A timeworn, cream-colored house sits neatly tucked away behind Western’s Performing Arts Center with a sign that reads: “Canada House.” This quiet home is one-of-a-kind and holds behind its original doors an unknown history as rich as any building at Western.
“It looks like a little cottage. I like the look of it but I have no idea what the purpose of it is. I have always been curious about the purpose of it, but when I look at it I think it’s very cheerful,” said Kay Onorati, a theatre education and communications student who regularly walks by the house.
Located within the Canada House is the desk of the program manager for the Center for Canadian-American Studies, Chuck Hart.
The house today:
Today, the house serves as the Center for Canadian-American Studies and hosts its academic offices along with the Border Policy Research Institute, according to the center’s Twitter page.
“There is nothing else like it on campus,” Hart said. “There is a lot history in this house, a lot of Western history.”
A 20th century evolution:
The Canada House was constructed around the turn of the 20th century by businessman Henry Schupp. At the time when this was built, the only building on campus was the original Old Main, when it served as the Washington State Normal School at Bellingham, Hart said.
The house’s original purpose was to be the Schupp family’s home and didn’t belong to Western at the time. By 1913, Schupp and his business partner built the Bellingham Brewery and Hotel Leopold.
Overlooking Bellingham Bay, the home was located on 6 Garden Terrace, known as High Street today. After Schupp and his wife passed away, the house was purchased in 1959 by Western for $20,000 to be used as a residence for [the] incoming president, according to an AS Review article.
The two-story, three-bedroom house has outlived three former Western presidents starting with President James L. Jarrett, who served as Western’s president from 1959 to 1964. He was followed by President Harvey Bunke (1965-1967) and President Charles Flora (1967-1975).
In 1975, Western President Olscamp chose not to live in the Schupp house. The house’s fate went up for debate. The house was slated to become a costume shop for the College of Fine and Performing Arts until other programs sought to use it for an academic space. In 1979, Olscamp dedicated the structure as the “Canada House,” and serve as the official headquarters for the Canadian-American Studies program at Western.
From family home to research facility:
According to “A Forty Year Retrospective,” published in the Canadian-American Studies 40th Anniversary Dinner pamphlet, “several proposals were sent back and for until one administrator hit upon the idea,” and the space was given to the Canadian-American Studies program. In 1979 the Consul General of Canada and the president of Western invited the public to an event to the dedication of the Canada House.
In the past, it housed several Canadian ambassadors and other provincials, state and federal politicians as guests.
“It was like going to their grandparents house or their old aunt and uncle’s,” Hart said. “The conversations here were a bit different because it was like a home, [and it feels] like you’re off-campus.”
The Canadian-American studies program’s institutional mission is to spread knowledge of Canada in the United States. In addition, the Border Policy Research Institute “works to educate policymakers on issues related to the Canada – U.S. border,” according to their website.
Older than the campus known to Western students today, the Canada House will continue to be a part of Western’s academics and research.