Nfld. & Labrador

Macpherson College: New university residence honours WWI veterans

A new 500-bed student residence at Memorial University that officially opened in St. John's Wednesday honours three prominent First World War veterans from this province.
A naming ceremony was held on the grounds of a new 500-bed student residence at Memorial University Wednesday morning. The new complex will be known as Macpherson College, while the two wings are called Cluett Hall and Shiwak Hall. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

A new 500-bed student residence at Memorial University that officially opened in St. John's Wednesday honours three prominent First World War veterans from this province.

The state-of-the-art complex is named Macpherson College, while the two wings are Cluett Hall and Shiwak Hall.

Cluny Macpherson, a medical doctor from St. John's, played an important role in the war by inventing the gas mask used by British and Newfoundland soldiers. The university campus was once the site of the Macpherson family farm.

Frances Cluett served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment during the war, and was one of Memorial's earliest alumnae.

Macpherson College is the name given to a new 500-bed residence at Memorial University's main campus in St. John's. (CBC )

John Shiwak, meanwhile, was an Inuit hunter who gained a reputation as one of the best snipers in the British forces.

Descendants of all three were in attendance for a dignified ceremony on the sprawling grounds of Macpherson College.

Ian Macpherson described the complex as an  "absolutely magnificent facility" and said his grandfather would have been "very proud" to have a building named in his memory.

Macpherson served with the military for the duration of the war, and was the "principal medical officer" for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. 

After the conflict, he carried on a successful medical practice, and passed away in November 1966.

Cluett, Shiwak had distinguished records

Cluett was born in Belleoram and trained as a teacher. With the outbreak of war, she became deeply involved with the Women's Patriotic Association, and two years later joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment, providing support to nurses at military hospitals.

She served in both England and France.

She went back in the classroom after the war, and spent the rest of her life in Belleoram. She died in 1969.

"I think she would be overwhelmed had she been able to be here today," said relative Ruby Cluett Curko.

"I think she must have been a very brave and wonderful woman to leave Belleoram and go to the scene of a war in Britain and France," she added.

John Shiwak, meanwhile, was a renowned scout and sharpshooter in the regiment. 

He died in battle in 1917 at the age of 28.

Extensive consultations

University president Gary Kachanoski said the names were selected following extensive consultations, and are fitting as the province marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

The residence is part of a $130-million investment into living space at the university, and brings the total number of student accommodations at the university to 2,000.

Also included in this investment is a $23-million, 200-room residence on Memorial's Grenfell campus in Corner Brook.

Premier Paul Davis said the complex is symbolic of the provincial government's commitment to providing affordable post-secondary education and on-campus housing.

"More students are pursuing post-secondary education in this province than ever before," he said.

Hilary Bellows, a student in Shiwak Hall, described the residence as a home-away-from home with a "supportive, dynamic environment" in which to live and learn.

Each suite consists of two private bedrooms with a shared washroom, and each floor includes a community lounge and meeting/study space.

Some other features include study rooms, kitchen areas and storage rooms on each floor.

Construction began in September 2010, and the complex was designed by John Hearn Architect Inc.

The complex, funded by the provincial government,  features all the latest environmental and energy friendly features.


Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.