On January 9, 1976, an unusual parade of about 150 Innis College students and faculty headed north on St. George Street accompanied by the U of T Engineering Society’s Lady Godiva Memorial Band. There were no floats or costumes, but plenty of desks, chairs and bookshelves held aloft by the participants on their way to the official opening of Innis’s new quarters.
“They were in a festive mood as they carted furniture from their old home at 63 St. George Street to the new, but very empty, college building at 2 Sussex Avenue where the college sits now,” says Professor Peter Russell, Innis principal at the time. The motley items they transported were left behind by the movers. In his Principal’s Report that year, Russell wrote about the “strange band of characters jostling their way up St. George Street with beat-up blackboards and battered chairs.”
Founded in 1964, Innis College’s first location was on Hart House Circle. The move to 63 St. George in 1968 was meant to be brief, but plans for a twin-tower eight-storey building were quashed due to government funding cutbacks. When Russell became principal, he made his acceptance contingent on a promise of university funding for a permanent home for the college.
The procession on that cold January day ended with a ceremony where Russell and Pauline McGibbon, who was lieutenant-governor of Ontario and a former U of T chancellor, cut knotted shoelaces, not a ribbon. Both the march and the “shoestring” symbolized the building’s tight budget and reminded attendees of the Innis Kitchen Sink Fund, created with the aim of raising $50,000 from Innis alumni, students and staff to furnish the building. “Staff and students were showing the resourcefulness and independence – as well as the sense of humour – that had come to be marks of a community built in limited material circumstances,” says Russell.