by Jodeen Litwin
On the east side of 112th Street, where the Fine Arts Centre now stands, there once sat an enduring little bungalow, cozy with character, called the Tuck Shop. For more than half a century, the Tuck Shop—also known as the Varsity Tuck Shop, or simply Tuck—was the gathering place for students.
"It was the centre of everything," says Hugh Morrison, '30 BA, who even had a class—an Anglo-Saxon course—held in the Tuck Shop. "There were only four of us, and we would meet with our professor—who was young, himself—at Tuck."
Raised in the Garneau area, Morrison grew up alongside the Tuck Shop. "It started in a small way," lie says, recalling that at one point it was just a "one-cent candy store run by Mr. Smith." But with time, he says, Tuck matured, and it grew to be a place that was "always jovial," and the one place on campus where students "from across all faculty lines" could meet.
History of Tuck
Originally, the Tuck Shop was a canteen-style store set up by Bill Smith in 1917 for recuperating soldiers, who were staying in what is now St. Stephen's College. Smith, a Londoner, called his place "Tuck" from the old English word for a snack, and he sold candy, treats, and books. However, there is a rumour that suggests Smith also provided other services, including gambling—taking bets on horses—and bootlegging whiskey.
After two years, Smith sold his shop to two of his best customers, simply known by their surnames, Eyrl and Warren. In 1924, the duo rebuilt Tuck, and its opening made the Gateway, which described Tuck as "a large and commodious and uniquely designed bungalow ... in the place of the former small and somewhat shabby-looking biscuit box of former years."
Sam McCoppen, known by many as the "Jolly Undertaker," acquired Tuck in 1928, and he is credited with giving Tuck its distinctive design. Morrison recalls that McCoppen enlarged Tuck by adding a dining room and a dance hall in the basement, where non-stop bridge games also took place.
By 1941, Tuck was under the ownership of Cliff Roy—but Tuck paid no attention. With every new owner, Tuck remained firmly planted on the campus social scene. M.D. Ward (Skelton), '43 BA, wrote a sentimental tribute to the Tuck Shop in 1943, which appeared in New Trail. Of Tuck, she wrote, "It is not a mere inanimate object, but a personality in its own right." Skelton shared intimate details of the coffee haven, which otherwise might have been lost. It was busiest at 10 a.m. "At that time, every available corner is occupied, the air is blue with smoke, the Wurlitzer blares forth the latest swing, and the machinegun game at the far end of the room is rat-a-tat-tatting almost without interruption."
In the'50s and '60s the Tuck Shop went through more transformations and owners. In 1947 Edgar Gerhart, '48 BSc(Pharm), '60 LLB, acquired the Tuck Shop. He remodeled the kitchen and dining room into a cafeteria-style restaurant with booths rather than tables and chairs. There's no word on the Wurlitzer or machine-gun game, but there was a blaring jukebox. And Tuck continued to be a student retreat. "I would go there with my girlfriend at the time, " says Richard McCreary, '51 BSc. Usually it was just for a coffee, he says. "I was an impoverished student," he says chuckling, but going to Tuck was "always a real treat."
In 1968, Tuck was bought by the University's Food Services. It operated for two more years, but unfortunately progress tore down the Tuck Shop, which had to move in order to make room for the rapidly growing University campus. Tuck Shop forever closed its doors in 1970.
Today, located in CAB, there is a small snack-selling outlet called the Tuck Shop. Inside, black-and-white photos of its namesake fade into the wall behind the cashier, and it is easy to miss the encased, weathered sign that once greeted students at the original shop. This modern-clay shop is a far cry from the Tuck of yesteryear, which at one point housed a dance hall, a barber shop, a dry cleaners, an art boutique, a bakery, a drug store, and a cafeteria. Tuck, the original Tuck that lived through two world wars, beehives, and miniskirts, was considered by many to be the ultimate student hangout on campus. And it will be fondly remembered by many alumni for its friendship, coffee, milkshakes, and, yes, its cinnamon buns.
The recipe for the Tuck Shop Cinnamon Runs, which were also sold for a tune in the CAB Cafeteria, is available at www.ualberta.ca/alumni.
Published Winter 2002.