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O'Keefe House mixes coziness of home with independent living standards

By Antoinette Mercurio

O’Keefe House, 1974

An old image of O’Keefe House from an October 18, 1974 issue of The Ryersonian. Photo credit: The Ryersonian, photograph by Olga Cyhanenko / Courtesy of Ryerson University Archives.

In the midst of all the new and renovated buildings, an old mansion stands in the centre of the campus.

O’Keefe House (OKH) was built around 1875 and is Ryerson’s oldest residence. One of three residences, it houses 33 students on three floors and features a large community kitchen, two TV lounges, a laundry room, sun deck, barbecue and garden. Eugene O’Keefe, founder of O’Keefe Brewery Company of Toronto Limited, first owned the mansion and lived there until his death in 1913.

The house switched hands many times over the years, becoming administrative space for different companies until the property was offered to former Ryerson principal Howard H. Kerr in 1963. From the late 1960s until the construction of Pitman Hall in 1991, O’Keefe was Ryerson’s only official residence.

O'Keefe House is now run by Ryerson Student Housing Services and first-year students are given priority for OKH housing. There are two Dons, designated a residence advisor and academic link, and five Ryerson Orientation Crew students who staff the house. Ryerson alumnus Ted Brock was involved in the house for more than 37 years, first as a resident and then as a staff member. His continued dedication to and care for OKH students led to the Ted Brock Memorial Award, which recognizes a student who has made outstanding contributions to O’Keefe House. Brock passed away in 2006.

Fourth-year photography student Laura Darcy has been the residence advisor for the last two years and lived in O’Keefe House since her first year at Ryerson.

“I was drawn to the small-scale, family atmosphere,” Darcy said. “It was really important to me to live somewhere that felt like home.”

Darcy is not exaggerating the family references. She says come 6 p.m. students usually make their way to the kitchen and start helping with dinner before sitting down to eat and watching television together. Darcy says it isn’t an expectation in the house, “it just happens to work out that way.”

Traditions run strong at O’Keefe House including the Wine & Cheese Semi Formal, Food Olympics, Fort Building, Tour Du O’Keefe and the end-of-year formal. The annual O’Keefe Alumni football game during Alumni Weekend continues to be a big hit and OKH participates in intramural sports such as dodgeball at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

“It’s neat how the traditions continually bound the house,” Darcy said.”The amazing characters who come into the house every year make the house what it is.”

House meetings are held every Sunday and as the residence advisor, Darcy instills some basic ethics at the beginning of each school year.

“We’re all family and will live with respect towards each other,” she said. “My first year living here was one of the most amazing years of my life. I want to ensure and help others to have the same experience.”

While O’Keefe House maintains a unique look and feel, Darcy says there isn’t a huge divide between OKH, Pitman Hall and the International Living and Learning Centre. Student Housing Services and student-staff work together to prepare students for life beyond graduation.

“Residence can positively enhance a person’s living, learning and attitude,” Darcy said. “It’s a huge goal in residence to develop life skills. Res students learn how to live without the comforts of home and how to live with others. Living in residence has totally equipped me for life in general.”

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