The Little Red Skulehouse

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The Little Red Skulehouse, c.1904

Built in 1878, the School of Practical Science building, known colloquially as 'The Little Red Skulehouse', was the original home of the School, later merged into the University of Toronto as the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. It was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Medical Sciences Building.

History[edit | edit source]

These days, if you were to ask an engineering student where the centre of their non-academic life at the University of Toronto is, most would reply that it is the Atrium of the Sandford Fleming Building, otherwise known as The Pit. In days gone by, however, the answer would unanimously have been the red Skulehouse, which used to occupy the site that the Medical Sciences Building now occupies. If you were to talk to a student about the Skulehouse, however, many of them would likely return a quizzical look, as if they had never heard of the building. Unfortunately, the significance of the Skulehouse to the average engineering student has been lost over the years. As it currently stands, the only reference that many students will likely read or hear about the little red Skulehouse is the verse of Godiva's Hymn that refers to it.

The Skulehouse was not only the centre of the engineering social life, but also the centre of academics, the administration, and the Engineering Society. It was built in 1878, and it was at this time that the School of Practical Science (SPS) formally became part of the University (it became the “Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering” in 1906). Before this, SPS and its predecessor, the College of Technology, had been located at the corner of Church and Adelaide Streets in the thick of downtown Toronto, housed in the Mechanic’s Institute. Originally, an arrangement had been set up to allow SPS the use of University College’s library and facilities, but it proved to be too great a distance for such an arrangement. Due to this, the provincial government at the time sold the original home of SPS and went to work creating a home for SPS on the university grounds.

Skulehouse in the 1880s prior to expansion

The Skulehouse was a three-story building, designed by architect Kivas Tully, known for being the architect behind Trinity College, located on the north edge of campus. It was built in two phases: the original northern third of the building was completed in 1878. The remaining two-thirds of the Skulehouse were started in 1889, and included the tower that gave it a unique look. For 88 years the Skulehouse would be the pride and joy of the engineering Faculty. While it was formally the "Engineering Building", it was often referred to as “the little red Skulehouse”. Prior to the Second World War, it had always been spelled Schoolhouse; but afterwards, ‘Skulehouse’ was substituted into the name, around the same time that a portion of the student body began to refer to themselves as members of Skule™ (although the name would not be trademarked by the Engineering Society until 1984).

The Skulehouse played several important roles in the shaping of engineering at the University, both in the past and presently. The Engineering Society elections were held within its walls, with many yells and cheers sounding down its hallways on election night. It was also the home of the gauntlet, which an engineer had to run before they were allowed to cast their vote in the EngSoc elections. The orientation of F!rosh (or Freshman, as they were called during the Skulehouse days) also took place, with the first years entering the Skulehouse through the basement doors. And the name Toike Oike (pronounced “Toi-kee Oike”) had its humble beginnings within the walls of the building, with the reported source of the name being an Irish janitor of the Skulehouse. When a student was working in one of the labs of the Skulehouse and it came time to lockup, the janitor would tell them to “take a hike”. Thanks to his accent, however, it sounded like 'toike oike', and for that he has been immortalized in the history of Skule™. Finally, Freshman were constantly reminded of their position in SPS; they were barred from using the eastern entrance to the building!

Demolition of the Skulehouse[edit | edit source]

Demolition of the Skulehouse in January 1967

Unfortunately, the Skulehouse was unable to stand the test of time and became a victim of progress. In 1961, the Galbraith Building was opened and became the new headquarters for the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, and in 1967 the Sandford Fleming Building was acquired from Physics. Due to these two events, engineering was forced to bid farewell to the little red Skulehouse in 1966, as it was torn down to make way for the new Medical Sciences Building. Around the same time, the name Skule™ came into full use, replacing the School of Practical Science, which had been closely associated with the Skulehouse.

The Skulehouse did make one final appearance after it had been torn down, however. In 1973, Hart House held the Centennial Ball commemorating the Faculty’s centennial. It was here that the Skulehouse made its final stand, albeit as a cardboard replica that spanned an entire wall in Hart House’s Great Hall. Two pieces of the Skulehouse have been saved, however. The Galbraith Building lobby is home to both of these mementos of the past.

The first is the stone facade that is inscribed with “School of Practical Science”, which was built into the wall northern wall of the Galbraith lobby. It originally was located above the arch of the north entrance to the Skulehouse. The second piece that remains of the Skulehouse is not as obvious as the stone façade, however. It is the terra-cotta and sandstone frieze that used to be above another entrance of the Skulehouse. The intricately designed, 14-foot frieze now resides at the main entrance to the Galbraith Building, embedded into the north wall.

While the history of the Skulehouse does not stand out in the same way that the history of the Mighty Skule™ Cannon does, it is nevertheless part of the great engineering tradition. And like our other many traditions, we should not cast its role in our history to the side by forgetting the impact it had on shaping the Faculty we see before us now.

Originally written by Mike Hawkins and published in the Cannon; Volume XXIII, Issue IV
With facts provided by Barry Lavine, “A century of Skill and Vigour”; Martin Friedland, “University of Toronto: A History”; and