Haultain Hall - the Arts Building that never was

On Campus News, 22 September 1995

The University of Saskatchewan is known for its attractive campus. In addition to its river setting and large green spaces, visitors often point to the greystone buildings in the "collegiate gothic" style that surround the bowl. Largely built before 1930, their human scale and detailed greystone facades make them, for many, the handsomest structures on campus.

Rarely, if ever, celebrated for its contribution to the aesthetic appeal of campus is the Arts building, especially its centrepiece--the dreaded tower. It might have been different.

The first University President, Walter Murray, had considered an Arts building as integral to the campus and sketches were made as early as 1913. In 1929 Murray included a proposal for an Arts building as part of the University's capital estimates, without plans or specifications having been produced.

In 1930, architectural plans were drawn up and the building went out to tender. Haultain Hall, an $885,832 building was proposed in the estimates for 1930-1931. Named after the politician and the University's second Chancellor Sir Frederick Haultain, it would today be termed a multi-purpose facility. It was designed to house Arts, Biology, Household Science, Accounting, Education, administrative offices, a gym, a library and a museum.

As always, classroom space was in short supply. In correspondence with the provincial government Murray noted that Arts classes were being taught in laboratory buildings (Chemistry and Physics) and that even residence rooms were being converted into offices and small classrooms. Library resources were scattered about campus, especially in the College(Administration) building. Of great concern was that over eighty classes were being taught after 4:30 pm, the close of the working day.

The proposed building, greystone clad collegiate gothic, would no doubt have been as charming as the old Thorvaldson building. With a permanent home, humanistic research on campus might also have flourished.

1930 was not an auspicious time to be asking for money. "Owing to present economic conditions," premier J.T.M. Anderson decided to delay the proposal for one year. By 1933, Murray had hoped that an Arts building might be a project for a public works program but economic conditions in the province had only worsened. Citing the huge sums of money necessary for rural relief, Anderson rejected the building proposal.

As Michael Hayden has noted in his history of the University, the humanities and social sciences were not a priority for Murray's successors, especially W.P. Thompson, who favoured scientific research. As late as 1956, a Forward Planning Committee report placed an Arts building fourteenth on a list of fifteen building projects.

It was not until Canada Council funding became available, intended specifically for humanities and social science facilities that the Arts building was built, in stages, between 1958 and 1964.

The Arts tower was the first building on campus to rise above four stories. It was expected that the tower, optimistically described by the architect as "a most attractive narrow slab tower", would be a focal point of the campus.

Ironically, its height was meant to symbolize the central place of Arts in a university.

Steve Billinton