Canterbury College

Learning by Design: Building Canterbury College in the City 1873-1973. An illustrated history based on the Armson Collins Architectural Drawings Collection

Student Union

A view of the Student Union building from Montreal Street.

The Canterbury College Student Union was founded in 1894, and was responsible for organizing many social and sporting activities enjoyed by students. The Union survived for the first several decades of its existence without a specific home, until finally in 1923 they proposed a student union building. The College Review of June 1926 outlines in some detail the need for a building, which would allow for social and intellectual fellowship to be part of students’ education. The Union offered a £10 prize for student design, and the 1926 issue includes the winning artist’s representation of what the Union thought they would like. “It is suggested that the most important features of such a building would include an up-to-date refectory with suitable kitchens, lounge rooms, committee room, library and writing room, cloak rooms and if possible a hall suitable for Student Association meetings, Drama Society performances and similar functions.”

The Student Union hoped for a new purpose built facility, but the Board of Governors had purchased Llanmaes House on corner of Montreal and Hereford Sts and saw an opportunity to make the most of their resources. The original house was designed by Francis William Petre (1847-1919) in 1883. Llanmaes was to be remodeled, and alterations were designed by Collins and Harman to match the mock Tudor style of the house. The Student Union opened for use in 1929. It included men’s and women’s common rooms, and a staff common room. The Rector Dr Hight spoke at the ceremony, and acknowledged that “We must never lose sight of the fact that the student comes to University partly to learn how to prepare himself for effectively sharing as a responsible adult in the world in which he lives, always as an intelligent active member in his community, his nation, and the fellowship of nations; for going on with self-government, self-understanding and self-development in his life…”

By 1946 the new building not coping with demands placed upon it. The Committee bemoaned the fact that “We have no Executive room, inadequate meeting rooms, no store-room, and our tearooms, with seating accommodation for 82, put through anything up to three hundred students for morning and afternoon teas, and in the hour-and-a-half dinner and tea hours, up to two hundred a time, which means three sittings one after another with no break for washing dishes.” By 1949 the Union was so dissatisfied that they proposed demolishing the old house and starting again. “Like the old woman who lived in a shoe, the Students Association building is having difficulty housing its offspring…” Fortunately the building was not demolished, and survived to become the well-known Dux de Lux as part of the Arts Centre.

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