Macdonald-Stewart Library Building (formerly Macdonald Physics Building)
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Macdonald Physics and Workman House -- McGill Archives

The Macdonald Physics Building was constructed in 1893 by Sir Andrew Taylor, who designed several of the University's projects of the 1890's, and his partners at that time Morley Hogle and Huntley Davis. It was a gift of Sir William Macdonald, the donor of many other edifices on campus including Macdonald Engineering, Macdonald Chemistry, and the Old Student Union (now the McCord Museum). As with many of his other projects, Taylor took into account the function of the building before its ornament, though the latter was not ignored. Knowing the nature of Physics experiments and the current needs of the field, he built the entire edifice using only wood, masonry, and copper, bronze and brass for the nails and fixtures. No iron or steel was used throughout, even in the radiators, to keep magnetic interference at a minimum. The interior is of heavy brick and is constructed in large arches, many of which have since been filled in. Many labs and much apparatus were originally provided for the study of electricity, light, heat, and the elements.

This Richardsonian Romanesque structure has an irregular shape, typical of this picturesque style, with a large tower dominating the northwest corner, yet a symmetrical south facade. It is ornamented in subtle ways by carvings and mottoes placed around the exterior and interior. The portico of what was once the main entrance has two columns stating "Power" and "Knowledge", two necessities of accomplishing any work within the walls. The entrance hall fireplace has a mantelpiece declaring "Prove All Things".

In May, 1903, this motto was challenged by a young Physics professor, Ernest Rutherford. He published and won the Nobel Prize for profound discoveries derived from experiments conducted in the Macdonald Physics Building, concerning the nature of radioactivity and the atom, an event that would have awed both Macdonald and Taylor. Some of the equipment and personal effects of the famous scientist until recently resided in a museum on the top floor. These were moved to the new Ernest Rutherford Physics Building.

A fire broke out in the optics lab in December, 1924 causing $20,000 of damage; fortunately, the edifice was rescued. In 1930, a meteorology station was added to the top of the building and in 1941 a fourth floor was added. In 1982, Taylor's building no longer met the needs of the modern Physics department. It was at this point transformed into the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building of Physical Sciences and Engineering. Its sturdy structure has been well adapted to house many thousands of volumes and it is still regularly filled with physicists doing research.

Additional Pictures of the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building
Lecture hall -- McGill Archives
Old laboratory -- McGill Archives
Fireplace closeup -- McGill Archives
Macdonald Physics and Workman House -- McGill Archives
Sketch of Macdonald Physics Building -- McGill Archives
Macdonald Physics Building -- McGill Archives
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Built 1893
Architect - Sir Andrew Taylor
Donor - Sir William Macdonald
Current use - Macdonald-Stewart Library of Physical Sciences and Engineering

Construction workers
-- McGill Archives

Under construction
-- McGill Archives

Macdonald Physics Building
-- McGill Archives

Horse & sleigh (1897)
-- Notman Archive (McCord Museum)

-- McGill Archives

-- McGill Archives

Macdonald-Stewart Library Building
-- Instructional Communications Centre