Hidden Histories

A few stories behind – and around – campus landmarks
Avalanche Memorial
Behind Edens Hall

The grassy, wooded hill between Old Main and High Street has been called The Knoll and the Bird Sanctuary. Originally, it was a pond bog, but was filled in with dirt from the excavation for the building of Old Main. Dirt from Edens Hall and Wilson Library may have also ended up in the Knoll, writes the late President Jerry Flora in his 1991 memoir, “Normal College Knowledge.”

The hill was dedicated as a bird sanctuary in 1921 in memory of Ida Agnes Baker, one of Western’s first faculty members. An animal lover and suffragist, Baker was killed in January 1921 when she was hit by a car near campus while walking home from a League of Women Voters meeting in a terrible rain storm.

Big Mac: Bill McDonald Parkway, the treelined thoroughfare leading to the south end of campus, was named after Western’s first vice president for Student Affairs, who retired in 1977. McDonald, commonly known as “Big Mac” for his height of nearly 7 feet, coached basketball beginning in 1945 and later became Western’s dean of men. “Local law enforcement held that it was more effective punishment to turn students over to Big Mac than to hold them in jail,” writes Flora in “Normal College Knowledge.”

Avalanche memorial: The monument to six students killed in an avalanche on Mount Baker during a climbing trip in 1939 is made up of rocks from the mountain itself. The brass plaque includes the inscription, “You will be forever climbing upward now.”

Canada House: Western acquired this 1920 home in 1959 as a house for the president. Three presidents lived here – James Jarrett, Harvey Bunke and Flora – and Western’s Faculty Club used to meet here. Today, it’s the home of the Center for Canadian-American Studies.

The layered sediment behind Edens Hall hints at Bellingham’s previous existence as a coal-mining town. Flora wrote that plant impressions could be found in this outcropping of “near coal-like material.” A real coal layer was found on campus when the ground was excavated for the construction of the bookstore in 1960.

Rhys Logan

Bill McDonald Parkway
Canada House