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The Story of a Building By the Oldest Inhabitant

H. P. Brown

The title is commonplace, the building one of the least imposing, and the story is one of accommodation put to many needs. But behind the story is a record of small beginnings, of enterprises that blossomed forth into unforeseen greatness, of a great variety of accomplishments in the development of which their humble beginning in this building has been lost sight of.

Its name? Has it a name? Some call it the Power Plant, which it assuredly is not, though that necessary adjunct to the University is at one end of it. It was once called the Double Lab, as it consists of two parts with connecting doors, but since it ceased to be used as a medical building, it never seems to have arrived at a state of perfect married accord.

On the front of the building are engraved in stone such names as Watt, Stephenson, Kelvin, and Fulton, signifying the engineering purpose of the building though a good part of it has never been used for engineering. Tracks to carry heavy machinery have been "over the heads" of the office staff in the Department of Extension for many years. So we shall pass over the name and begin to tell the story of the building.

In the first place it met with difficulty in becoming a building at all as it was under construction in 1914 when the outbreak of war caused the suspension of activities; nevertheless, it was completed in the following year. This newly finished engineering building then became a medical building and home of the first two departments of the Faculty of Medicine. These were Anatomy and Physiology which form the fundamentals of the Medical course. Dr. D.G. Revell was Professor of Anatomy and Dr. H. H. Moshier, Professor of Physiology. In his Story of the Early History of the Medical Faculty, Dr. Revell explains the location of the two departments: "Anatomy had the north half (of the building) which also contained the lecture room shared with physiology. On the ground floor were offices, laboratories for histology, embryology, and neurology, and for physiology, biochemistry, and pathology. We also had considerable space for museum cases on the ground floor. The upper or second floor had a series of rooms along the three outside walls, and these were reached by stairs and galleries with iron guard rails. As the construction of the building itself included large steel overhead track for a travelling crane to handle heavy machinery, it presented a very formidable appearance for the purposes of the gentle ways of medical teachers and students. A small part of this steel work may be seen exposed in the upstairs visual instruction and radio studio parts of the Extension Department. For gross anatomy laboratories ("stiff labs" in the vernacular of barbarous non-medical studies) we had five small upstair rooms."

Today some of these upstair rooms are the home of one of the largest educational film libraries in Canada, shipping ten thousand reels of film annually and carrying on an important visual service to the schools and institutions of Alberta.

Many are the stories told of the days when this building was occupied by the Medical Faculty. All "cadavers" or bodies used by Anatomy had to be taken up a narrow stairway with a double turn and an iron railing. On one occasion Dr. Revell and his assistant had nearly reached the top when one of them slipped, and Doctors and body quickly descended into an undignified heap at the foot of the stairs. On another occasion the Scottish owner of a well known Edmonton transfer company phoned Dr. Revell to know why the delivery of a body a month before had not been paid for. He was informed that the delay in payment was unintentional and that the error would be rectified. Said he, "Anither time ye'll nae get your body until I hae ma money."

It was here that Dr. J. B. Collip, D.Sc. '24, commenced his work. He joined Dr. Moshier in physiology and biochemistry in 1915, and also gave the course in Zoology for medical students in 1915 and 1916. On Dr. Moshier's leaving for active service, Dr. Collip took full charge of physiology, biochemistry, and pathological chemistry. Later Dr. Collip carried on the important research work that led to his being called East to assist Drs. Best and Banting in the development of Insulin.

Upon the completion of the new Medical Building in 1921, the work of the departments of the Medical Faculty was centralised in the new building, and the Departments of Extension and Electrical Engineering moved into the "old medical building"

In the basement were some sloping concrete floors in a caged enclosure used by the medical departments as a frog pond. These are still to be seen and now form part of storage facilities used by the Department of Extension for theatre lighting equipment and youth training supplies. Also in the basement of this building was a photographic darkroom used by Dr. Revell in the making of microscopic and lantern slides, and used for some time in conjunction with the research work of several departments of the University.

There were two important series of research carried on in the basement of the building after the Medical Departments vacated it, one known as Ultrasonic Wave by Dr. R. W. Boyle, then professor of Physics and later Dean of Applied Science, and the other the first extraction plant for the processing of McMurray tar sands. Of the Ultrasonic Wave Experimental Research carried on by Dr. Boyle and his assistants, the full implications unfortunately cannot be given at this time for security reasons. Suffice it to say that Dr. Boyle had previously (during the war of 1914-18) been attached to the British Admiralty and here continued his experiments in the detection of underwater objects. One of the purposes of the research was for securing the safety of ocean lines from icebergs, a matter which had engaged the attention of scientists since the loss of the Titanic on her maiden voyage.

The work here was carried on with the assistance of grants from the National Research Council and was commenced in 1921. During the following years many students assisted Dr. Boyle and the careers of these are of special interest. Our own Geoffrey Taylor, M.Sc. '25, remained with the Department of Physics as instructor and afterwards became Assistant Registrar of the University. J. F. Lehman was the son of Dr. Lehman, Professor of Chemistry here for many years. He received his Master's Degree on the basis of the Ultrasonic Experiments and became the first "1851 Exhibition Scholar" from the University of Alberta, securing his Doctor's Degree from Cambridge University. He is at present Research Chemist with the British Ministry of Supply. Another 1851 Exhibition Scholar was Don Sproule who worked with Dr. Boyle in 1925. He received his B.Sc. in 1928 and his Master's Degree in 1929. He married a Russian wife and lost her in the sinking of the Western Prince, narrowly escaping with his own life. He was the co-inventor of the air echo altimeter for aeroplanes. Charles David Reid graduated in Engineering Physics in 1923 and received his Master's Degree in 1924 on work connected with the Ultrasonic Experiments. He obtained his Ph.D. at Harvard where he instructed from 1924 to 1930 and has since been connected with the Eastman Kodak Company. S. C. Morgan, M.Sc '23, also worked with Dr. Boyle, afterwards becoming assistant in the Electrical Engineering Department. Next he went to Queen's University where he became Director of CFRC, the radio station at Queen's, and is now at U.B.C. with Dr. MacLeod, formerly Professor of Electrical Engineering here. Dr. Boyle himself went to the National Research Council where he is Director of Physical Research.

The tar extraction plant occupied the north side of the basement of this building in 1923. It was the first practical application of the hot water separation process in Alberta, and it handled two carloads of McMurray tar sand. The plant was designed and the work carried on by Dr. Karl Clark of the Department of Industrial Research of the University. The then Superintendent of Buildings, Mr. Langland, was not at all pleased with the location of this experimental plant and claimed that frequent drain stoppages in the building were due to its activities. Certain it was that the clogging was caused by seepage of sand into the drains, but close examination showed that the sand was from the new medical building construction and the McMurray variety was exonerated. Then it was found that workers in the Extension Library upstairs were becoming overcome by fumes, but this also was traced to another source. The dismantling of the plant was due to its inadequacy, and a larger plant was constructed at the Dunvegan Yards at the north end of the city. Some of Dr. Clark's assistants have also gone to important fields. Sid Blair received his M.Sc. here, and is now technical adviser to the Managing Director of Trinidad Leaseholds. Others were Nick Melnyk, B.Sc. '29, now with the Cadomin Coal Company, and G. F. Knighton, B.Sc. '26, with the Consolidated Mining and Smelting at Chapman Camp, B.C. Allan Harcourt, son of the late Professor George Harcourt, had completed his Grade XII with every intention of "quitting school" and going off to work. He became interested in Dr. Clark's experimental work in tar sands and afterwards completed his University Course and received his Ph.D. He is now with the Research Department of International Nickel as Research Mineralogist.

The New Med Building was completed in the fall of 1921 and the Old Medical Building (terms then used) received the Departments of Extension and Electrical Engineering in January of 1922. These two departments, having little in common, came to be closely associated in the building of the University Radio Station, CKUA. Largely responsible for this venture was A. E. Ottewell, M.A., a member of the first graduating class of the University and first Director of the Department of Extension, and Dr. H. J. MacLeod, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Professor MacLeod was an instructor here and received his M.Sc. in 1916. He enlisted in the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion during the first World War, received his Captain's commission and returned to the University to become head of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Radio was early used by the University in taking Extension lectures to the people of the Province, various professors having first to take the trip to an overtown broadcasting studio for the purpose. In 1927 a studio was established in the Department of Extension and in the fall of 1928 the University opened its own transmitting station under the call letters, CKUA on its present assigned frequency of 580 kc. Assistants to Dr. MacLeod at that time were W. E. Cornish, M.Sc. '33, and J. W. Porteous, M.Sc. '33. The first (purchased) transmitter was soon discarded and a new one constructed by Cornish and Porteous, the work upon this forming the basis of their Master's Degrees. This 500 watt transmitter was not housed in the Department of Electrical Engineering but upon the knoll south of Pembina. It had a high degree of efficiency in relation to its power and on a late night test, the station was heard simultaneously in Long Island and Hawaii. Professor Cornish was Associate Professor and acting head of the Department when he died in 1943. Professor Porteous is the present acting head in place of Professor, now Commander Cullwick, on loan to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Many students in Electrical Engineering assisted in building and operating the radio transmitter. Among them were Percy Field and Paul Johnson, B.Sc. '39, both now with the C.B.C., and Edward Jordan, M.Sc. '36, who received his Master's Degree on work connected with the studio controls. Edward was workroom boy in the Visual Instruction branch of the Department of Extension when he decided to make radio his life work. He became control operator of CKUA while taking his electrical engineering course, and operated the transmitter between times. Following graduation he redesigned and rebuilt the studio control panel, incorporating into it the first automatic gain control to be installed in any Canadian radio station. He later obtained his Doctor's Degree at Ohio State University, Columbus, where he still is an instructor.

In 1937 students of the University formed a short-wave club and installed in the basement of this building a short-wave radio transmitter bearing the call letters VE4AJS. This station worked with a similar short-wave station at the University of Saskatchewan and on the occasion of inter-Varsity games transmitted the progress of the play. Students from Calgary often used the short-wave station here to send messages home of the "Hello Mom" type. This equipment was dismantled at the start of the present war and is now part of the "museum" of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Also to be seen are parts of previous CKUA transmitters and control panels and old Government Telephone Switchboards. Since 1939, the Department has given short courses in elementary radio training to 1200 airforce and naval personnel. Each course was of 16 weeks and included preparation for advanced training in radio detection devices and for electrical artificer.

Of the Department of Extension a lengthy story might be written. Located in a building quite inadequate for its many and varied activities, this Department which "takes the University to the people" has done so to a degree that few Canadian universities have equalled. Soon after the Department of Extension took over the south half of the building, it was found necessary to complete the upper part by laying a floor over the "well" of which the main part of the building then consisted. A similar floor was later installed in the Electrical Engineering Department. Occupying the upper floor are the radio studios and the Division of Visual Instruction. The side rooms of the lower floor house the general offices of the Extension Department. The main floor was formerly occupied by the Extension Library. The versatility of this building could not quite reach to the exigencies of a library, so the library was moved first to the Normal School and then to the Edmonton Court House where it now is. The space formerly occupied by the library was taken over by the Department of Electrical Engineering in a much needed expansion. Reference has been made to A. E. Ottewell, first Director of the Department of Extension and University Registrar since 1928. Assisting Mr. Ottewell in the Department were D. E. Cameron, who became Librarian of the University, and E. A. Corbett, now Director of the Canadian Association for Adult Education. All three saw service overseas in the Khaki University of the first World War. Some of the activities sponsored by the Department of Extension are the Banff School of Fine Arts and University Week for farm young people, the latter carried on annually without a break since 1919. One of those who attended this event early in its history was Donald Cameron, M.Sc. '35, who afterwards enrolled in a regular University course, graduated, and joined the staff of the Department of Extension as lecturer. He is the present Director of the Department and has as his assistant, Frank Peers B.A. '36, B. Ed. '43.

Among other uses to which this building has been put are the rifle range of the COTC, which used the north half of the basement for target practice up to two years ago, an Animal Science laboratory which has recently been opened in the south end of the basement, and a new project now being undertaken by the Department of Mathematics at the request of the National Research Council.

High honours have come to the building. Two of its former tenants mentioned herein were included in the King's Birthday Honours list of 1943, Dr.J. B. Collip receiving the C.B.E. and Dr. H.J. MacLeod the O.B.E. Many who worked here have gone far in their chosen fields. The record of the building is one of achievement. Many Departments share it today, and it is safe to say that it will go on into the future, as it has in the past, bringing success and honour to those who work here and to the University of which this building forms such a humble part.

Published July 1945.

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