University Hall at McMaster University: A Heritage Site on Campus

What is heritage? I’m sure that many different scholars and educators have different definitions of this term. For the purpose of this blog I have come up with my own definition: heritage is property or items that have historical roots to an area or group. It has an impact on at least some members of the community and serves as a preservation of the origins of a society as we know it today.

When thinking about the cultural heritage in Hamilton, one of the first things I think of are the beautiful old buildings at McMaster University. McMaster was founded in Toronto in 1887 but moved to Hamilton in the 1930’s which began the foundations of the school we know it to be today. Wallingford Hall, Edwards Hall, University Hall, and Hamilton Hall were four of the original buildings in location at McMaster University in the 1930’s and still stand today. I’d like to look at University Hall to be of particular importance to the cultural heritage of Hamilton because it displays much of McMaster’s relationship with the Hamilton community, sort of documenting the history of the school while in Hamilton.

UH Bust
Bust of William McMaster on the main floor of University Hall

I see McMaster as an important part of the history of Hamilton. Since moving the school from Toronto to Hamilton, the city has thrived alongside the university and each has an invested interest in the other, and I don’t think that either can be thought of as independent from the other. Additionally, much of the architecture of the building has remained intact as a part of the preservation of the history of the school. The inside of the building serves not only scholarly educational purposes but also holds a museum of sorts with photos of the school, students, and faculty as time has gone by. The success of the university has been dependent on the success of the city and vice-versa, which is why I think that University Hall serves to be a great example of a cultural heritage site for not just McMaster but Hamilton as a whole.

The building itself has retained much of its age and historic appeal, with minor additions to allow increased accessibility. There is an elevator accessible entrance on the west side of the building, as well as an electronically run accessibility device to help with the half-stairs on the main floor, and electronic buttons to automatically open doors for people who need it. As preservation is an issue with many older buildings, I think McMaster has done an excellent job of preserving and maintaining the historic qualities of the building while making it accessible to an increased number of people. With the ability to reach all floors without hindrance or much inconvenience, not only are classes and offices available to all, but the museum aspect of the interior is available. The outside of the building looks almost identical to the photos of when it was originally built, thus the architectural qualities of the building have remained untouched. This increased accessibility is important to a university that strives and advocates for equality and accessibility for all, and shows McMaster’s engagement with the school and community to be available to as many people possible.

Convocation Hall on the second floor of the building is an important room in the building, holding guest lectures, exams, and of course – convocation ceremonies. The interior of the room is lined with glass cases that houses photos of graduating classes, sports teams, and residence members from the transfer of the school to Hamilton. This is not only an important part of the history of McMaster but also important to the history of the city, for it is less likely than now for students to travel too far away from home in order to get an education. Despite an increase in accessibility to the building, this beautiful taste of history is available for people to see only when the doors to the room are unlocked. I have a bit of an issue with this; I was unable to get any photos of the inside of Convocation Hall because the doors were locked – and I had arrived there at about 2:00 in the afternoon. Although it’s not promoted as a museum it still contains so much history that is important to the identity of not only students of McMaster but to members of the Hamilton community.

Shouldn’t photos that document the vital role of McMaster to the city of Hamilton be accessible to people more frequently? I think so. I think that McMaster should either keep the doors to Convocation Hall unlocked during school hours, or they should move the photos to a hallway – perhaps in the main entrance of the building – for more people to see them. A room that contains such important photos to the history of tens of thousands of students, faculty, and community members shouldn’t be confined to one room that restricts access to those exclusive enough to gain entrance for some reason.

In addition to the photos inside of Convocation Hall, the hallways on the first floor of the building have local art on display. I think this shows the continued reciprocal relationship between McMaster and its community. By displaying this art in University Hall it reinforces the importance and refreshes the cultural heritage aspect of the building. The combination of new and old photos shows that University Hall (and McMaster University on a larger scale) continues to develop itself as a museum.

UH Modern Art
Modern art displayed on the main floor of the building.

University Hall, both inside and out, is a perfect example of a heritage centre in Hamilton. It documents McMaster’s relationship with the city of Hamilton for a span of over 80 years and continues to update its displays to reflect the continually growing relationship. Despite the minor setback of the inaccessibility of Convocation Hall to the public (or students, for that matter) on most days, University Hall has done an incredible job of making their building accessible to a vast array of people. It is a great example of a heritage centre done right.



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