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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Photo: Michael Visser


Key Witness
Backened by fire and touched by catastrophe, it looks like something from a fairy-tale castle. But the heavy 10-inch key was never used to gain access to a king's treasures. It is one of the original keys to University College, large portions of which were destroyed by fire in 1890.

Scooped out of the ashes, it eventually found its way into the hands of Walter McLay, once a Varsity editor, who went on to a long career as dean of arts at McMaster University. He kept the key for some 30 years before donating it to the University of Toronto.

Minutes from the March 25, 1920 Board of Governors meeting state: "There was also laid before the meeting a key (probably ceremonial) believed to be that of the main doorway under the tower which was picked up at the time of the fire…. The board directed that the key remain in the Bursar's custody pending further order as to its disposal."

In 1973 the key was shipped to the university archives where it remains today.

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