University Archives & Special CollectionsA-364. (Patrick Hayes)

Fire Destroys Engineering Building

1924-1925 was a dark year for the University of Saskatchewan, marred by death, accident, disease and fire.

Early in the session the senior professor of Physics, Alexander MacGougan, died suddenly; a series of accidents injured several employees; an epidemic of swamp fever killed 11 of the University's prize winning horses; federal funding for agriculture was cut dramatically; and the university farm experienced an almost complete crop failure.

However, the most devastating over the long term was the fire that destroyed the Engineering Building on the morning of March 13, 1925.

The fire started in the tractor laboratory about 2:30 a.m. The night watchman had inspected the laboratory at 11 p.m. and again at 1:30 a.m. but had noticed nothing.

The fire station responded swiftly to the alarm, but a combination of poor water supply and the lack of firewalls and doors sealed the building’s fate. Only the ceramics addition remained standing, owing to the fire door that was intended to protect the rest of the building from its kilns.

The building and its contents were woefully underinsured. Cost of the original construction was $296,000, with contents valued at $57,000. Insurance covered $114,000.

Higher costs of new construction brought the total loss to the university was $267,000 which effectively brought future building plans to a halt. Funds had to be transferred from the capital to the operating budget, draining money set aside for a new Arts/Library building. 

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