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A new home for athletics: a brief history of the PEC's early days

A new home for athletics: a brief history of the PEC's early days

In 1931, Queen’s new gymnasium (now the Physical Education Centre, or PEC) opened on Union Street. The 1931 Tricolor yearbook boasted, “We can hold up our heads and boast of one of the finest gymnasiums in the Dominion. The undergraduates will reap the benefits and it behooves them to carry on and bring more athletic honours to Queen’s. Swimming and diving and water-polo facilities are now open for the Queen’s natatorial artists and soon the graduates should hear that Queen’s is once more carrying off championships in this new athletic field ... It is among these surroundings in the future that the social and athletic side of the University will be developed.” The old gymnasium (later named Jackson Hall in the 1970s) then became the home of hydraulics research. It now houses part of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. 

[postcard of the Queen's gymnasium in the 1930s]
The Queen's gymnasium, now known as the Physical Education Centre, or PEC. Photo: Queen's Archives

Excerpted from the January, 1931 issue of the Queen's Review

To do justice to the New Gymnasium at Queen's by means of a pen picture is a difficult task; this splendid addition to the University must be inspected to be appreciated. Many of our alumni may not, however, have this privilege in the near future, and to these a description of the new building may give some idea of its magnificence. At the same time something of the story of the gymnasium movement at Queen's may hold interest; and the history of the development of the New Gymnasium may serve as a tribute to the graduates and friends of the University, to the students, and to the chairman and members of the Athletic Board of Control who made the New Gym possible and carried it through to completion.

Gymnasium History at Queen's

The first gymnasium movement at Queen's apparently developed during the session of 1873-74. The students at that time began to urge action towards the providing of a gymnasium, and the agitation continued for some years until, in 1880-81, when the Faculties of Arts and Theology moved into their new building, the Senate placed the old Convocation Hall (in the Old Medical Building) at the disposal of the students for athletic purposes. There was considerable difficulty, however, in financing the undertaking -- as the voluntary athletic fee was paid by only a small percentage of the students – and the A.M.S. had a heavy deficit at the end of the first year.

In the spring of '89 the Medical College required the gym for classroom use, and the students were again facing the old problem. For some years after this other interests pressed that of the gymnasium into the background, but the desire for a gym was too deep-rooted to be suppressed for long and early in 1896 a definite plan matured. The Science department was badly in need of workshops and it was decided to erect a building which would serve the double purpose of mechanical laboratory and gymnasium. During the summer of '96 the Mechanical Laboratory,  subsequently known as the "Tool House," was built and the problem seemed to be solved. The whole of the roomy second storey and about two thirds of the basement were given over to the students for gymnasium or other purposes.

For three years or more the students were left in possession, and from this same basement Guy Curtis, Ben Simpson, Arthur Ross, Chaucer Elliott,and many other athletic heroes of former days went forth to conquest. But in 1899 Science required room for expansion and the University was compelled to take over the upper storey for the mechanical department. In return it put aside about $1000 as a nucleus of a gymnasium fund.

In 1901 the students decided that definite steps should be taken towards the building of a new gymnasium. Subscription lists were circulated and considerable progress was made, but the project had to be dropped temporarily while the students turned their attention to raising funds for the erection of Grant Hall. In 1905 the gymnasium scheme was revived, but again it had to be held over on account of an endowment campaign then in progress. In March, 1906, the Athletic Committee decided that the need for a gymnasium was so urgent that it could be deferred no longer, and recommended to the A.M.S. that steps towards the erection of such a building should be taken immediately.

The recommendation was accepted by the A.M.S.; the students were at once canvassed; and as the response was spontaneous and generous, the Athletic Committee proceeded immediately with the construction of the gymnasium. On April 25, 1906, the first sod was turned by Sir Sandford Fleming, and on January 12, 1907, the building was formally opened. The memorable address of dedication was given by Dr. R.Tait McKenzie, the celebrated sculptor,who was then professor of physical education at the University of Pennsylvania.At last the 900 students then in attendance at Queen's had their gymnasium,and proud they were of it -- for them it was the ne plus ultra of gymnasiums and well it served its purpose for over twenty years.

The old gymnasium, now Jackson Hall, was the ne plus ultra of gymnasiums when it opened in 1907. Photo: 1907 Queen's yearbook. 

A description of the Old Gymnasium need not be given here - most of us know it well-but mention must be made of W. H. Macinnes, Arts'02, Theo'05, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Athletic Committee for many years and the patron saint of the Old Gym. He was untiring in his efforts to advance the gymnasium scheme, and his organizing ability eventuallybrought it to fulfilment. Strange that the man who has been the moving spirit behind the New Gymnasium, T. A. McGinnis,Sc'08, should bear a name so similar. Then there is "Jimmy" Bews,who has been in continual charge of the Old Gym since a year or two after it was built. For the best part of twenty-five years he has been "part of the place" and has won the respect and affection of the many hundreds of students who have come under his efficient instruction. They all hope that he may have another twenty-five years to rule in his new domain. The walls of the Old Gymnasium could whisper many other well-known names, and tell of many athletes, many teams, and many memorable contests that they have looked upon during the years since 1907.

After the war, physical training for all freshmen was made compulsory; there was a tremendous increase in the number of women students participating in athletics; and the need for either a larger or a second gymnasium became imperative. 

But Queen's continued to grow; the 900 students soon became 1200; by 1929 they totalled over 1600. After the war, physical training for all freshmen was made compulsory; there was a tremendous increase in the number of women students participating in athletics; and the need for either a larger or a second gymnasium became imperative. The Old Gym had become quite inadequate for the large size and number of classes in physical training-an important part of the curriculum of a modern university and altogether too small for the proper staging of indoor athletic events, such as basketball games and assaults at arms. Due to the small size of the swimming pool no aquatic training or contests were possible. 

The New Gymnasium Building

Facing Union Street, on the land between the Students' Union and the former Infants' Home (now the offices of the Commerce department) and with its main entrance almost opposite the door of Gordon Hall, the Gymnasium extends for 185 feet parallel to the street and for the same distance perpendicular to it. The building is cruciform, and the main facade is 105 feet in length, terminating in hexagonal towers inside of which spiral staircases rise from the main to the gymnasium floor. At each end, considerably farther back from the street line, is a wing of the same construction 40 feet in length. In the west wing, which carries back for 78 feet, are the men's locker rooms; they extend into the main building and have direct entrances at the front and back of the wing. In the east wing, which is 58 feet in depth, are the women's quarters with their special entrance. At the rear of the central part of the building is the extension which houses the swimming pool and spectators' gallery. This extension is 105 feet in length and 71 feet in depth. The main building is two storeys in height, the walls rising 33 feet above street level. 

The Swimming Room

From the first-floor corridor another two doors open into the spectators' gallery of the swimming room. The gallery overlooks the south margin of the pool and seats about 325. From here an excellent view can be had of the pool and its surroundings. The tank, its spacious margins, and the lower portion of the walls are of white tile. The walls above this are cream-coloured, and the roof and trusses are painted aluminum gray. The tank is 75 feet in length and 35 feet in width, and is thus of full Olympic size. It has seven swimming lanes marked off in green. The depth is 4 feet The building is heated by steam from the central heating plant of the University.

Photo: Queen's Review, 1931.

When the students returned from their Christmas vacation the New Gymnasium was ready for them. They are making good use of it; its schedule is full from early morning until late at night. Like the nine hundred students of 1907, the seventeen hundred of 1931 are proud of their New Gym. It in turn is the "ne plus ultra of gymnasiums."


[cover of Queen's Alumni Review 2015 Issue 3]