On the north side of campus near the PAC is a small house packed with history. For nearly a century, it has sat on High Street. Since 1979, this little-known building has been home to university presidents, hosted Canadian dignitaries and now houses the international studies department.
This building is known as Canada House.
But the history of the location and the house itself begins long before 1979, when Western was still in its infancy.
According to Whatcom county address books circa 1912, Canada House was originally constructed in that year. But the 1997 Draft Comprehensive Campus Master Plan, which contains information on every building on Western’s campus, lists the year of construction as 1920.
Originally, the building served as the grand new home for Bellingham entrepreneur Henry Schupp (pronounced “Shoop”).
Schupp was a businessman in Bellingham around the turn of the century. Born in Germany in 1868, Schupp immigrated to the Ohio area when he was 14-years-old. Growing up near Cincinnati exposed Schupp to the world of hotel management. He quickly made a name for himself before heading out west to Montana and eventually settling in Bellingham in 1902. While in the Cincinnati area, Schupp met and married a young silver heiress named Katherine Sengenberger in 1888.
Using the wealth he had accumulated prior to moving to Bellingham, Schupp met another foreign-born businessman named Leopold F. Schmidt. In 1902, the duo invested in the Bellingham Brewery. Next, the two men set out to create a thriving hotel industry in Bellingham.
On May 25, 1913, Schmidt and Schupp opened the Hotel Leopold, an elegant resort formerly located along the 1200 block of Cornwall Avenue. In 1912, just prior to the opening of Hotel Leopold, construction finished on a beautiful new home located at 6 Garden Terrace, the modern day High Street. The two-story, three-bedroom home had a parlor and fireplace room downstairs as well as a deck upstairs that looked out over Bellingham Bay.
Former Director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies Bob Monahan said that rumor has it that after construction had finished the house was intentionally left unoccupied for several months so that the building could “season” and be admired, a common practice during this time.
In 1936, Henry Schupp passed away in his house from a heart attack. The house remained in the possession of Henry Schupp’s widow Katherine and their three adopted children. Katherine Schupp lived in the house in the 1940s and the house remained in the family’s care until she passed away.
But the history of the Schupp house was far from over. A copy of the Western board of trustees minutes indicates that in April 1951 the property was put up for sale. Western did not immediately purchase the property, but in an odd series of coincidences, the house was purchased in January 1959 by Western for $20,000 to be used a residence for incoming President James Jarret.
In the 1950s, Western was in the primary stages of planning to construct a Student Union building along High Street. Normal Avenue, a now paved over road that cut through Western’s campus starting at the modern turnpike on High Street and running to the current location of Buchanan Towers, was slowly being phased out as new roads were being approved to be paved. Eventually in 1955 the road was gone completely.
When it was discovered that the Schupp house would not need to be removed in order to make way for the Student Union building (now known as the Viking Union), the board of trustees began to look for different uses for the house.
The board of trustees decided to let new president James Jarrett, who was taking the place of retiring president William Haggard, move into the Schupp house. Jarrett agreed and the house was remodeled to include an extra room on the first floor, where meetings and seminars are held today.
The Schupp house served as a home for two more presidents until 1975 when Paul Olscamp became president.
Olscamp broke with tradition by choosing not to live in the Schupp House, and the building functioned as extra space for the programs now housed in the Performing Arts Center. This lasted for a few years before the building was finally assigned as Canada House. Olscamp, who had studied in Canada prior to his tenure at Western, recognized the necessity for a program that could serve the best interests of both nations.
“Olscamp believed in a Canadian-American studies program and he thought it belonged here,” Monahan said. “This created ill feelings in certain circles on campus because they felt they had a legitimate claim to the building.”
On Feb. 9, 1979, in front of a crowd of more than 225 people, Olscamp officially dedicated the “Canada House,” making it the headquarters for Western’s Canadian-American studies program. Among those in attendance was a widely known Geographer from the University of British Colombia, a US congressman and the Consul General of Canada, who presented Canada House with three paintings on behalf of the Canadian government. The paintings currently hang in the upstairs office.
Current Director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies Don Alper came to work for the Interdisciplinary Canadian-Studies Program to help educate Americans on the history and culture of Canada. As a student studying political science in Canada, he saw many discrepancies when it came to American knowledge of the bordering country.
“I was appalled at Americans with respect to Canada,” Alper said. “We largely ignore our neighbors to the north and they’re the best friends we’ve got in the world right now. People didn’t have knowledge of Canada, even here in Bellingham.”
Monahan helped kick-start the Canadian-American studies because he also wanted to teach Americans about Canada.
“It’s almost like a missionary zeal to dispel the darkness and get some knowledge of the country out in front of people.”
Canada House is far from the twilight of its construction. More recently, Canada House was used as a meeting point for Canadian officials visiting Washington. Prior to the current NEXUS pass, which can is a pass on driver licenses that allows drivers to freely cross the border, a precursor to the program was discussed in Canada House. Alper said that there are plans in the future to host more Canadian-themed events.
“We’re looking to possibly renovate [Canada House] and turn it into a combination of an academic center and a seminar center for major Canadian-American events,” Alper said.
Whatever the future may hold for Canada House, one cannot deny the deep past that sits within the wood frame. The house on High Street has seen a lot of history since 1912.