Anything is possible-ness.

McGill Explorations Round 4: Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry Building

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 10:39 -- Alex
So a bunch of us who work-study-hang-out at McGill University have decided to snoop around some of the buildings as a means of learning more about this awesome and contentious and sprawling place.


Some weeks ago, Andrea, Vijay and I met up and decided to do some exploring. Initially, Andrea was telling us about this awesome place in the medical building where there is apparently a wall of hearts in phormaldehyde so we were in. We started to walk up the hill but then as we are wont to do, we changed our minds and decided to explore the mighty Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry building. And mighty it is. Mighty indeed.

According to the McGill site, the Strathcona building "was built in 1909 following a fire that gutted the Old Medical Building, this building was designed to mirror the main entrance and wings of the Royal Victoria Hospital. Its features include an ornate reading room and a stained-glass window commemorating members of the Medical Faculty who fought or died in World War I". Intereshting! But it includes so much more. Curious? How about a gazillion skeletons, chemicals, a very cold fridge and quite a few passive-agressive notes! Read on, fellow traveler.

Vijay and Andrea in front of the steps. As many buildings on McGill campus, Strathcona is full-on Hogwart, with its stoney, stately entrance. We were excited to meet some sorcerers!

So in we went, and as per the uje, we mainly went down before we went back up. Such is the way.


Security-wise, Strathcona was about a 70% in the sense that most areas where they probably didn't want us to be, were under lock and key. And so when we're looking at an intentionally covered glass door with stained wood frame, labelled "Anatomical Preparation Rooms", we can only salivate (gross) at what potential adventures lie within. Schuks.

One thing is clear in Strathcona: You are NOT allowed to drink a milkshake and eat a sandwich if you're going to be playing around with the liquid nitrogen. Again, a locked door though this time, thankfully, we were able to marvel at the sheer size of the canisters. My bet is that there's cryogenically frozen peeps in there.

Check out the attention to details! Polished white stone walls, archways and fanciful wall adornments!


In the basement, there's the inevitable THIS. Essentially a chaotic amalgamation of pipes that have fused together over the years. And a bag of trash left behind. Why was it left behind? Why was it not dumped in a proper receptacle? Whose trash was it? What happens if someone needs to turn the handle? Those are the answers we were left pondering.


And then, we saw this... Some bust of some dude put away somewhere in a basement.

It was a bust of Cameron! Why was the bust of Cameron down here? When I googled "Cameron" and "McGill", I found out about Donald Ewen Cameron, a Scottish-born psychiatrist involved with MK-ULTRA, the infamous CIA-led mind-control experiments. But that Cameron unlike the Cameron on this bust, didn't look like Errol Flynn and besides, the MK-Ultra mind-fuckery, (which under Donald Cameron played heavily with psychedelics and severely damaged several people) were carried out at the Allan Memorial Institute - NOT at the Strathcona building. So your guess is as good as mine as to who this Cameron is whose bust now sits dejectedly in the Strathcona basement.

I'd heard before about Vinh's Cafe - located in the Genome building, but I hadn't been yet. However, seeing this menu tacked up somewhere in the Strathcona basement by some Hungry Hank certainly contributed to my heading up sometime the following week. The banh-mi sandwiches are awesome!

I haven't seen too many buildings at McGill where former students (?), profs (?), buddies (?) get their own intricately ornate special plaque put up on one of the building walls and where your name is hand-painted in red. Not. Too. Many. Of. Those. Buildings. So right on to you, Stephen C. Sewell, gentleman of physiology. Right on to you. These are all over the walls, btw.

Check out the hallway. You could sock-glide down on of those mothers like nobody's business. But we didn't try. I love the slight arching at the top.

The first of the passive aggressive notes. Who goes around slamming doors? Are they really slamming them? Like all the way? To the extent that it makes the tiny instruments shake and the measurements are then all screwed up? Maybe!

At one point, our walking around in basement hallways got us into an opened-silo-like area. We were at the bottom, in a circular space where we could look up and see several floors above. And so we're looking around and we're all like - so what about this fridge, hey? And what's the thing in the lower left corner? That looks like a tiny scale or some such. Does that need to be in there?

Sometimes when you see an office door, you have to peek in and see what's up. This was such a case. Check out the microscopes!

-81 degrees! Celsius? Fahrenheit? I saw a busy-looking lady in a labcoat come out of the office with the microscopes (see photo above). She seemed busy-ish and also slightly concerned at our presence. I find that the best way to engage the locals is to be direct and friendly, so I turned to her and said hello with my best smile and she stopped to look at me and said hello but you could tell that hadn't totally worked. So I asked, "What are they storing in here that needs to be at -81 degrees?" She looks at me and says "Things that need to be stored at -81 degrees." Which is the terse scientific way of saying "fuck you", I guess. But at least she was cool-ish (ha!) about us being there, so up we went into the upper floors of the silo.

This is the first of THREE skeletons we encountered in Strathcona. Not a whole lot of info on who this is. Also, they don't have a skull cap. Also, they're in a weird closet.

Directly opposite the first skeleton, we saw the Maude Abbott Medical Museum. According to the Internet, Maude Abbott "was a Canadian physician, among Canada's earliest female medical graduates, and a world-famous expert on congenital heart disease. She was one of the first women to obtain a BA from McGill University". Her museum was locked tight, since this was Friday after hours, but thankfully, it's all glass walls so we could peak in!

One of the things they have in the Maude Abbott museum is actual preserved tumors with descriptive text on what they are and where (who!) they came from. There were like six of them, and this was the most gruesome one. When I die, I will donate my tumors to the Maude Abbott museum.

When we looked down from the balcony into the silo below, Vijay and Andrea spotted this awesome painting just hanging out there. Andrea pointed out that it is clearly a uterus battling aliens! Go uterus!


So one level up in the silo, we found an open, totally accessible area in a clear state of disrepair. But whatev, the door was open so we went in to check it out!

There was a creepy refrigerator unit.

And also creepy exposed flooring.

And a creepy busted up experiment station.

And these creepy exit signs. Vijay was riffing off of the different words you could spell with the letters in EXIT and SORTIE. Guess what, "sex" is one!


After awhile, we started to check out the classrooms in Strathcona. That was fun! Check out the multicolored chairs!

Andrea is a Goodwill Hunting kind of genius and she was able to radically expand/mind-fuck on scientific paradigms!

So this is the second skeleton we saw - advertising the Friday social. We went and had a look and peeked in through the window but it looked like a modest social affair with a dozen or so undergrads, so we chickened out of going in though in hindsight, if we had, I'm sure we would have partied all night long with some rad science folks.

Informative! This is what the inside of a body looks like!

This is another passive aggressive note. I guess people are doing their gross dishes in the water fountain and it makes a huge disgusting mess which probably totally warrants a note with some ALL CAPS and declarative statements!

At one point, we found a display case with photographs and news clipping AS WELL AS The McGill University BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE! What I wouldn't give to explore it...

On our way back to the silo, Andrea spotted this tiny crib. Why is there a tiny wooden crib in Strathcona?

You know what totally sucks about McGill? What totally sucks about McGill is that whenever you make your way up an awesome flight of stairs and end up at the roof level and you're stoked because you're thinking you'll get to go on the roof - well whenever that happens, the door's inevitably locked, and you can't go on the roof. That's what sucks. So you just look out the window instead.


Did you know that singer-songwrinter extraordinaire Paul Simon was also a total ace in Electron Microscopy? Well, now you do!

We couldn't go in to check out the polypetide lab. Locked. Darn. What's a polypedtide? According to the WWW, polypeptides are naturally occurring biological molecules!

Another one of those beautiful amalgamations of valves and pipes which Andrea describes as "engineering chandeliers"!

We found this table left alone in a hallway and had a big discussion about why there was a chunk missing from it. My guess was that it's so that you can surround yourself 180 degrees with delicious food.

Next to the clever table, we found this clever chair. So many McGill butts have sat in the chair that it now has a permanent butt indentation, rendering it the most comfortable chair we'd ever sat in, so perfectly it molded itself to our butts!

Check out Vijay's expression of pure delight as the clever chair molds his butt! Comfortable!

Andrea and Vijay hacking a formula and unknowingly discovering the key to a new universe.

This is skeleton #3! My camera did this thing where it took a fancy photo. I don't know how it did it or how to do it again though.

In the room with skeleton #3, Vijay and I decided to race wheeled chairs down the ails. It was way more slope-y than it looks on here. Guess who won? I did!

Afterwards, we heard doors opening outside our classroom and we got mildly freaked out so we quickly high-tailed it.


I saw this cute sign which I had never seen ever before. It is of a stick figure with a book lecturing three little stick figures wearing graduation hats! Congratulations graduating class of stick-figures! You've done it!


A BBQ tucked away under a flight of stairs! Awesome except that it doesn't have a canister, so good luck making those burgers.

On our way out of Strathcona, we noticed this weird window. Again, questions: Why is there a turnable valve and where's the business end of it? Why is there a weird wooden slot that looks just like a box of tissues? My guess was that this was so that you could fit a box of tissue on the other side of the slot allowing McGillians access to some soft tissues when it's winter time and they're outside having a smoke. Strathcona - so thoughtful of you!

So that was it with Strathcona. Afterwards, we were hungry so Andrea showed us the diner place where they make some good French fries. Then Vijay headed north and Andrea headed south and I booted over to the Yellow Door where we were doing some singing with mah band Best Friends.



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