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An illustration of a woman standing in front of U of T's Faculty Club
Illustration by David Sparshott

How Women Gained Entry to a U of T Haven

A professor, his wife and the Group of Seven helped seal the deal

If it weren’t for Prof. Barker Fairley and his wife, Margaret, the U of T Faculty Club might have opened its doors in July 1960 without two things: a notable art collection and female members.

“The Fairleys offered the new club several Group of Seven paintings on the condition that it welcome women,” says Leanne Pepper, the club’s general manager. Barker Fairley, a German scholar and painter, taught at University College. Before his successful offer, male and female faculty met separately at U of T: men at Hart House and women at the University Women’s Club on St. George Street.

Today, women outnumber men among the Faculty Club’s 3,000 members and the Group of Seven works are available for public viewing in the Georgian Revival building at 41 Willcocks St. Dating back to the 1880s, it was a grand family home until 1919 when a private Jewish men’s club bought it. And like many venerable old buildings, tales of the supernatural are weaved into its history: The Faculty Club’s current chef, Harold Ramos, has reported seeing ghosts – most often a woman in white. “The last sighting of her was two years ago,” says Pepper.

In its early years, the club admitted only faculty members. The annual fees ranged from $12 to $18 and the amenities included a (long gone) steam bath. Now the club is also open to staff, grad students, alumni and other U of T community members. “It’s become a haven in the city for so many people,” says Pepper. A certified etiquette coach, she’s helped hundreds of members master the finer points of decorum in her workshops.

Looking to the club’s future, Pepper dreams of having overnight accommodation for out-of-town members. In the meantime, there are plans for 60th anniversary events this summer with a 1960s theme.

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