Dal Student Union: Some New and Some Déjà Vu

One evening last week we stepped into the Student Union Building on the Dalhousie University Campus. Sheila and I were between meetings and had a couple of minutes to sample the recent, major renovations designed by Lydon Lynch Architects.

The most obvious change was a new, double height, space that faces LeMarchant Street. It smelled slightly of the tropics and we looked up to see that a dramatic, living, green wall of plants spanned the hall.



From the outside, the green wall and the wood ceiling visually warmed up a cold night.


Poking around one of the food services areas, that had closed for the evening, we came upon a corner that brought back memories from nearly 50 years ago. A large bronze sculpture hung over a fireplace set into a wall of stone. Several smaller sculptures sat on the ledge in front of the fireplace.


I was at Dal when the SUB opened in November 1968 and it was a VERY big deal. The fireplace was the centrepiece of a large lounge known as the Green Room, because it had striking, green-coloured carpet. In front of the fireplace was a sunken “conversation pit,” a step or two below the level of the rest of the room.

This very staged photo shows the conversation pit when it was brand new. The photo appears in the 1969 Yearbook and the anonymous models actually include the yearbook editor and the president of the student council. These things don’t just happen.


The Green Room carpet has been gone for a long time. Wonder if a sample was saved? The fireplace was clearly new to fires.

Another Yearbook photo shows the Stadacona band playing in the large entrance lobby of the SUB during the opening ceremonies. Notice several of the smaller bronze sculptures now by the fireplace were originally displayed here. All these sculptures were done by well-known local artist Sarah Jackson.


The opening of the SUB was quite a celebration and went on for several days. At the formal event University President, and former Premier, Henry Hicks talks with the current Premier, G.I. Smith. A real tiger (to represent the University mascot) was also on the stage for the occasion. Those were the days.

This is what the SUB looked like when it was brand new in 1968. Out front there was a truly awful sculpture (not by Sarah Jackson) of a stick figure pushing two question marks. Thankfully it rusted away.explosion16When the SUB was built I was not fond of the architecture but I stopped to look, with older eyes, a couple of years ago. Then I could see some charm in the strong horizontal lines and the rhythm of the vertical columns, with chamfered edges ( that I had never noticed).


Another architectural joy rediscovered on our recent visit were the tiled walls on the landings of the central staircase. Nearly fifty years being used as a poster board and still looking good!



Here is a 1969 photo of Paul Mitcheltree and I sitting on the stairs with the tile  in the background. I have not aged quite as gracefully as the tile.



  • Walking out of the food area of the SUB we passed this line of new chairs lined up against a new vertical slat wood wall.DSC02540
  • Our next stop was the Public Archives, just down University Ave. There I rejoiced to see a contemporary-looking horizontal slat wood wall and sculptural furniture with concrete bases, both 37 years old. Aging well is the best revenge.


  • The conversation pit in the Green Room is the only example I can recall in Halifax but they were very much a trendy ’60s hallmark. A floor feature in The Beatles’ house at the beginning of the 1965 movie Help is actually a very nicely detailed sunken bed.

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Ringo is playing the tambourine down in the pit while John sings “Hide your love away.” In the background is an Arne Jacobsen-designed egg chair. When the SUB opened there several groupings of egg chairs just inside the front doors.

  • Are you really still reading this far down the post?  For more flavour of the early days of the SUB here is a roll of super eight movie that I shot with my friend Chuck Lapp. Most of the images are of University Avenue in front of the SUB and inside the SUB. It is even more boring than you can imagine.

We took turns using the camera (often on each other). It was the first motion picture either of us had ever taken. Chuck went on to be a real film director. I did not.



About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.