Step by step, iconic 'Leon the Frog' stairwell poem at U of C to be restored

For decades there's been a handwritten poem on the stairs of the U of C's Social Sciences Building. To read the entire thing, you had to walk up 13 flights. But just as mysteriously as it appeared, the poem recently disappeared.

No one knows how the words came to be written on 13 flights of stairs

The story of Leon the Frog is written on the stairs of the Social Sciences building at the University of Calgary. (Riley Brandt)

No one knows how it got there, but since the 1970s there was a handwritten poem on the stairs of the University of Calgary's Social Sciences Building.

It started with the words "Up hop up hop up," followed by another line on the next stair.

To read the entire thing, you had to walk up 13 flights.

But just as suddenly as it appeared, it recently disappeared — painted over in error as part of an attempt to crack down on graffiti on campus.

That didn't sit well with some members of the campus community and plans are now underway to restore the poem, known as "Leon the Frog."

Restoration planned

Ian Kinney is part of that effort.

As a former U of C student, he restored portions of the poem once before — about 10 years ago — but the recent elimination of the entire poem is a first. 

"When I first learned of [the removal], I was shocked," Kinney told the Calgary Eyeopener. "I didn't know anyone could remove 'Leon the Frog' without recognizing just what this poem was."

As soon as the poem was erased, university students and faculty started figuring out a way to bring it back.

"The faculty of arts immediately recognized what had happened when it had happened and they were very apologetic," said Kinney. 

He's rounding up volunteers to participate in the restoration event on April 13.

"The tale of 'Leon the Frog' is a charming staple of the University of Calgary's history and it's been dear to social sciences, humanities, communications and fine arts students for decades," Richard Sigurdson, dean of the faculty of arts, said in a statement. "It's important to the faculty of arts that this work of public art be restored."

Original author a mystery

'Leon the Frog' has been touched up multiple times in the past, with students taking markers to the stairwell to rewrite the words — and sometimes add their own.

That makes it difficult to credit an original creator, Kinney said.

"I don't think that there really is a first poet," he said. "This is something that we continue to collaborate on."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener