MUN's once-bustling courtyard garden is now overgrown and lonely — but not forgotten

MUN's once-bustling courtyard garden is now overgrown and lonely — but not forgotten

The thousands of students, faculty and staff who have been through Memorial University since 2000 may have noticed and wondered about a locked-down, lonely courtyard in the middle of the campus's chemistry and physics building. 

Many have walked through the corridors that surround the garden and sat in classrooms that overlook the campus time capsule.

But not many have had the opportunity to go into the garden, officially closed since a change in fire regulations nearly 20 years ago. 

The building around the garden was originally constructed in 1968. At the time the garden was surrounded on three sides, not four as it is today. 

Now it sits overgrown, with shrubs and grass reclaiming the rotting park benches, broken light poles and bricks that were once a walkway dotted with fresh flowers and busy students seeking refuge from the strong winds of St. John's.  

Ted Blades/CBC

CBC Radio's On The Go was granted a few short moments of access recently. Former MUN student Hans Rollmann was along for the walk down memory lane as one of the lucky who remember the courtyard for what it once was. 

"I used to love coming here. It was usually a bit warmer as well because you didn't get the icy winds buffeting you like you do everywhere else on campus. It was a nice spot to sit on the grass, lie on the benches, chat with your fellow students," Rollmann said.  

"There's a computer lab now on the other side. It used to be a cafeteria. People would love to get some food and sit outside."

Years after Rollmann's undergraduate studies, when he was working on campus on a particularly warm and bright spring afternoon, he thought it would be a good idea to spend his lunch hour in the courtyard.

But the door was locked. Rollmann said he spent the rest of his lunch break trying to find another way in — to no avail.

He called campus security and was hit with the news that the garden was no more. 

"I was outraged. I was so upset. There's so few really nice green spaces to go to on campus and it just didn't make any sense. There's so many other rooms on campus that are rooms within rooms within mazes of rooms, I can't see how this is a serious fire hazard," he said. 

"It's a real shame that you have such a beautiful spot here. You can tell that the entire building was kind of built around it. It was clearly designed to be used."

Inspiration

New classrooms added the building just ahead of 2000 revealed a building code deficiency, according to Keith Bowden, MUN's facilities manager.

The courtyard was left with just one entrance and exit, which is through the building itself. The fire code requires at least two exits, he said.

Memorial University Archives/Submitted

The original building was also the inspiration for the name of the campus bar.

As it originally stood, with only three sides in a horseshoe shape, it created a breezeway.

The student union would hold barbecues and student events in that breezeway, and when the structure later changed shape, the name went with the bar to the Thompson Student Centre and then to its current location on the bottom floor of MUN's Smallwood Centre. 

MUN's 1968 yearbook, Cap and Gown.

But what was once lost could now be reclaimed. Bowden said the garden could be reopened once construction of Memorial's new science building is finished and the chemistry department moves into its new facility .

"We reserved an office that we can punch the second exit back in and hopefully open it back up," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador