed to know only me.
I marveled and questioned this great intuition,
‘Til I remembered the photo I wore ‘round my neck, now a tradition.

I met old buddies, we talked of old times,
Of girls our wives knew only in stories and rhymes.
We ate and drank together again,
Hoping to see one another in ten years’ refrain,
But knowing our numbers would shrink and grow small
Each one of us hoping we would miss the roll call.

In March of this year, my father passed away at the age of 92, after having lived a life committed to building strong relationships with his family; his university classmates, friends and neighbours; his community; and his employers.

At the time of his death, I received condolences from Kimberly Woodhouse, the Dean of Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. In her email, the Dean expressed her thoughts about Jim:

“Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of your father. He was truly an outstanding and inspiring member of the Queen’s Engineering family.

As the originator of the Science ’44 Co-op, … Jim along with the other 7 members were responsible for addressing the housing shortage for male students attending Queen’s. Their model of cooperative housing was a first in Kingston, and has stood the test of time for more than 70 years. What a wonderful legacy!

He will be sadly missed by Queen’s and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science community.

Kindest regards, Kimberly Woodhouse”.

I often think that my father’s enthusiasm, strong organizational skills, and focus on creative solutions sprang from his exposure to co-founding the Science ’44 Co-op. There is no doubt that his Co-op years influenced him to take his family to new places and encourage us to experiment with different cultures, languages and schools, thereby contributing to our adaptability and love of things unknown and yet to be discovered.

In closing, I hope all of you who are current or past Science ’44 Co-op members enjoy or did enjoy the same enriching experiences that Jim Wrong did during his years at Collins House. And to those of you now residing in the Jim Wrong House, I wish to re-assure you that living in the “WRONG” House is really the RIGHT place to be!

Thank you.

[cover of Queen's Review 2015-1]