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Holy Family School and Canadian Martyrs School
Ottawa East educational facilities in the late 1890's were sparse to say the least. As described in the introduction, the only school in the village was SS#17 located on Centre St. (Concord) at Fifth St. (Harvey) and this was decidedly inadequate in meeting the needs of local children.
All students, no matter what their language or religion, attended the same school. This was a time in the history of Ontario education when a political battle raged over the issue of funding for language or religious-based schools. By 1900, with 105 Catholic families in the village, (55 French-Canadian and 50 Irish-Canadian) 1, the demand for separate schooling in the village reached a peak. Led by Bernard Slattery, a powerful businessman and John Hughes, a past member of the Public School Board, a process was set in motion to create a separate school system. And as usual in times such as this, the Catholic community turned to the Oblates (OMI) for support.
At the request of Thomas Duhamel, Archbishop of Ottawa, the Oblates held a meeting of interested Catholics at the Scholasticate on November 11, 1900. Using the legal provisions found in the Education Act (49V, C46, S21) and advice from the Separate School Inspector J. Rochon, a second meeting was convened on November 15, 1901 to duly elect an official body of trustees as a school board. On this date the Roman Catholic School Board of Ottawa East came into existence. It consisted of John Hughes (Chairman), J. Rochon (pro tem), Rev. G. Charlebois (OMI), J. B. St. Laurent, William Bradley, Adolphe Gervais and William Doran. This chronology of formation was recorded in hand by the Board in a "Brief Historical Sketch" which can be seen here (Page One and Page Two).
For those who have read the History Section (found here), all of these names will be familiar as these men at one point or another sought political office or worked in the village. Now officially established the group set about to find the necessary funds to build the first school in Ottawa East to provide French and English students with a Catholic education.
The first order of business was to notify the village council the Roman Catholic School Board existed. A copy of the actual letter of notification has been reproduced here. By doing this, the village was then obligated to support a separate system of education using the tax system.
On December 3 1900 the Board decided to establish a school (to be named Holy Family School) in temporary quarters in the "White House", a beautiful rustic building located just adjacent to the Scholasticate on the Oblate property. Arrangements were made with the Oblates to prepare two rooms on the second floor. Rent was $5.00/month. The Grey Nuns were enlisted as teachers for two classes, one in French, and the other in English. Arthur Michaud was employed to care for the two new stoves at 25 cents/day and 36 desks were ordered.
The arrangement with the Oblates was intended to be temporary and to last only until June 30 of 1901. That meant funding and property had to found immediately. The Board minutes indicate that various solutions were debated over the next few months until finally they decided to consult Bernard Slattery. He was an influential member of the Catholic community and paid the highest separate school taxes. He made it clear that a school had to be built immediately and that it must be "a first class one".
By April arrangement had been made with the Oblates to purchase land on Main St. across from Hazel St. at 6-cents/square foot. The property was 132 feet wide and 170 feet deep for a total cost of $1,346. The Oblates agreed to underwrite the cost at 5% per year with capital due in 10 years. Funding for the building and related expenses was sought from various sources. It was decided to borrow $5,000 for Rev. C. Gay of Gracefield at 5% per annum for 20 years.
An Oblate lay Brother, A. Cadieux, who received $15.00 for his work, drew up plans for the school. The construction tender was given to J and C Low Contractors and from the 1901 accounts it appears that the total cost of construction was $4,200.
The school accounts seem to indicate that the building was in use during the fall of 1901. Funds for the year, apart from the $5,000 loan, came from donations, a legislative grant ($64.73), small personal loans and non-resident fees for students (25 cents per month). Expenses were similar to those incurred at the Public School: heating, supplies (1 box of chalk at 10 cents for the entire year!), desks, caretaking (Mrs. C. Valliers was employed at $5.11 per month because she was a widow with children) and 3 crosses for the rooms ($1.20). The Grey Nuns were paid $569 for the year. The actual accounts have been reproduced here. They offer the reader a unique insight into the operation of a school at this time.
For the year 1901, the total receipts were $5,425.93, total expenses were $5,633.23, for a deficit of $207.30.
By the beginning of 1902 the Board was hot on the trail of public funding. The Township of Gloucester was notified that taxes collected from Separate School supporters with children attending Holy Family School must be paid to the Board. Records no longer exist of who these children were but it is logical to conclude that many would have come from the community just east of the Rideau River at Hurdman Bridge. Gloucester took the notification under review. A similar request was made of Nepean Township for those children living in the area south of Riverdale Avenue to Billings Bridge.
From the outset of the Roman Catholic Board there was constant acrimony with the village council. As the records for the public system indicate (reproduced here), money was in short supply as well. The Annual Court of Revision (see History Section) regularly dealt with issues such as designating certain ratepayers as separate school supporters.
The public purse was funded in part by taxation of a few industries in the village. Given that the council was almost entirely English and not Catholic, there was very little support for a separate system of education. Therefore taxes derived from these sources were allocated only to the public system. To find a way around this problem the Board made direct appeals to the various businesses to have them consign a portion of their taxes to the Catholics. In 1905 for example the Ottawa East Water Company agreed to consign $1,000 of its assessment to the separate system.
Throughout its period of existence, the Roman Catholic School Board of Ottawa East employed the Grey Nuns as teachers. In 1902 three Sisters were paid $675 for the academic year. In August of 1905 the first lay person was employed. Miss B. Tobin was contracted to teach Junior English Class at $125 per year. It appears that the Oblates volunteered to teach music and catechism.
There was rarely any mention of issues of policy, curriculum or discipline. It appears that these matters were left entirely in the hands of the Sisters. One rare recorded example of policy disagreement occurred in January of 1905. A contingent of parents complained that year-end "prices" (sic) or awards were only given to top students and that all students should receive recognition. The Board and the teachers felt that doing so would an "ambition killer". The eventually relented, deciding to award students in the top classes with a trip to Britannia and a treat for the junior classes instead of prizes. Was this an early example of "political correctness"?
The battle between the Board and the village continued into 1906 with an appeal for relief of the debt incurred with a school debenture used to build the second public school SS#17. The argument was that since the school had now been sold at a price large enough to retire the debenture, separate school supporters should not be taxed for this item. The village council refused and subsequent legal advice indicated that the court would be of no assistance.
Finally on December 18 1907, the Roman Catholic School Board of Ottawa East ceased to exist as the village was annexed by the City. All of the assets and liabilities were transferred to the Ottawa Separate School Board and the initial chapter of Catholic education in the community came to a close.
Now, as a school operated by a much larger (and somewhat distant) school board, Holy Family began to suffer reduced funding for repairs and supplies. As well the world of education was going through many profound changes. As the history of the Oblates (found here) chronicles, a split developed in the Catholic community over language. In the 1920's the Oblates of Mary Immaculate divided into two 'religious provinces' with the founding of St. Peter's Province for the English-speaking Fathers. The move was later to result in the building of St. Patrick's College and the establishment of Canadian Martyrs Parish.
French Catholics were not content with the original system at Holy Family and pushed for a separate school for French language training. It is not exactly clear what took place at this time but it appears that an 'unofficial' school was created to teach French-speaking students above the beginner level taught at Holy Family. Classes were held in various locations including the basement of Ste. Famille Church and the town hall. In 1915, fifty taxpayers in Holy Family Parish petitioned the provincial government for a new school for this purpose. Eventually, in 1923, the Graham house (Ardagh Square) on Main St. was purchased and named De Mazenod after the founder of the Oblate Order. In 1933 a modern building was erected on this location. A more complete story of De Mazenod School is found here.
Holy Family on Main at Hazel continued to function but the years began to take their toll on the building. The new Parish of Canadian Martyrs was established in 1930 and the name of the school was changed to Canadian Martyrs School. A history of this parish, created to serve the needs of the English-speaking Catholics of Ottawa East, can be found here. Little was done to make changes in the school building and by 1938 it was declared to be "obsolete not suitable for the purpose" by the Ottawa Fire Department. In that year there were 173 students and 4 staff in the building. Some improvements were made including an iron fire escape but the school only remained open because the Board could not provide other suitable quarters.
By September of 1943 there were 185 pupils in 5 classes with an additional class held at St. Patrick's College. On November 8, 1943 the space problem was only made worse when a fire in the boiler room burned the school beyond repair.
By November 15 students were being shuffled to one class at Lady Evelyn School, one at Elgin St. School and two at St. Patrick's College. The rate was $50 per class per month. Something had to be done. The Board initially considered building on the old site and acquire more land from the Oblates. Their request for more land was quickly rebuffed and in fact, the Oblates repurchased the land they originally owned for $3,500. For a time building lots on Main St. between Hazel and Glenora were considered in response to parents south of Clegg St. not wanting a more northerly the location for the new school. Ultimately the Board decided to build on the Graham property that had been purchased from the Oblates. The property was originally two lots divided by Claverhouse Ave. The road ran north to south from Graham to the present-day Canadian Martyrs parking lot and was officially closed by court order in 1924.
Tenders were issued in June of 1944 for a 6-room school to accommodate approximately 200 students. By 1945, the plan was revised to accommodate 230 students in 8 rooms at a cost of $84,930. Henry J. Morin of Elgin St. was selected as the architect. At this point the only obstacle in the way of the new school was the Second World War.
Any new construction during this time period had to be approved by the Controller of Construction at the Department of Munitions and Supply. The reason for this was the shortage of structural steel need for the war effort. Despite numerous impassioned letters from the Board outlining the urgent need to house students, the building was delayed yet again.
Finally, in the fall of 1947 Canadian Martyrs School was opened under the leadership of Principal Celia Rowan. It went on to serve the needs of the Ottawa East community for decades providing a special opportunity for young people, who in conjunction with the adjacent church, could worship and study within walking distance of their homes. The rich history of the modern school is best left to other sources but a brief chronicle of school life in the original building can be found here. Written for the 60th Anniversary of Canadian Martyrs Parish, it details many of the memories held by early residents of Ottawa East. The School eventually ceased to exist as an elementary and secondary institution but it is still standing and now serves as an Adult Education Center.
Footnotes: For a more complete reference see Sources
1. Paroise Sainte-Famille d'Ottawa, 1901 - 1981, page 1. This publication is an anniversary booklet published in French by the Parish.
2. All other information was found in the Canadian Martyrs and De Mazenod files held at the Ottawa Carleton Catholic School Board including the Minutes of the Roman Catholic School Board of Ottawa East, Volume 27.
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