President’s Residence excellence: A brief history

By in Culture

In December 2016, I was invited to a holiday reception at the President’s Residence, and I jumped at the opportunity. Nestled amongst tall trees along the crest of the riverbank, the building I saw on my way to class each morning had always intrigued me.

University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-707

My fellow employee and I, apple-cheeked and wide-eyed undergraduates, arrived embarrassingly early to the reception, even after shuffling around the front walk in our too-thin coats for a good 10 minutes while we mustered the courage to go in — clearly fashionably late isn’t just an excuse for tardiness.

While our toes froze, I got a good look at the residence, one of the many examples on campus of both Arts and Crafts and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles.

Constructed in 1913 using Saskatchewan fieldstone gathered from the nearby prairie, the President’s Residence was built as a home for presidents of the University of Saskatchewan during their tenures. The original budget for the building was $32,000, but the final sum came to $44,615, more than double the cost of any other house in Saskatoon at the time.

The first president of the university, Walter Murray, was apparently embarrassed by the price of his new home, but his protestations could not alter the amount. Murray lived in the residence for almost 25 years, the longest period a U of S president has lived in the building by a decade.

To learn more about the residence, I met with Colin Tennent, strategic advisor for campus master planning and university architect, who explains that the size of the residence is also significant.

“It’s [over] 10,000 square feet, which makes it a fairly big house, even by today’s standard, or say, the standard of the 1970s to 1990s where the average house size really expanded,” Tennent said. “And I think it has three boiler systems.”

Curious about the amenities a university president enjoys, I asked if the residence comes with its own set of kitchen and cleaning staff. Tennent explains that a portion of the house was built for this particular, though unused, purpose.

“The attic level was designed to accommodate servants … but as far as we know there were never any live-in servants or those who cared for the building. Certainly for events, our food services group, Culinary Services, do cater … but any of the resident families essentially looked after their own cooking,” Tennent said.

Tennent also shares that, from 1975 to 1980, some lucky students lived in the residence, although why or who they were is unknown.

“When I had first heard that, I was curious as well,” Tennent said. “How were they selected and what was the relationship with the president and the president’s family? It’s kind of intriguing.”

The current president, Peter Stoicheff, is the first U of S president who has chosen not to live in the residence, a decision he made to keep some separation between his home and work life.

However, Stoicheff still uses the President’s Residence for university and public functions. After our awkward entrance at the holiday reception, Stoicheff was happy to give us a tour of the ground floor, which is filled with hand-chosen selections of local art from the university art collection.

With functions like this, Stoicheff carries on the tradition of previous presidents. Indeed, in 2005, Queen Elizabeth II spent a night in the residence, and during simpler times, President Murray would host a Christmas social each year for all the children of faculty at the university — which is difficult to imagine now, as the U of S has grown.

In case you’re wondering, the President’s Residence currently features five bedrooms, more if you count the attic, and four bathrooms. If you ever get the chance to visit, watch out for the ground-floor bathroom, as it doesn’t lock — a fact I learned the hard way.

Jessica Klaassen-Wright / Editor-in-Chief

Photo: University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-707