This afternoon Richelieu Day Care staff helped the SD&G Historical Society to dust off the above High School mast, which a construction crew unearthed revealing some Cornwall history.
The staff at the City-run facility on York Street wondered if we knew which high school previously sat at their present location. Having recently documented that history, we were ready with an answer and some photos.
Gonzaga was built as Cornwall’s first English Catholic Boys’ High School. It should not be confused with a Francophone school in the east end with a similar name which opened three years later.
In 1925 the Presentation Brothers staffed the newly built Gonzaga Boys’ High School on Third Street West at the corner of York Street. The Brothers lived right next door to Gonzaga. The Presentation Brothers were already in Cornwall, having arrived from Ireland in the Autumn of 1913 to help staff St. Columban’s Boys’ School / Centre Ward School.
The former Gonzaga property straddles the property line between what is now the day care centre on York Street and townhouses on Third.
In 1936 the Brothers continued with the school even though it transitioned to an elementary school to alleviate some of the overflow at Centre Ward School. In June of 1959 the religious community withdrew its services, viewing the new Ontario teacher qualifying process as a needless expense since they were already highly educated. Some returned to Ireland while others moved to Quebec.
Until 1944, Catholic schools were built and maintained by the parishes; the parish and school students with staff held fundraisers to help with expenses. At the time, Religious were paid a fraction of the salary earned by their Public School teacher counterparts.
After the Brothers left the area, St. Columban Parish continued to take the lead in running the school with its pastor as principal. In its latter years, Gonzaga became a facility to be used as baby boom overflow for other schools – St. Columban’s West and St. Francis de Sales, ceasing to be used as a school ca. 1968, then sitting idle for a few years.
In March and April 1970 the City considered using the empty Gonzaga building as a temporary facility during the construction of the new City Justice Building. The TriCounty Separate School Board offered it to the City for use as a police station for $1 rent with the Board retaining ownership. The City estimated a renovation cost of $44,000. The City decided that they could retain the old police station building while the new one was being erected and save the cost.
Richelieu opened as Cornwall’s first City run day care centre in 1972. Richelieu’s building is on the site of the former Brother’s residence and their yard occupies part of the land formerly occupied by Gonzaga school. The new Third Street townhouses occupy the other part of the land on which the school stood.
A construction crew unearthed the mast along with fence posts, radiators, a urinal and a Coke bottle. The facility is undergoing an upgrade to its yards, installing outdoor drinking fountains and associated drainage along the south edge of their property where a line of the old foundation was still very much intact until this afternoon.