Champlain College


The construction technique chosen by Thom and implemented by Morden Yolles was similar to that used by Eero Saarinen at Yale University: rubble aggregate and concrete were poured into forms along with reinforcing materials and grout. Face forms were then removed and the surface was reworked to expose the rubble. All rock used was local and intensified the interplay between natural and built landscapes.

Champlain's grouped buildings surround a courtyard; the play of light and shadow on the concrete surfaces allow for ever-changing perspectives. References to the cloister are unmistakable.

The inner court is warmed on one side by a wooden pergola walkway, anchored on the other side by the river, and elevated vertically by a bell tower. The medieval elements of design continue with the buttressed walls of the dining hall: a monumentally-scaled building surmounted with a roof of rolled red brass.



Excerpt from the press release announcing the architect's plans for Champlain College, dated 31 January, 1965

T.H.B. Symons, President and Vice-Chancellor of Trent University, today announced architectural plans for Champlain College, the University's first residential and teaching college on the permanent campus of the University on the northern edge of Peterborough. The plans were prepared by the University's Master Planning Architect, Mr. Ronald J. Thom, M.R.A.I.C., of the firm of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners, of Vancouver and Toronto.

The college will serve as a teaching and residential centre for more than 300 undergraduate students and 30 faculty members. It provides living accommodation for 210 students, 7 resident faculty members, and the Master of the College, and teaching rooms, a dining hall, common rooms, and a college library for the use of an expected dozen colleges, which will form the constituent units of the University.

The name of the college honours Samuel de Champlain, the great explorer, adventurer and founder of New France. It is located on the banks of the Otonabee River, overlooking the waters which Champlain himself descended 350 years ago, in the autumn of 1615, in his expedition through Huronia to the Iroquois country south of the Great Lakes.

The college will occupy a three-acre area along the edge of the Otonabee River, with its two residential quadrangles opening onto the river. The building will be constructed of masonry and concrete, using stone quarried locally, and exposed roofs will be of copper.

The residential study-rooms for students are arranged on the staircase plan, eliminating long institutional corridors. The plan provides for twelve staircases, each of which will give access to five undergraduate rooms on each floor. On the ground floor, at the bottom of each staircase, seminar rooms and faculty offices will be located.

The college is located beside the proposed central library square of the University, and one main entrance to the college will be by descending walk from the library square. Development and landscaping of the University will commence at the same time as work on the college, and will be followed after a few months by the beginning of construction of the University Library.


Peterborough, Ontario.








Champlain construction

Construction, 1966












Laying of the Cornerstone Invitation, 1965

Champlain Cornerstone














Champlain College, 1968

Champlain College

Photo credit: Parks' Peterborough






Champlain College Dining Hall (The Great Hall)

"like eating in your friendly cathedral"
Ron Thom, Time, July 18, 1969

Champlain Great Hall

Photo credit: Roy Nicholls Photographer