Hamilton school board protecting its concrete frieze

Last week, three concrete slabs went up the mountain on a flatbed truck, keepsakes from a building that will soon be a memory.

Three eight-ton panels from old Education Centre preserved in storage

John Aikman, manager of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board archives, stands next to three panels that formed the frieze above the Education Centre entrance. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Last week, three concrete slabs went up the mountain on a flatbed truck, keepsakes from a building that will soon be a memory.

A frieze that depicts three eras of education once sat above the main entrance of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Education Centre at 100 Main St. W. Last week, it was removed and moved into storage to be incorporated into the new building.

The 46-year-old Education Centre is being demolished to make way for the new McMaster University Downtown Health Campus. The square slabs, about 4.5 metres long and wide, now sit in a storage yard at the board's Crestwood location at 50 Millwood Pl., where a new $31.6-million Education Centre will be built.

John Aikman poses with the frieze. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Saving the frieze was more intense than organizers anticipated, but it was worth it, said John Aikman, manager of the board's archives.

"These are unique to Hamilton. They are unique to the art community," Aikman said. "It's a case of transferring the old into the new and remembering."

The frieze was designed nearly 50 years ago by a local sculptor named Joseph Gause, said Joe Singer, the Hamilton architect who designed the Education Centre. Gause also did the frieze on the former downtown courthouse.

"I told him I wanted three stages of education — ancient, renaissance and modern technology," Singer said.

Concrete cast

The original frieze was done in Plasticine and took up massive space in Gause's studio, Singer said. Then he made a plastic mold and poured a concrete cast into it.

"It was quite difficult. It was a huge thing," Singer said of the frieze. But in the end, "I was pleased."

The frieze was bolted tight into the structure of the building, which the board hadn't anticipated when it started to move it, Aikman said.

"Nobody knew how they were actually attached until we took out the wall in behind it."

The three slabs also proved to be deeper and heavier than anticipated — so heavy that removing each eight-ton slab from the flatbed truck last week required a crane.


Isbister Restoration cleaned up the frieze. It also repaired a crumbling statue on the west side of the building donated by the Dutch Canadian population in 1967. The board also rescued two marble slabs from the front entrance, which the board is also storing at Crestwood.

The board plans to shrink-wrap the frieze until it's incorporated into the construction of the new building, Aikman said.

The former Education Centre building will be completely demolished by the end of November. The $85-million McMaster health centre is due to open in 2014.

The land will be divided into two pieces, with the health centre on the Main Street West side. The university will likely apply for the portion of the property facing King Street West to be zoned residential/institutional.

Board staff members have moved into three interim locations in downtown Hamilton — the Standard Life facility, the Stelco Tower and the Robert Thomson building.

Demolition of the buildings at the Crestwood location will begin in early October.