Sandford Fleming Building

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Sandford Fleming Building
Sandford Fleming Building
Location 10 King's College Rd
Year Constructed 1907
Building Code SF
Architects Darling & Pearson
Major Offices/Labs
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Engineering Society Office
Engineering Communications Centre
Engineering Stores
Hard Hat Cafe

The Sandford Fleming Building, located on 10 King's College Road, was built in 1907 (originally for the physics department) and designed by architects Darling & Pearson. It is named after Sir Sandford Fleming, the chief engineer of the Intercolonial Railway of Canada, the chief engineer on Canadian Pacific Railways surveys, and is famous for helping to establish a standardized twenty-four-hour system of international time zones.

The building is the hub of engineering student activity as the home of the Engineering Society office, Engineering Stores, the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad room, the Hard Hat Cafe, the Engineering and Computer Science Library, and "The Pit", a central student common space for events and gatherings.

In 1977, the building was largely destroyed by a massive fire, leaving only the exterior structure intact. The interior was reconstructed based on the original design by Page and Steele architects.

Structure and Architecture[edit | edit source]

The Sandford Fleming Building is designed in the neoclassical Beaux-Arts style, typical of many early twentieth-century buildings particularly in North America. The original design had the building as a U-shape (with the open portion of the "U" facing west as a courtyard fully open to the street before the adjoining Galbraith Building was constructed in that space). Following the Fire of 1977, the western portion of the building was filled in to create a student commons area (now known as "The Pit" or the "SF Atrium").

The most distinctive feature from the exterior is the eastern facade, with its semi-circular protrusion (now hosting the classroom SF1105 and in its upper portion, a part of the Engineering and Computer Science Library). Originally, both floors were part of a large lecture hall and the three grand doors at the exterior were used for access.

History[edit | edit source]

The Sandford Fleming Building was originally known as the physics building, housing most of the Department of Physics until the construction of McLennan Physical Laboratories in 1967. The physics department was itself sharing facilities at University College in what is now the Croft Chapter House and several rooms in the cloisters, but the space was insufficient for the department by the turn of the century. To fund a new building, in early 1904, the University of Toronto Alumni Association lobbied Ontario Premier, George William Ross, for funding. A meeting was held in March 1904 and backed by a student petition with 1,400 signatures. In the midst of the 1904 Ontario election campaign, Ross' Liberal government announced $180,000 to pay for the new physics building.[1]

The physics building was designed by Darling & Pearson architects, and built as part of a cluster of construction that took place from 1905 to 1908, including the construction of Convocation Hall in 1906 and the dismantling of the observatory (now the UTSU Building) in 1908 to permit the northern extension of King's College Road.[2] Completion of the building was costlier than anticipated.[1]

The building formally opened on September 27, 1907, the day after the inauguration of new University of Toronto President, Robert Falconer. The opening was attended by university dignitaries and included a lecture by John McLennan, head of the physics department, on how the building would be used.[1]

Although the physics department shared some personnel and equipment in the early days of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, the two were separately managed and engineering students only had limited classes with physics professors. Engineering did not generally make use of space in the physics building until the 1960s. In 1960, the Galbraith Building was built on the west side of the old physics building, with an adjoining wall and interconnected hallways. By the mid-1960s, the physics department had moved out to the newly constructed McLennan Physical Laboratories, leaving the building, now renamed the Sandford Fleming Building, to the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the same time that the old School of Practical Science building was being torn down.

The Sandford Fleming Building Fire of 1977[edit | edit source]

An exterior view of the Sandford Fleming Building.
The Sandford Fleming building underwent a major four-year reconstruction.
The fire destroyed almost all of the building's interior.
Almost 50,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, and faculty and graduate offices were lost.
Classes were relocated to nearby buildings during the reconstruction.

It is difficult to imagine the Sandford Fleming building, the heart of engineering student life at the University of Toronto, engulfed in flames. That is the sight that students and faculty members were faced with in the early morning of February 11, 1977. The fire, which began in the east corner lecture room (approximately where room SF1101 presently stands), spread for eight hours before being contained, destroying virtually everything but the building’s shell.

One individual who formerly worked in the Sandford Fleming Building during this time period recounted the story as follows:

They were never certain about how the fire started. The two theories were "electrical wiring fault", and "homeless guy smoking in the building". Both are plausible, since the wiring still had remnants from when the building was built (1920s?), and since it was open 24/7, there were sometimes crusty old guys who would hole up in in the (unfinished and mostly empty) basement. Once in a while you'd see the campus cops kicking some guy out, but mostly they weren't bothered if they didn't make trouble.

They do know where it started - in the square section on the north-east corner (see the very first picture), which was a lecture room with steeply tiered seats, and lots of paper and who knows what gunk piled up under them over the years. It went up from there, and then across in the attic (destroying the lifetime archives of one Prof. Jones, along with the Eng Sci chariot (from the chariot races), and over to above that semi-circular lecture hall. The building had what they call mill flooring, i.e. heavy timbers without gaps, which is very hard to set alight, but once flames got up towards the attic, there was more exposed thinner wood, and burning stuff started to crash down to the lower floors. It's remarkable that my office had smoke and water damage, but no flames or real heat ever got in, even though the fire moved directly over it to get to the big lecture hall. In that first picture you can see all the windows but mine lit up by the flames.

It was weird, because I and various people left fairly late the night before, and then at 4am I got a call from a colleague who for some reason woke up in the night, couldn't get back to sleep, turned on the radio, and heard about this major fire at UofT. By the time I got down there on the Yonge night bus it was pretty much out, and people who had been there at the time had moved critical backup tapes and such out of the building. We spent the next week in exile, partly running computer stuff at an IBM site in Don Mills, and then in the Engineering Annex building across the lane from Sandford Fleming. They rebuilt SF in phases over the next several years. I still have some books that were in my office that have a faint smoky smell.

Nobody was injured in the blaze, but almost 50,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, and faculty and graduate offices were lost. Emergency crews were able to save much of the computer centre in the South wing and brought most of the library books to safety, but several documents were unrecoverable. The Faculty suffered a significant loss of valuable research and archives. Among the losses were faculty and graduate research, as well as the Faculty Historical Collection.

The Aftermath[edit | edit source]

In the midst of ongoing relief efforts, classes continued for students in order to avoid a disruption to schedules, but were diverted to other buildings immediately. The following week was the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Reading Week, so classes were relocated to their nearby buildings. The University was later able to obtain a four-year lease of the Toronto Reference Library (the building that is now the Koffler Centre on St. George Street) to hold classes while the Sandford Fleming building was rebuilt.

Reconstruction[edit | edit source]

Following the fire, the Sandford Fleming building underwent a major reconstruction from February 1977 to June 1982, rebuilding on the same foundations and walls of the original site (the original structure was largely intact although the interior was destroyed).

The renovated Sandford Fleming building opened in June 1982. Several improvements were made including new facilities for the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments, a new structures laboratory for Civil Engineering, and a much improved Faculty Library.

In the end, the building received a much-needed revitalization of its facilities. Originally built in 1907 and known as the Physics Building until 1967 when Engineering took occupancy, it was an outdated building in desperate need of a facelift. It is for this reason that Dean Etkin saw the benefit of a new facility and optimistically regarded the incident as a “blessing in disguise.”

June 2012 marked the thirtieth anniversary of its reopening. Thirty years after its reopening, the Sandford Fleming building is the hub of engineering student life. Its basement is home to the “atrium”, where you can find engineering students working, eating, lining up to buy school supplies, or socializing. It is also the centre for most events during F!rosh Week and Godiva Week, as well as the construction site of many mysterious and unexpected pranks. Several student-run operations including Suds, the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad, the Hard Hat Café, Engineering Stores, and the Engineering Society can also be found here. Located on the second floor is the Engineering Library, and some of the Faculty’s largest computer labs are located on the first floor. These spaces are constantly buzzing with students throughout the school year.

Despite the devastation that struck our Faculty over thirty years ago, the new building that emerged boasted several improvements. The Sandford Fleming building has evolved into the centre of engineering student life, and will continue to foster engineering culture into the future.

Original contributions by Stephanie Fata, Archivist 1T2-1T3

The Wreck of Sir Sandford Fleming[edit | edit source]

An original poem, unattributed author, published in the Book of Skule 8T0

The legend lives on from King’s College on down,
Of the briquette they call Sandford Fleming.
The place, it is said, became one of the dead,
When Room 126 was a’flaming.
With computers in store, several thousand times more
Students’ names and their marks could be kept there.
The maintenance crew was a bone to be chewed,
For not once had a janitor swept there.

The place was a sty, and the home of Eng Sci,
Which somehow avoided fire checks.
As old buildings go, it was older than most,
It was older than even the Annex.
In spite of cold spells, it was hotter than Hell,
Though the temperature soon would get higher.
And later that night, when the fire bells rang out,
Could it be that the place was on fire?

The smoke and the flames made a tattletale sign,
As the cruel wind gave fuel to the tinder.
And everyone knew that an Update was due,
And Sir Sandford would soon be a cinder.
But the warnings came late, and this sealed the fate
Of the biggest of all Eng Sci smokers.
The firemen they came and they preyed for some rain,
They thought it the work of some jokers...

When two o’clock came, many men were on hand,
In an effort to save all the tape reels.
By 3:30 A.M. the whole roof had caved in,
And eight men were hurt in the ordeal.
Then Galbraith wired in, she had water coming in
And the basement was practically swimming,
And later that day, all anybody would say,
‘See the wreck of the Sir Sandford Fleming?’

Does anyone know where the love of God goes,
When the flames turn the these to powder?
The fireman say it would still have decayed
In five years if the flames hadn’t got her.
Well, it might have decayed if it hand’t burned down,
But it surely did take on some water.
And all that remained was the sign with the name,
And even that was starting to totter.

The damages rise, while Sir Sandford dies,
And the EUT goes underwater.
Oh, estimates soar, ten million and more,
The 370 just missed being solder.
But classes did go, as the engineers know,
As if the blaze never had started.
And the people did stare at the shell standing there,
Remains of an era departed.

In old Simcoe Hall, in the Council they said,
‘We’ll just start to rebuild another.
If something remains, an it can be reclaimed,
It will carry the name of its father.’
The legend lives on form King’s College on down,
Of the briquette they called Sandofrd Fleming.
The place, it was said, became one of the dead
When Room 126 was a ‘flaming.

The Atrium Renovation Projects[edit | edit source]

The Sandford Fleming Atrium, or "The Pit", as it is affectionately known, has been the hub of Skule™ life for as long as the building has existed. Over the years, it has been subject to criticisms due to the design and size of the space, particularly as the student population began to outgrow the original specifications.

Many proposals have been made regarding the upgrade and renovation of The Pit. Around 2006, an official "Atrium Renovation Project" was founded by students and alumni, with the student organization leading the fundraising efforts through alumni donations and a student levy. An extensive re-design was proposed with the assistance of architects retained by the Engineering Society, which was to include notable features such as a staircase to the first floor, booth-style seating, fibre-optic lighting, and a green wall. However, work on this project soon stalled as the projected costs ballooned. The students and alumni were unable or unwilling to raise the required funds, and the project was abandoned by 2009.

In 2010, a less ambitious but fully funded project was completed over the summer term, which involved mainly the replacement and re-arrangement of seating and tables, the ceiling tiles and lighting, and concurrent renovations to the cafe area to accommodate new tenants.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 M.L. Friedland, The University of Toronto: A History, 1st ed (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), pp. 196-7, 224.
  2. L.W. Richards, The Campus Guide: University of Toronto (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009).
  • R. White, The Skule Story: the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, 1873-2000, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001, p. 235-237.
  • B. Levine, A Century of Skill and Vigour, Toronto: Barry G. Levine, 1985, p. 66-71.
  • R. Brown, " The Life of Sir John Cunningham McLennan, Ph.D., F.R.S., O.B.E., K.B.E., 1867-1935,"  Physics in Canada, Vol. 56, no. 2, , March/April 2000.