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The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 29 no 3, September 2017. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.

St. Elizabeth School: Early Days

The beginning of the 2017 school year marks the 60th anniversary of Cantley’s St. Elizabeth School

By Mary Holmes with thanks to Debbie Holmes Blackburn and Rolande Maisonneuve Charbonneau

St. Elizabeth School was founded in 1957 as a Roman Catholic bilingual school. It was built next door to the rectory of St. Elizabeth parish with a large portion of fi nancial support from the Gatineau Power Company. The “School Municipality of Cantley” was formed by amalgamating three schools: St. John of Wakefield at Wilson’s Corners, the school near St. Elizabeth Road (at #12) and Highway 307, and the school near St. Elizabeth Road and Lamoureux Road.

St. Elizabeth School, 1968. Photo: H. Kells, Ottawa.

Depending on student numbers in each grade, some teachers taught only in French, some only in English, and, hard to imagine, some taught in both languages! One example was in 1961- 1962 when Miss Lucille Lafontaine taught grades 1 to 3 in English and in French in the same classroom. The principal was a teaching principal. In the 1962-1963 school year, four teachers’ salaries totaled $10,000. There were no substitute teachers available in Cantley when a teacher became sick. When Miss Lafontaine fell ill with mumps, everyone had the week off (except for one student who had mumps at the same time so they didn’t get to enjoy the holiday!).

The school had four classrooms and a large auditorium with a stage. A residence was attached to the west side of school for out-of-town teachers. The bush behind the school was part of the playground. Who could forget the “fl at rock” or the great imaginings among the trees and the rocks?

From its formation until the mid- 1960s, the secretary-treasurer of the School Municipality was the very efficient Margaret Hogan who was consistently commended in the annual auditors’ reports for “the way she keeps her books and the good order in which we found her documents.” School commissioners attended meetings, hired teachers and bought textbooks and supplies.

Sometimes volunteers had to roll up their sleeves to fix things. Three Wilson’s Corners fathers spent a night at the school thawing frozen water pipes, with the help of teachers who kept hot water coming until the job was done so students would not miss school. The grownups appreciated their dedication – their children – not so much!

Eventually the number of anglophone students declined to the point where it was economically difficult to support and give them the same educational opportunities that some parents felt were more available in the city. Commencing in the 1966-1967 school year, these students were bussed to Hull’s Our Lady of the Annunciation Elementary School. St. Elizabeth School continued as a francophone school, undergoing major renovations in the 1980s, all the while retaining its name and its vitality by providing the opportunity for Cantley’s students to learn and develop in their own community.

Mary Holmes is a board member of Cantley 1889, a volunteer organization dedicated to discovering, cataloguing, protecting and promoting Cantley’s history. There is a lot more to this story. We welcome comments, corrections or photos about this or any of our monthly articles.

St. Elizabeth School, class of 1957-58.