|'Reg' Lister is a part of our University's warp and woof. Every graduate whether they resided in or out of Athabasca, Assiniboia or Pembina, is familiar with this rotund and genial gentleman, the superintendent of residences, who stoutly maintains that the students today are a younger bunch and don't work as hard as the boys did in past years.'Reg' was a happy choice for our second in a series of campus personalities. When it came time to prepare 40 Years On the Campus, your editor sat and listened and took notes for an hour, then decided that the best person to write this biography in miniature would be Reg' himself.
In recognition of long, loyal, and outstanding service to the University, 'Reg' was made an Honorary member of Convocation and an Honorary Life Member of the Alumni Association in the spring of 1949.
by Reginald C. Lister
I was born on December 31st, 1891, at Hingham, a small village near Norwich, Norfolk, in England. There were nine children in the family, and in later years three of my four brothers and three of my four sisters came out to Canada. Father had a general store in town, and all of us were continually helping with something or other. My sister Mabel, the eldest girl, came out first, in 1908, after I had left school. I wrote and told her I would like to come over, although I already had a job in England, working in a grammar school at Hingham.
In 1909 I married in Canada and found work on a farm at Heather Brae, just south of Camrose. My sister was teaching near there, at the Darsbury School by Dried Meat Lake. I stayed on the farm for a year and later got a job in Ohaton for awhile. I took a trip or two to Edmonton, but never stayed.
On Coronation Day, 1911, while watching the parade in Edmonton, I saw two boys that I knew in England, who told me they were working on the U of A campus, and suggested that I come along with them. I did, and got a job with the contractor who was building houses Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 for Dr. H. M. Tory, Mr. M. Edwards, Dr. W. Kerr, and Dr. Lehmann. I worked for the contractor for a month at twenty-five cents per hour, and then got a job at thirty cents an hour with the U of A, where I did every kind of job there was to do, in the buildings or on the grounds.
Dr. Tory used to drive around every day with his team of chestnuts, tie them up almost any place in the bush, and then inspect the work that was going on. Athabasca Hall at this time had just been completed. There were still carpenters and plumbers inside doing the finishing work. The building stood by itself, surrounded by bush. There were no roads, and only a few wagon trails through the sloughs. Where the Arts Building now stands were an abandoned basement, excavated in 1908, and two old shacks. The basement was blown up in 1914 and a new one put in for the present Arts Building.
There were no students on the campus until September, 1911. I helped move equipment from the Collegiate Institute, which is now Strathcona High School, into Athabasca Hall, where I lit the first fire in the kitchen. The freshmen in 1911 were shot down a chute, well greased with soft soap, from the first floor to a horse trough filled with cold water. There were no sidewalks or lawns around the building, which housed the whole University of Alberta, labs, offices, class rooms, dining hall and residence. In the north end of the building was the Provincial Lab, headed by Dr. Revell. I worked for Dr. Revell in 1912 and 1913.
In 1911, Athabasca Hall had accommodation for 35 men and 7 women, plus the Provost, the women's dean, Mrs. Sheldon, and the male members of the faculty. The lounge served as the dining hall; and the dietician's suite the kitchen, with rooms above for the maids.
The fall of 1911 saw the construction of the Gas House, which now holds the Horticulture Dept. Since this was before the days of natural gas, the gas had to be made from coal oil, and was used in all the labs and for cooking in the kitchens until 1924. Mansfield & Sons of Liverpool, England, installed the equipment.
The basement of Assiniboia Hall was excavated in the fall, too, by about one hundred men with shovels, and a few horses and wagons. There were no bull-dozers to help out. In order to get the foundation in before Christmas, the cement had to be heated. This was done by piling the gravel over steel culverts and then burning all the bush around to heat it. By March the stonemasons were at work, cutting the stone for the building by hand. Assiniboia Hall was finished by October, some of its first occupants being Dr. Sonet, Mr. Bowers, the Librarian, Dr. Fairley, Dr. Lewis, and Dr. Sheldon. Dr. Tory's office was on the left-hand side of the front hall, and Mr. C. E. Race, the Registrar, had his on the right. In the basement were the bookstore and the extension department as well as the Post Office and the Printing Department, headed by a Mr. Peters, in the northwest corner. The Library and stack rooms were in the north end, too, along with student and staff rooms. In the south end were labs and class rooms, and in the centre, suites and offices.
I took a trip back to the old country in November, 1912, so that I could spend my twenty-first birthday at home. I arrived back in Canada at the end of March, and started work on the dining room and gymnasium in Athabasca Hall, which were finished and opened in the fall. All the oak in the ceiling of the dining room was made in the University carpenter shop, which stood just behind the Hall. Every Sunday the intercollegiate Y.M.C.A. held a church service in the gymnasium. I had to carry all the chairs from the dining hall, build a platform, and still be ready before 11 a.m. Dr. Tory used to read the lessons, and Dr. Sheldon was the church warden.
When the basement of Pembina Hall was excavated, in 1913, thousands of loads of sand were taken out, as well as the two big rocks that sit outside Athabasca Hall. The front campus wasn't levelled until 1914, so that the site of Pembina was on much higher ground than Athabasca. The building was completed in 1914, nurses occupying the south end, and the Medical school the north end. The Agriculture department's first barn was built in 1913, on the location where my residence stands today, but was torn down in 1930. The livestock at this time consisted of five dairy cows and four horses. The first dairyman was Mr. Walter Moser, who came out from Switzerland, and later married Matt Halton's sister. Mr. Thompson was the first farm manager and lived in the Gas House, now the Horticulture department.
In these early days, Athabasca Hall served many purposes. The first convocation held on this campus took place in May, 1914, in the dining hall. In the gymnasium, the Dramatic society used to hold its plays, one of which was The Rivals. The boxing matches were very popular, and were often refereed by Dr. Broadus, who on one occasion slipped and broke his arm.
From the beginning of the University of Alberta until 1920, all students as well the professors wore gowns to their lectures.
In 1914-15 there were few students in the residences. Some of the first boys to enlist joined the P.P.C.L.I. with Mr. S. Fife, who was killed overseas. The C.O.T.C. made a real hit on the campus. Everybody was out with their wooden rifles marching up and down in front of Athabasca Hall. Even Dr. Tory used to go on parade.
I left for overseas with a bunch of students in the 11th Field Ambulance, No. 530700, and returned in September, 1919, which was one of the best years at the University. On November 11, 1919, a group of the boys hauled a cannon from somewhere over town, placed it on the campus, loaded it with gunpowder, rammed it down with lots of wet newspaper and then fired it, not only once but several times. It scared everybody out of their wits and shook every window in the place. At one of the dances held for the boys, the dining room in Athabasca Hall was turned into a dug-out, with sandbags, candles and lookouts. As I happened to know most of the returned boys, we all had some good times together and told many an entertaining tale.
Most of the returned men back from World War I were older than the boys from World War II, but had lots of spirit and were very good sports. Five of them got the idea one night to move the piano from the lounge nearer to Pembina so that the girls could hear their singing. This prank cost them fifteen dollars apiece, but being such regular fellows, they paid willingly. One of the boys told me that for the one year, he paid seventy-five dollars for personal damages. Today he is one of Alberta's prominent citizens. I could tell more about the good old days but I had best not write it here. Some day I would like to write about the experiences I've had during my forty years on the campus.
Everything went well in the residences until June, 1941. In the middle of Farm Young Peoples' Week in walked the R.C.A.F. to take over. What a turmoil! The whole staff nearly went crazy. All beds were taken out, blinds removed, doors taken from the rooms, and furniture was hauled here and there and everywhere. The dining room was turned into a 'mess'. But the airmen were a good bunch of fine fellows who did very little damage to the buildings, and although we had three wet canteens, it was two years before I saw an intoxicated airman. The boys were very surprised to see me still here when they came back in 1945, the year when the buildings were turned back in the U of A Pembina and Athabasca were packed full for summer school, but Assiniboia, which was under repair, was unavailable. Since there was no dining hall ready, everybody ate in the cafeteria, which was built in 1943.
September saw the arrival of a large group of students, and in January, 1946, we had the greatest crowd ever in residence. I took a gang of men over to the American Air Base to equip the huts with double-tier beds, tables, chairs and other furnishings for the January class. But we had put double-tier beds in the residences to take care of the boys until the Air Base was ready, and once they were settled, not one consented to leave. So they stayed with us until August, 1946. The overflow was fed in Athabasca Gym, and all went well.
The students today are a younger bunch and don't work as hard as the boys did in past years. But students are still students and don't change very much. Perhaps it's me, because I don't get to know them as I did years ago, when I could have named everyone in residence and where they came from. But I truly have enjoyed every minute that I have spent with the boys over the years.
Published Winter 1952.