Dalhousie University - Student Union Building

A gathering place for students

Opened in 1968 with a three-day celebration, the Students' Union Building or "SUB" was understood as more than just a building: it was a symbol of students' relationships to each other and to their wider community.

"Arise, ye masses, and expect a miracle. The grand opening of our building will inspire us all with a resurrecting fervor and bring purpose and direction to our lackadaisical campus." So read the Dalhousie Gazette's editorial on October 10, 1968, a month before the scheduled grand opening of the new Student Union Building. A weekend-long celebration was planned for November 6-8, 1968, and in the preceding weeks the SUB committee had launched an extensive advertising campaign that touted the new building as a hub for student action. The Gazette's editors, however, took a more cynical view, and their declarations of October 10 were made with tongues firmly in cheek. According to them, it would take a lot more than a $3.7 million "office-and-canteen building" to inspire passion and activism among Dalhousie's student body.

These debates about what the new SUB meant for Dal students have to be put into the context of the late 1960s, when university campuses across Canada were hotbeds of debate, discontent, and protest. Advertisements for the SUB opening in the Gazette ran alongside articles about students protesting the Vietnam War, reports from around the country of campus sit-ins and marches, and fiery op-eds calling for action against oppression and a commitment to social justice. In 1968, then, the new SUB was not just a building -- it was understood as symbolic of Dal students' relationships to campus, to each other, to university administrators, and to the wider world. For the Gazette editors and others, students had a responsibility to fight for social change to build a better society, and they did not put much faith in the "sterile" and "uninspiring" new SUB to spark students' passion. Others were more optimistic. "Believe it or not," one student replied in a letter to the editor, "the students of Dalhousie University are PROUD of their building."

The history of Dalhousie's SUB goes back much farther than the year when it was built. Plans for such a building originated with the purchase of the Studley campus in 1912, when a site was tentatively allotted where the University Club now stands. The first fundraising for the SUB took place from 1913 to 1915; in a single week in 1914, canvassers raised $31,000. Halted by the First World War, interest in a SUB waned as later students' priority was a gymnasium.

As Dalhousie expanded in the 1930s and 1940s students had only residence common rooms and the rundown and cramped "Atwood's Canteen" in which to congregate. (Atwood's was located in the Arts Annex/Old Men's Residence, a temporary building which stood between the Studley gymnasium and the University Club). By the 1960s, though, over half of the university's students, roughly 2000, were from Halifax, and needed somewhere to spend time between classes.

Funding remained the main hurdle to be surmounted, as the students were responsible for the bulk of it. In 1960, 82 percent of the student body turned out to vote, 90 percent being in favour of raising student fees to help pay for the SUB. Ongoing fundraising efforts by students were supplemented with significant contributions from the Board of Governors and the province of Nova Scotia. The total cost of the building was $3.7 million.

The "Grand Opening of Our Building" in November 1968 was given a mascot -- Gooob -- and marked with three days of activity that included a formal ball, several live shows, and plenty of food. Premier G.I. Smith presided over the official opening ceremony, and guests were given tours of the building that the interior designer Jack Miller had described as "alive, young, yet quality conscious." Bright carpets coordinated with the mosaic walls on the stair landings. The original "Green Room" lounge on the first floor had leather chairs and a "conversation pit" surrounding the broad fireplace, a gift from the graduating class of 1927. There were games rooms, a music room, cafeteria, conference room, clubs and societies space and student services offices. Indeed, the building appeared so well furnished that the Halifax <em>Chronicle Herald</em> insinuated that it was a bit TOO luxurious for college life.

As the years passed the SUB became less "alive" and "young," however, and renovations were necessary to keep it up-to-date and efficient. 1988 renovations included moving and improving the Grawood student bar. In 1999 the layout of the front entrance was changed to make it safer and less "ugly." Another facelift in 2002-2003 put new glass doors on the front entrance, added a food court on the ground floor, moved the Grawood again to the ground floor and expanded the bookstore in the basement.

Today the SUB continues to serve its function as a hub of student extracurricular and social activity on campus. It features the Grawood Lounge, a food court, coffee shops, a travel agency, Campus Copy, the university bookstore, campus radio station, and Career and Counselling Services.



6136 University Avenue, Halifax, Nova Scotia