This campus has a unique story to tell. The building was originally used to produce radar equipment for NATO in the 1950s. However, the building was adapted to what we now know as Centennial College, but pieces of its history can still be seen today. Top: Warden Woods in 1976. Bottom: Warden Woods in 2004.
By Aldis Brennan – Feature Editor
On October 17, 1966 the Warden Woods campus of Centennial College opened its doors for the first time, becoming Ontario’s first community college.
But, it wasn’t quite ready to be a place of learning.
According to Hugh Innis, the Dean of Faculty at the time, in the book Centennial College: The Early Years construction was still taking place while students and faculty settled in.
“I had to hire 28 faculty members in four days, after interviewing about 200 applicants. Two-by-fours were passing over my head when I was interviewing,” Innis said. “They literally built the place around us while classes were going on.”
All the hubbub of last minute construction was due to the fact that the building wasn’t exactly set up to be a school.
In 1952 a company called Canadian Arsenals Limited was casting about for a location to house their instrument radar division. It settled on the unused plot of land at 651 Warden Ave. The plant quickly began producing radar equipment for NATO and later camera lenses for the CBC.
Even years after the establishment of Centennial College the skeleton of the old building could still be seen on occasion. Dana Gour, now the Manager for Alumni Engagement at the college, was a student at Warden Woods until 1985.
She remembered the gymnasium being particularly strange.
“The most interesting piece of the campus was probably the gymnasium,” Gour said.
“We called it ‘the bowling alley’ because it was just a long narrow space. No seating or anything.”
It is likely that the gym appeared in this unusually oblong form because it was originally the shipping and receiving dock for the factory.
There were a number of other quirky features to the campus such as colour coded seating pods with different programs laying claim to their own shade of furniture. And tales of a secret underground tunnel to the nearby Becker’s milk factory.
But despite all the oddities, what made the building feel like a college was the sense of community.
“It was really a community type of atmosphere, Gour said. “Everybody knew everybody.”
Mathieu Yuill who began working at the campus as the publications editor for the student association agrees.
“The community was quite tight. Even now when I see people that I worked with at Warden Woods, say at Centennial Day, there are big smiles and handshakes,” Yuill said.
“It felt a lot like a college even though it didn’t look like it.”
It served a need in the community that was beginning to recognize the need for service-based skills such as technology, early childhood education, business and many others.
While the campus at Warden Woods was only intended as a temporary facility it managed to operate as a house of learning for 38 years before it finally succumbed to old age.
But, the closing of the outdated Warden Woods campus allowed the college to create the new Centennial HP Science and Technology Centre, known as Morningside campus.
What became of that old building on Warden Avenue?
Well, like so many places these days, it is now home to townhouses and condominiums.