In 1962, there was no structure on campus that was bigger or more prominent than a giant, white barn with big letters that read “Seal Kap Farm.” Though iconic and beautiful, it was a remnant of a time when the property was a farm and not a school.
Pretty early in, this barn caused some of the locals to think that Trinity Junior College was an agricultural school. This created something of a problem for the original board members. They knew it would be a waste to tear it down, but what role could a barn play for a school?
When classes first began in 1962, the barn was not being used. The first time it was ever officially used by the school was in October, for a Halloween event. Though the barn itself was dirty and full of spiders, mice, and manure, the loft was relatively clean and served as an ideal location for a party.
But was that all it would be good for? Certainly God would want them to use that building for something more significant than the occasional party. TJC’s first president, Calvin Hanson, was discussing the idea of using it for recreational purposes when he received an unexpected phone call from a business man and parent of one of the first students. This man shared that he had felt the Lord prompting him to call and check in. Believing this was not a coincidence, Hanson shared about the barn and the struggle to figure out what to do with it.
The result of the phone call was a donation of $2,000 to perform much-needed renovations on the barn in order to convert it into a functioning gymnasium for the students.
“Two thousand dollars went a long way in those days,” wrote Hanson in his book, On The Raw Edge of Faith. As they began to explore these renovations, they discovered that the huge hayloft could be easily converted into a basketball court. Although it wasn’t quite wide enough, the loft turned out to be regulation length!
So it was decided to go forward with the plan, and volunteers went to work on renovating the barn. The roof was patched up, basketball nets were hung on either end, the floor was leveled, and a new layer of varnished plywood was laid down. Bare bulb lights were hung from the ceiling, allowing students to play long after the sun had set. With the addition of the colorful college emblem in the center of the floor, this once neglected barn was now a functioning gymnasium and auditorium for special events. Although it was officially called “The Trinity Junior College Gymnasium” it was affectionately nicknamed “the barnasium” by all who used it.
The barnasium wasn’t perfect, of course. There was no heating, so it got quite cold and drafty in the winter (with temperatures dropping below freezing some days, often forcing classes and practices to be cancelled.) And because the basketball court wasn’t quite regulation width, TJC’s team would have to use rented gyms once they started to compete in leagues. But, as every picture of people inside the building shows, the barnasium was loved by the students and faculty. It was a place of freedom from studies, where anyone could get some exercise and find relief from the drudgery of the winter rain.
“What a sound the wind made as it whisted and screeched through those cracks in the wall! But when you were playing basketball you scarcely noticed. It was pleasant to contemplate going back to the warm dormitories for showers afterwards!” Hanson wrote of those days.
The barnasium remained in use from 1962 to 1967. However, as wonderful as it was, it wasn’t a proper gymnasium and the college was quickly outgrowing its usability. Ultimately, the decision was made to tear it down. This was difficult, as the barnasium had become a unique feature of the school and many students and alumni felt that it should be preserved. But an appraisal of the building showed that it would be too expensive to keep functional.
As sad as it was to lose this building, the impact of its legacy can still be felt today. The barnasium was more than just a building. It was a symbol that embodied the pioneer spirit that made up those early, uncertain days. Could a barn become a gym? Could a farm become a school? Could a Christian college thrive in Canada? Yes, yes, and yes, thanks to the faithful prayer, diligent effort, and sacrifices of comfort made by those who believed in God’s plan for Christian higher education.