The university first offered residential accommodation to its students in 1844 when university officials, anxious to save students from the expenses of local boardinghouses and the temptations of city life, set up their own boarding house in the university's buildings at 203-205 William Street.
This closed, however, when the university moved to Summerhill in 1854 and students were left once again to find their own accommodation, usually in private boardinghouses near campus. For male students, that situation remained unchanged for more than 100 years.
There were, however, residences for women much earlier, thanks mainly to volunteer members of the Alumnae Association, the association of female Queen's graduates.
Concerned to provide suitable, strictly supervised accommodation for women living away from home for the first time, in 1900, the association began to rent a series of houses near campus as residences for women students: first at 66 William Street, then, after 1902, at 174 Earl Street (the "Hencoop"), supplemented after 1917 by "The Avonmore" at 207 William Street.
The longer-term ambition of the alumnae, however, was to build a permanent residence for women on campus, and this they succeeded in doing in 1925, when Ban Righ Hall was opened, providing accommodation for 60 women.
Ban Righ was partly funded by the Board of Trustees but almost entirely planned and mostly funded by the alumnae, who raised the money through bit-by-bit fundraising over 14 years, involving dozens of teas, bake sales, bridge parties, and small donations.
In exchange for their efforts, the alumnae demanded and won a role in the management of the new residence, and association volunteers largely ran Ban Righ, its "annexes" in nearby houses, and the later women's residences until the early 1970s. (See Dean of Women)
Meanwhile, a shortage of boardinghouse space in Kingston, the result of a war boom and then a post-war boom, finally convinced university officials to build residences for men as well.
Principal William Mackintosh also saw an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that most students came from outside Kingston and to give Queen's a unique niche in Canada as a residential university.
McNeill House opened in 1955, followed by Morris Hall in 1958, Leonard Hall in 1959, the Graduate Residence in 1962, Gordon-Brockington House in 1964, and Harkness Hall (originally intended for upper-year and graduate men) in 1969.
These were run by a special subcommittee of the Board of Trustees until the early 1970s; then the university's central offices took over the management of all residences, and a Director of Residences administered the men's residences while the Dean of Women administered the women's residences.
More, special-purpose residences were built during the late 1960s and 1970s: An Clachan, providing full apartments (1970); Elrond College (now Princess Towers), a cooperative residence no longer owned by the university (1972); John Orr Tower on west campus, another apartment building (1973); and Jean Royce Hall, also on west campus (1974).
The university also acquired a house at 152 Lower Albert Street in the late 1970s for use as a small additional women's residence and bought Waldron Tower from Kingston General Hospital in 1988 for use as a co-ed undergraduate residence.
Leggett Hall, located at Stuart Street and St. Lawrence Avenue, opened in September 2003 and was the first major residence construction project at Queen's in more than 25 years. The residence is named in honour of former Principal William C. Leggett. Watts Hall, located on lower Albert Street and named in honour of Principal Emeritus Ronald Watts, was built at the same time.
In 1972, Morris Hall became co-ed, followed by Graduate Residence in the mid-1970s, Harkness Hall in 1987, Victoria Hall in 1988, Brockington House in 1991, and Gordon House in 1992 (Morris and McNeill became all-female in 1988). Today, most of the residences are gender-neutral, although some all-female buildings and male floors still exist.
An Clachan and John Orr Tower are no longer residences but are still owned and operated by Community Housing, which also owns a number of houses in Kingston’s downtown core.
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