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Faculty Club to recognize Primrose Club on its 100th anniversary

University of Toronto Faculty Club (Wikimedia Commons/TheTrolleyPole/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Some memories stay with you a long time, particularly when they are good ones.

Merrijoy Kelner, 92, was just a young girl when she and her brother would put on their Sunday best and join their family for a weekly dinner at the Primrose Club.

She remembers the occasions well. They would dine in the club’s Wedgewood Room, an elegant venue that still exists. The entire club was a bustling place, one that her father, Louis Rose, would visit regularly as his go-to place to hobnob with his peers.

“It was beautiful,” Kelner said. “It was a big treat for us to go there. It was always very welcoming. We got dressed up for it. It was an occasion.”

Her father joined the club when it was still on Willcocks Street, not far from the University of Toronto, where it had been since 1920.

In 1959 the University of Toronto expropriated the building and the members moved to a new, more well known facility at St. Clair and Russell Hill Road.

On July 20, the current occupants of the original building, the University of Toronto Faculty Club, are planning to celebrate their 60th anniversary in the facility, while also acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the Primrose Club in that same venue.

Kelner still has vivid memories of the Primrose Club when it was on Willcocks Street. Her father “used to play cards there,” mostly gin rummy and pinochle, she said.

Her father was a member of the club for quite a long time – she can’t be sure exactly when he joined – but ended his association with it when it moved to St. Clair Street at Russell Hill Road. That was in 1960.

Prior to becoming the Primrose Club, it was known as the Cosmopolitan Society. Founded in 1907, the members of the Primrose Club hired Jewish architects Benjamin Brown and Arthur McConnell to redesign 41 Willcocks by merging it with the attached homes at 37-39 Willcocks.

The Primrose Club was intended as a gathering place for the city’s well to do Jewish businessmen, who were excluded from membership in other clubs, said Leanne Pepper, general manager of the U of T Faculty Club.

The Georgian-revival building featured a wood-panelled billiards room, lounges and a restaurant, making for a comfortable setting where newly successful members of the Jewish community could shmooze, relax and network.

The club was a popular destination for weddings and bar mitzvahs, Pepper said.

While the Willcocks Street building remains a going concern, nothing tangible remains of the Primrose Club in its more familiar midtown location. According to a City of Toronto plaque in a bus shelter at its last location on St. Clair, “In 1997, the building was demolished and replaced with a town house development.”

The U of T Faculty Club has retained a connection to its predecessor in the building. In 2009, the Faculty Club renamed one of its upstairs meeting halls, “The Primrose Room.” And like the Primrose Club before it, the Faculty Club serves as an important social centre, in its case for university faculty, administrative staff and alumni.

Pepper said it is only right that the Faculty Club’s anniversary celebrations should pay homage to the Primrose Club. She is inviting past members of the Club to participate in this summer’s celebrations.

Kelner plans to be there. In fact, in some ways, she’s never really left. As professor emeritus in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, she’s an alumni of the university and regularly attends events at the Faculty Club.

“I am carrying on the family tradition,” Kelner said. “When I am there, I’m reminded of my early days with my father.”

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