This project began in the summer of 2006, shortly after I had moved back to Montreal after a twenty-nine year absence. Initially I avoided the working-class neighbourhood that I grew up in, the now trendy Plateau Mile-End, knowing that the landscape as it currently exists is not the same one which I had left at the age of nine. When I heard that the Rialto movie theatre, a cinema in which many Saturday mornings had been spent as a child, had been converted to a high-priced steak house, I decided that I had to witness the changes which had occurred first hand. What I discovered there, to my dismay, was a landscape that was, for the most part, alien to me. Gone were the penny-candy stores, the butcher’s shop with its sawdust covered floor and sliced bologna, and Gigi the Greek’s restaurant where I had once met professional wrestler Andre the Giant (though he was then known as Giant Jean Ferre). In their place, were Sushi shops, an empty lot and a high-priced Grilled Cheese Factory.
Despite the changes which have occurred to Mile-End, some remnants of the past remain. The Nouveau Palais restaurant, for instance, looks no different than it did when I left Montreal – including the burnt-out light bulbs of its weathered sign. Entering the restaurant, was like walking into the past. The faux wooden wine kegs still adorn the area above the bar and the plastic grapes, which seemed so real (and such a waste of food) when I was young, still hang from the keg taps. Remaining too is the bagel shop on St-Viateur street, the “Jewish” shop with its aluminum containers in the window on Bernard, and the barber on Avenue Parc – all of which, like the Nouveau Palais, are of a different era. This juxtaposition of old and new – often side by side – presents the chic alongside the quaint and shows, as Doreen Massey has stated, “The past is present in places in a variety of ways.”1 This is not the past imposed on the present in the form of kitsch, but rather a reminder of the former status quo – even if the status quo has changed. The Nouveau Palais, for example, still caters to a working-class clientele, at least by day – a fact I witnessed as I ate my clubhouse sandwich and fries.
The changes to the neighbourhood were not exclusively economic ones. The laneway between Esplanade and Jeanne-Mance, which was our defactoplayground, is no longer as inviting as it once seemed – children of this new gentrified area, it seems, no longer use it for games of hockey or hide-and-go-seek. The 3-story wooden back shed, which once housed our oil drum, had long ago burned down and, I suspect, our old flat is no longer heated in the same way. The grass is gone from the vacant lot beside the bank which no longer exists – our “playground” is no longer. The biggest change, however, has taken place in an area which us Anglos once considered our exclusive turf - our school. Edward VII public school, is no longer English, long ago transferred to the French school board like so many other English schools in Montreal.
Edward VII was a part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal and was our school, and it was a second home to an ethnically diverse mixture of students. Its transformation into a French facility represents a shift in the demography of Montreal, where legislative limitations on access to English education has caused a shift in the language in which Allophones are educated. The elementary school, which I entered as a kindergartener in the fall of 1973, was for us more than just where we went to school. As I walked past the 4 story red brick building for the first time in fifteen years the memories of the place were almost overwhelming. I was amazed at once that so much was (or seemed to be?) clear in my mind. Names of teachers and students filled my head. Events such as the bomb scare during the winter of 1974 or 75, and the visit by the Canadian diving team as a prelude to the Summer Olympics in 1976 seemed as clear in my mind as on the days they originally occurred. Interesting too is what was missing in my memories of Edward VII. While I can remember most of the teachers I had: Miss Jackie and Miss Nancy, my kindergarten teachers; Miss Bronson, grade one; Mrs. Kennedy (for whom I was the fourth Shields boy), grade three; and even Miss Jackie (a different Miss Jackie) who was only my teacher for two months of grade four, I have no recollection, whatsoever, of my grade two teacher. Likewise, while I can remember verbatim (or at least what I believe to be verbatim) a play that I starred in during my 2nd or 3rd grade, I cannot remember ever performing the play or taking part in any other extracurricular activities. I decided then to examine the closing of Edward VII school, expecting to uncover major resistance to the handing over of my beloved alma matter to the French school board. And hoped to find others who shared my nostalgic view of the past. What I found instead was silence.
I was first told of the linguistic change to Edward VII around 1992, when I visited my old neighbourhood and knocked on the door of Marlene Paradis, a friend who lived across the street from me for the first five years of my life. I asked why the school had a new sign “Edward VII/Edouard VII” – her response was short and matter-of-fact “It’s French now.” I was stunned but not really surprised. The neighbourhood had already undergone significant changes – gentrification had begun. Gigi the Greek’s, for example, was now called Place Gigi, and was no longer a greasy spoon, but rather a high-end restaurant with linen tablecloths. That was my last visit to the neighbourhood until moving back this summer.
As I began to research Edward VII I found that there was very little information about it. While a search of the Montreal Gazette turned up over 300 hits for the search “English school closing”, only 3 hits were returned for Edward VII. The same was true for a search for “Edouard VII”, the new francophone name for the school – only 3 hits found. Of these, none dealt with the transfer of Edward VII to the French school board. I began to go through the 300 hits regarding school closings. I found a populace that wasn’t silenced, but rather was quite vocal about the changes which were going on in their communities, I wondered what happened to the outrage over Edward VII. This project then will examine school closures in the Montreal area and the way in which they were reported on in the English media. Ultimately I will explain why in some instances the Anglo community (or perhaps more rightly communities) actively resisted school closures while in other cases the changes took effect seemingly without a fight.
It is impossible to consider English school closures in Quebec without looking at what I identify as three causal factors. First we must consider the overall changes which were occurring socially, politically and economically in Quebec. From the Quiet Revolution and Maîtres chez nous!, to Quebec language laws, and the election of the separatist Parti Québécois in 1976, Quebec was, from an Anglo perspective (or perhaps a nine year-old’s perspective), becoming a less welcoming place to live. Second we will look at the exodus of Montreal Anglos in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which quickened the fate of many English schools in Montreal, and in which my family was involved. Finally we will look at the low birth rate of Montreal Anglos. Each of these contributing factors lead, I would argue, to a rapid decrease in the number of students who were eligible for an English education within Montreal and thus helped in determining the fate of so many English schools in Montreal.
Quebec society had been in transition since the early 1960s, and by the mid 1970s its course for the future was beginning to take shape. It is irrefutable that the Quebec of Duplessis was one in which the wealth was controlled primarily by and English upper-class while Francophones were economically second-class citizens in the province in which they represented an overwhelming majority of the population. Therefore Quebec’s Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s, and the aims therein of making French the language of business, can be considered positive steps in creating a society in which the majority was more fairly represented. The changes occurring during the Quiet Revolution had already begun to affect the English community – “From the early 1960s, when demands for unilingualism were becoming more widespread, pressure was first placed on the English-language school system.”2 Nonetheless, the strives made toward a more representative society were necessary. This is not to say that all which evolved from these initial actions can be seen in a positive light. Indeed two bills introduced in the 1970s, one by the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa, and the other under the Parti Quebecois government of René Lévesque, can be considered the true beginning of drastic changes within Quebec society, particularly as it relates to the Anglophone community
First was the introduction in 1974 of Bill 22, also known as the Official Language Act. This act essentially made Quebec a unilingual province and placed heavy restrictions on English education in Quebec. “These pressures of the Official Language Act, which stated that those receiving their instruction in English must acquire a knowledge of spoken and written French.”3 Students could no longer graduate from Quebec high schools speaking only English. In order to obtain a graduation certificate one now had to prove a knowledge of French as well. In addition to this new requirement for graduation, Bill 22 placed limitations on access to English education by requiring that students registering for school in the English sector must first prove a working knowledge of English. This requirement was aimed at the high population of new immigrants whose mother tongue was neither English nor French. By limiting Allophones thus, the expectation was that more Allophones would enter the French sectors and become defacto Francophones (if not pur laine).
Lévesque’s government, elected in 1976, did not feel that Bill 22 went far enough, and in 1977 introduced Bill 101. Bill 101 was designed to severely limit access to English education in Quebec by making only those children of parents educated in English, within the province of Quebec eligible for an English education. What is interesting as it relates to Bill 101, is that it is much more frequently sited as the cause for the sharp decline in English enrollment than the exodus of over 100,000 Anglos. It is likely because the English public equates Bill 101 with the exodus, and thus feels a redundancy in mentioning both, or perhaps it was because Bill 101 continued to have an impact on their lives.
The reaction to these laws is interesting, and shows perhaps a glimpse of the sense of entitlement that Montreal Anglos arguably had. According to Arnopoulos and Clift,
“The first reaction of the English school systems was to defy Bill 101. On the Catholic side, ineligible students were enrolled in English schools with the complete collaboration of principals, teachers, and even the union, which accepted the extra teaching load even though it went against the collective agreement.”4 Letters to the editor also decried the effects of the language laws on the English community, as when Winnifred Potter wrote
“When the English-speaking population has become sufficiently weak in numbers as it very quickly promises to become under the unrelenting Bill 101 these helpless boards will be neatly folded away into the encompassing arms of a unified majority French school board, with no legal recourse to any constitutional guarantees to save them. Voila, the attainment of the separatist dream.”5
The legislative laws governing education had their desired effect, enrollments significantly declined following the enactment of Bill 101 as Don MacPherson reports in the Gazette “…Bill 101 accounts for 53 per cent of the 116,000 by which English-language school enrolment dropped during the period of his study.”6
The second contributing factor to school closures is the exodus of over 100,000 Anglophones from Quebec. Here, I shall allow the numbers to speak for themselves. The following chart illustrates the percentage of population decline through inter-provincial migration, with a great many Anglos leaving in those years directly following the introduction of Bill 101.
Respective declines over there decennial periods in the percentage
of Quebec mother tongue Anglophones, Allophones and Francophones
on the basis of departures arising from inter-provincial migration, 1971 – 1991. Anglo Franco Allo
1986-91 7.9 % 0.7 % 3.6 %
1981-86 10 % 0.8 % 3.1 %
1976-81 17.5 % 1.0 % 5.4 %
1971-76 11.8 % 0.8 % 2.8 %7
It is important to note too that it was not only the numbers of people who left but their demographic as well: “…the emigration of more than 100,000 English-speaking Quebecers in the past decade, many of them young, and the increasing enrolment of English-speaking pupils in French-language schools. The result: English-language schools have been closing at an even faster rate than French-speaking ones.”8
MacPherson continues “…the remaining 47 per cent to other factors, of which a "negative migratory balance" - more people leaving the province than coming here to live - is the most important, accounting for 32 per cent of the decline in enrolment.”9
My own family emigrated to Toronto in 1977, my mother’s reasoning was to “get away from those separatist bastards”. During the course of this research I discovered that Edward VII was slated to share its space with French students in the fall of 1978, whether my mother was aware of this when she decided we would move she did not say. The impact of the exodus clearly accelerated school enrollment levels, however and their impact was vast.
“In the not-so-long term, that means fewer anglophone families with fewer school children. And that, in turn means more English-language schools closing, especially on the mainland. The result: English-language schools have been closing at an even faster rate than French-speaking ones.”10
Finally we must consider the impact of low fertility rates on the enrollments in schools in Quebec. It is important to understand, however, that the issue of school closures and declining enrollment was not exclusive to Montreal or Quebec during the 1980s. While there are obvious differences, the declining enrollment was not caused by an act of legislature or through mass migration, the impact of school closures, and what the school meant to the families who were effected by the closures seems to be universal. As Joanna Dean, a parent of a child from Lady Evelyn school in Ottawa which was expected to be closed in 1990 stated: “I got really frightened when I heard they want to close the school. There is no other elementary school in Ottawa East and once a school closes, busing is forever”11 We see here one of the main concerns of There is also a sense of heritage and an importance to community emphasized in articles dealing with school closures. The same Ottawa Citizen article of Feb 1, 1988 describes the way the community sees its schools thus:
“Families see the school as part of their heritage, she said. In one family, a daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter have attended the school, which now has 144 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 3.Jessie Stevens, 90, moved to 62 Evelyn Ave. in the 1940s. Her daughter Elizabeth went to the school, as did her granddaughter Cathy Justa. Now great-granddaughter Sarah is in Grade 2 at Lady Evelyn.”12 Regardless, lower fertility rates did play some part in the decrease of students enrolled in English schools in Quebec – whether it played a larger part than in other parts of Canada is questionable given the extreme circumstances surrounding the case of Quebec. MacPherson explains it thus “If the number of pupils whose mother tongue is English had declined at the same 15.5-per-cent rate as francophones instead of the actual 39.6 per cent, he says, there would have been 36,900 more pupils attending English-language schools in Quebec in 1986-87.”13 The extent to which enrollments decreased as a result of these three factors is staggering. The chart below shows the numbers of enrollment in the French and English sectors of Montreal schools and the percentage of overall enrollment that they represent. While both English and French schools felt sharp declines in the last three decades the enrollments in French schools obtained a higher share due to the lower English population and the numbers of Allophones no longer eligible for an English education.
Enrollment Trends – Real Numbers and Percentages of Students
in English and French language schools on the Island of Montreal 1971-1994
English % French %
1971-72 154,300 36 271,700 64
1976-77 138,000 39 214,900 61
1981-82 91,000 34 177,700 66
1991-92 69,700 28.5 172,700 74
1994-95 60,800 25 176,000 7514
To place these numbers into context, consider the following statistics on some Montreal area English schools in 1986. The first number relates to actual enrollment, while the number in parenthesis relates to the capacity of the school:
PROTESTANT SCHOOL BOARD OF GREATER MONTREAL
Argyle Academy on Argyle Ave. in Verdun, 360 (1,165)
Malcolm Campbell High on Nadon St. in the Cartierville area, 390 (1,318)
Lorne Elementary on Coleraine St. in Point St. Charles, 110 (715)
MONTREAL CATHOLIC SCHOOL COMMISSION
John Caboto Elementary on Meunier St. in the north end, 169 (550)
John XXIII Elementary on Old Orchard Ave. in the west end, 190 (650)
The need for school closures is therefore not derived at out of meanness, but rather a very practical need to reduce costs involved in education budgets which were already limited.
“MCSC deputy director George Pajuk said enrolment at the schools has been declining 10 to 12 per cent a year for a decade. "We find ourselves with schools built for 750 students housing 180. But the whole building still has to be heated, cleaned and maintained,"”16 While these numbers show the vast empty spaces within English schools, it doesn’t account for the French schools in the same neighbourhood. This is particularly important for areas such as Mile-End and Côte-des-Neiges, whose high Allophone populations, due to their new status as ineligible of an English education, would have had to made use of overcrowded French facilities. “However, several schools in the French sector, including Emile Legault, are overcrowded or near capacity. Emile Legault has 1,400 students, and because of overcrowding, parts of the school's cafeteria and library have been transformed into makeshift classrooms.”17 The contrasts in space available to each linguistic sector occasionally presented apparently simple solutions:
“But the commissioners decided that English-language Northmount High School and French-language Ecole secondaire Van Horne will exchange buildings.The present Northmount building can accommodate 1,080 but is less than half full. It had 732 students in 1981, but has only 360 now. Overcrowded Van Horne has 733 students and a capacity of 672. Projected enrolment for 1992 is 1,071.”18 This type of solution was not always left uncontested however:
“"We will refuse to send our children to Northmount because it will become overcrowded and the exchange is only a temporary solution," said Cassandra Tertulliani, president of the Westminster school committee. "We want a stable, long-term solution and we believe the board has condemned the French sector."”19 It is important to understand then that the changes which occurred in terms of significantly decreased enrollments in the English sector were likewise felt, in the obverse, by the students in the French sector, and the challenges these changes presented were not only difficult for the Anglo community.
While these three factors contributed, to varying degrees, to the closure of English schools in Montreal, the manner in which the decision was made to close one school and not another is not a simple matter of sheer numbers. As we shall see, there are three factors which I have identified, ways in which the argument to save a school was presented to school board officials, that possibly had an impact on why some schools such as Westmount High, which was frequently threatened with closure, survive today and other schools, such as Edward VII are no more.
The first of these factors, and arguable the most common argument for sparing a school during the 1980s, has to do with the way in which Quebec’s educational system was organized since the British North America Act. Section 93, paragraph 2 of the Act reads:
“All the Powers, Privileges and Duties at the Union by Law conferred and imposed in Upper Canada on the Separate Schools and School Trustees of the Queen's Roman Catholic Subjects shall be and the same are hereby extended to the Dissentient Schools of the Queen's Protestant and Roman Catholic Subjects in Quebec”20
This guarantee of education for Protestant and Catholic children created a system whereby schools were administered along denominational lines, which is how they would remain until July 1st, 1998, when the creation of separate and secular English and French school boards occurred. As such, with the aforementioned factors causing sharp declines in enrollment at English schools, both the Protestant and Catholic school boards found themselves in the position of having to close English schools in order to accommodate the suddenly increased number of students in their French sections. For example a 1986 study by the Montreal Island School Council
“…shows that French sectors of Protestant school boards on the island of Montreal will surge by as much as 200 per cent during the next decade, but Catholic French sectors will decline slightly. For the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (PSBGM), this surge will mean closing three English high schools during the next two years and opening two new French high schools, chairman Allan Butler told The Gazette yesterday.”21
Thus, the dividing of schools along religious lines in many ways contributed to the removal of English schools from neighbourhoods which could not sustain an exclusively Catholic or Protestant school, but may have maintained a single English school. Ultimately this may have simply delayed the inevitable, but in some cases it may have had a profound effect on the landscape, leaving intact a jointly controlled English school.
Much of the reporting of school closures, prior to the creation of an exclusively English school board, dealt with issues of a lack of co-operation between Catholic and Protestant school boards. The message from these two separate boards seemed to be that it would be preferable to close their last English school in a given area than consider sharing space with another religion. As early as 1980 the problems with the division along religious boards became apparent. The Montreal Gazette reported
“Paul Martinov, a 37-year-old father of two children who will be shut out of St. Suzanne next year, says busing children away from their neighborhoods and friends is ''moronic.'' ''I don't care whether we save St. Suzanne or Stonecroft at this point - as long as we have a school in the community.'' Mr. Martinov blames his school board for failing to come to an agreement with the Protestant school board to save a community school.”22 Indeed, throughout the Gazette articles the only reference to true co-operation between the Catholic and Protestant school boards is in reference to the closing of a shared-space school which opened long before the introduction of Bill 101 and the exodus of Anglos: “Dorval High School, which opened its doors about 20 years ago, will be closing them for good at the end of this semester. A few years ago, the school merged with the English side of John XXIII. Now John XXIII-Dorval High School, one of the only Protestant/Catholic schools in Montreal, is being closed”23
Often was the case in the debate surrounding the closure of the last Protestant or Catholic in a given neighbourhood was the argument that parents would sooner transfer their children to the other boards local school than have their child bussed to the closest school of their denomination. This was true not only for Protestants, whose schools tended to be more secular in any case, but for Catholics as well. Consider what one parent said in 1986 when her child’s school was threatened with closure:
“"Religion in our schools is no longer a top priority," Deborah Smith, chairman of the Mother Seton School subcommittee, told the commissioners. "Our children can go to church for religious instruction. Why bus them to a Catholic school when they can walk to a Protestant school?"”24 The same attitude is repeated frequently during this period as Gazette writer Karen Janigan reports “Parents of students being transferred from Dollard des Ormeaux's Wilder Penfield Elementary School because of overcrowding are threatening to switch school boards.”25 And echoed in David Wimhurt’s 1985 article: “…some parents are considering switching their children to English elementary schools run by the Montreal Catholic School Commission if Maple Hill does close.”26 That parents were willing to take what can be considered such a drastic step as ‘subjecting’ their children to belief systems which were not their own (including catechism training for Protestants entering the Catholic board) illustrates well the desire of parents to see their children educated in their own neighbourhoods.
So prevalent was this issue that in May of 1986 the Quebec Education Department set up a task force to “study the crisis in English-Catholic education in Laval.”27 Karen Seidman of the Gazette reported that:
“accusations of racism erupted when the Mille Iles School Commission voted to close Sir Wilfrid Laurier School and accommodate its 158 anglophone students in a nearby Protestant school. Commissioner Roland Pepin charged that there are 4,534 English-Catholic students attending Protestant schools in Laval because of the decaying condition of Catholic schools.”28 Whether by choice, or necessity, parents of both boards often chose locality over religion. While this became more commonplace there appeared at times to be a contradiction between parents wishes of localized schools and the official stance of the school board:
“Joseph Zemanovich, vice-chairman of the Catholic board, disagrees. ''Convenience is not necessarily a priority in the Catholic system. Preserving the faith is. To me a school is a living encounter, a source of your cultural heritage and, of course, of your religious heritage. It's not just a place where you learn math.''”29
Thus religious boards were, in some ways, partially responsible for the disappearance, in some neighbourhoods, of English schools, which may have been prevented if a means of space sharing or secularization could have been agreed upon earlier.
The second argument frequently invoked during school closure debates centered around the idea of tradition or uniqueness. Here, an emotional plea could be made to school boards to save a school based solely on either the age of a school or features which set it apart from other schools (since these two features, tradition and uniqueness, so often appeared in conjunction with one another they have been combined into one debate in favor of saving a school). A prime example of this can be seen in January 1985, when Westmount high was threatened with closure - “"Westmount High School was here before the PSBGM," said parent Georgiana Beal-Kish. "We will protest to the last breath our closure."”30 Westmount is one of the few schools which I encountered in the Gazette which remains open to this day, the argument that its existence predates the creation of its governing board shows the sense of tradition parents felt. That same year threatened the closure of Mont Royal High School, the impassioned pleas of the students invoke not only uniqueness but tradition:
“"Nothing's over 'till we say so," said Grade 9 student Mitchell Kastner yesterday as he headed into the school. "There will be more problems, more fighting. I love this school.""We have the best science program, the best labs and the best school spirit from generation to generation," said Andriana Laskarakis, a Grade 11 student.”31 While the above examples illustrate an argument which was presented more on the basis of emotion rather than empirical evidence (can school spirit really be measured?) there were other threats of closure which would cause a truly unique program to end. One such case was Bedford school as Karen Seidman reported:
“Zwack is the father of an autistic child, one of nine such children who travel from all areas of the city to take advantage of a program that integrates autistic children with the rest of the school - the only one of its kind in Quebec. Autistic children suffer from a neurological disorder that inhibits communication and learning. Zwack says his son's progress in two years at Bedford has been "extraordinary."”32
At least a part of the need to distinguish their school as worth saving, other than their desire to save their school, is the adversarial way in which school closings occurred within both Protestant and Catholic boards. When closures were eminent, as they were year after year in the 1980s, the school board would compile a ‘hit-list’ of schools that would potentially be closed. The public would then be consulted and school committees would be set up in order to mount a defense to the threat to their school. In some ways this could be seen as a positive – a rallying of the troops around their cause – however, in addition to the positive arguments for keeping their school open came negative ones aimed at persuading the board to close any school but their own. The adversarial nature of these public consultations can be seen in the following announcement of an amalgamation between two schools in 1986:
“Parents and students groaned at the board meeting last night when it was announced that the Argyle program - an alternative school combining a dress code with a stress on fitness and sports - would be transferred to Westmount High. "Westmount is full of drugs - we've looked into this," said Cheryl McCaskill, vowing to defend Argyle.”33 Thus, schools were pitted against one another, and one schools claim of tradition was countered by another schools claim of uniqueness. The sense of tradition and uniqueness is most likely to occur where the residents of the community are deeply entrenched within the landscape or within the school itself. Schools commonly associated with having a long and rich tradition are often those in more affluent neighbourhoods, where pedigree is more valued. Likewise, neighbourhoods which frequently had new waves of immigration added to their population may be less likely to have that deep-rooted sense attached to the school. Therefore class plays an important role in how an argument for saving a school is presented. Which we will discuss in greater detail later in this paper.
Finally, the last way in which an argument for saving a school is presented falls under what I have termed extinction. Extinction is similar in many ways to the use of preserving religious education in a community, although in this case we are dealing with issues based on linguistic extinction. Much of the reporting of school closings in the Gazette in the 1980s focused on “the last English school in the neighbourhood (or town)”. Without a doubt one of the most passionate arguments made against the closure of an English school during this period came from neighbourhoods where the school closure represented the last English school in a given neighbourhood, Catholic or Protestant. In 1985, when Mount Royal High was slated with five other schools for possible closure this threat of extinction became palatable as we can see by Renee Bloom from the Mount Royal High committee “"You will be responsible for an exodus of English-speaking people from TMR," she said to cheers.”34 – we shall assume that the cheers were in response to what she said, and not to a potential Anglo exodus from TMR.
Exodus was not the only fear used by Anglos in school closings as we can see from the January 30, 1986 edition of the Gazette – “Vincent Solomite, chairman of the Mountrose school committee, called the meeting "a travesty." "This is a death blow to the English population in the east end," Solomite said.”35 These are just two examples of countless ones reported in the Gazette where this common theme of extinction is apparent.
The reasons for keeping a school in a community seem to be centered around convenience in many ways. The issue of bussing students out of their neighbourhood was repeated frequently in the Gazette - “Phil Ferguson, chairman of the Sir Wilfred Laurier school committee, said that busing students to schools in Vimont or Fabreville "means 60 minutes more travelling time each day. And that's unacceptable."”36 Interestingly, these concerns were not voiced only by English parents. With the sudden increased demand for French class space the effects of reduced enrollments in English schools also affected French as Lynn Moore explains: “Some young students spend 90 minutes a day on school buses and get only 15 minutes to eat in the overcrowed cafeteria, she said. Lunch and special-outing monitors are scarce because few volunteers can travel to and from the school on 35th Ave.”37
Each of these reasons for sparing a school from closure were invoked during the 1980s. Issues dealing with religion, tradition, and extinction were used by the English media to take an activist stand on legislative decisions which were becoming more and more anti-English. Yet through all of this, there is no mention of the closure of Edward VII. Why would the loss of this school go seemingly unnoticed? There are two possible explanations for this lack of mention. It is possible that the Mile-End area had already undergone significant changes when the school was chosen for closure, by virtue of the changed demographic, as such protest was unnecessary. Certainly with the exodus of the late 70s, of which my family was a part, it is quite possible that any resistance to the school’s closure would have already left the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the large number of Allophones in the neighbourhood may have caused a ‘shift in loyalties’ – that is to say, if under the new laws pertaining to accessibility to an English education the Allophone members of the community may have suddenly found themselves ineligible to attend Edward VII, making their primary concern the need for new French classrooms and resources. Thus, a school that they may have previously attempted to save, would now better serve their needs as a French institution. What seems more likely is the lack of agency within the community which translated to a lack of voice. The reporting by the Gazette of school closures seems focused on issues regarding religion, tradition, and ‘extinction’. As such the absence of a vocal battle may simply have to do with a lack of a battleground. Edward VII was not the last Protestant or English school serving the Mile End area, nor did it seem to have any deep-rooted sense of tradition, in a sense then perhaps Edward VII was expendable in the battle to save schools in favour of other locations which could present a stronger argument.
It is important to consider what role class plays in the response to closure, and to what extent the community members are able, based on their resources, to mount an opposition – successful or not – to school closures. Certainly there have been cases in which the challenge to a school closure have been fought in courts. This type of challenge takes financial means, which may have been unavailable in the working class neighbourhood. If the student body of Edward VII was comprised of primarily working-class families then it is likely that resistance that was seen in schools such as Westmount, Mount Royal High and Argyle was unattainable, for financial reasons, at Edward VII. Certainly at times the perception was that schools from higher economic communities were favored when the choice for closure was between one or another, even if the numbers of students affected by the close did not lean in favor of the ‘victor’ – “In a letter to the board, Solomita said the consultation process was "a farce, a smokescreen to lull school committees into a false hope." "We had the highest enrolment of any of the schools considered for closing, but we believe the others were kept open because they're in the west end of the city," he said.”38
The importance of neighbourhood schools involves much more than the inconvenience of busing however. Much has been written about the need for community-based schools. Christanson and Sheridan wrote that “When parents come to school, the develop a better understanding of the educational context (i.e. the needs, constraints and issues faced by educators in their school building.)”39 They continue “Importantly when family members recognize the school as a place (and schooling as a process) in which they belong, and the meaningful role they play, their beliefs that their effort for their child may increase…”40 Thus having a community-based school, one in which parents can get involved and recognize as part of their community’s identity, can have an impact on the success of their child. Indeed, Quebec’s own Corbo report of 1994 agrees: “School must benefit from the support and collaboration of the family, social institutions and the community organizations.”41 Thus while parents may have argued about the practical points of removing schools from a community “"My little daughter is in kindergarten and weighs barely 35 pounds. She's going to have to walk through the snow and cross six lanes of traffic on St. Michel Blvd. to get to Our Lady of Pompeii."”42 they also recognized that the removal of schools from the community would also affect their ability to be active participants in the learning process “Lunch and special-outing monitors are scarce because few volunteers can travel to and from the school on 35th Ave.”43
Having explored and identified the causes for declining enrollments, and the manner in which threats of closure were dealt, I shall now shift gears and explore some of the meanings behind what this paper is examining. First I must consider nostalgia as a driving force not only for my reasons choosing this topic, but as also present in much of the arguments against school closures. Donald A. Ritchie described nostalgia as occurring when “Dissatisfaction with present conditions makes the past look far better; and people’s very survival can convince them that the hard times were not so bad after all.”44(Ritchie 34) Linda Hutcheon, professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto adds that “…denying or at least degrading the present as it is lived, nostalgia makes the idealized (and therefore always absent) past into the site of immediacy, presence, and authenticity.”45 The true reason for choosing this topic then stems from my own dissatisfaction from the gentrification of my former neighbourhood and the need to impose on the changed community my view of the past. Were these “the good old days” though? In many respects they were but in substantial ways they were not. Our apartment then was cold and drafty in the winter and hot in the summer, cockroaches and mice were not uncommon, and my mother, like many of our neighbours, existed on a finely tuned system of “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul”. The move to Toronto represented upward social mobility for my family. My new school, Withrow Public School, was far superior and offered a vast array of after-four programs and extracurricular activities which were absent from Edward VII. Therefore, in addition to being displeased with the ways in which my neighbour does not match my memories, my own nostalgia for this period more than likely stems from the fact that it was the period in which my family was complete. When we moved to Toronto in the fall of 1977, my eldest brother, who was 19 at the time, remained in Montreal. Less than a year after that my brother Jim, who was 18, returned to Montreal. Close relationships were regulated to annual or biannual visits, and telephone calls – simply put, my dissatisfaction with the past has as much to do with the intangible as it does with anything else. There is something more to consider in my nostalgia for the changes to my neighbourhood.
Misztal wrote that “…accelerated change gives rise to two different attitudes towards the past. On the one hand we insist on the relative merits of the future while on the other we exhibit a sentimental nostlgia for our past.”46 Which perhaps explains my outrage to the changes and Marlene’s nonchalance. For Marlene the transfer of Edward VII was a gradual one, and its impact was lessened by the fact she no longer attended the school. Further, she was present for all the changes in the neighbourhood and in the city. Conversely, my perspective is that of a seemingly over-night change from working-class neighbourhood to gentrified hot spot. For me the change was rapid, even though it took 29 years to complete.
This idea of nostalgia can also be applied to the arguments found in the Gazette, particularly as they relate to tradition. As Massey writes “…traditions do not only exist in the past. They are actively built in the present also. The concept of tradition which sees in it only nostalgia understands it as something already completed which can now only be maintained or lost.”47 Frequently what is discussed in the argument surrounding school closures is the notion that the students are a part of the continuity of the school. “Eight-year-old Lois Flocari had tears running down her face at the thought of leaving Barclay. "We have been through so much in that school and I wanted to finish grade school at Barclay," she said. Barclay School would have celebrated its 60th anniversary as a community English school next year.” 48 Thus, nostalgia and tradition weighed heavily in the issue of school closures.
A school’s identity within the community is also a key theme within this research.
These ideas are reflected in the Gazette – “Student Shazi Chaudhri, 15, of Northmount High pleaded for her school to be left alone. "It's a home away from home for many of us," she said, adding that many students at the multi-ethnic school would drop out without its special services.”49 Norkunas explained “Halbwachs wrote that collective memory seeks material reality in an image, like a monument, or a concrete place, like a house…” (or perhaps a school?) “This sense of memory, which is alive in a group, of personal relationships and of a meaningful sense of place defined physically and by the community of people who live there…”50 Frequently in the Gazette this notion that the school belongs to their group, that it was their second home, shows how the school can be an integral part of the community’s identity.
Contested space is another theme which is prevalent in my research. Edward VII represented a territory that was exclusively English and more importantly exclusively ours. The lot it was on, the street, and the laneway behind it were all our territory. The French school, which was located one block away on Waverly was their territory. This went beyond the times that we were using the space for the purpose it was intended. Indeed our immediate neighbourhood lacked sufficient and convenient green space so the school yards and alleys were what we were left with. There were, at times, conflicts between English and French kids, such as the time a ‘gang’ of French kids (if three ten-year-olds can be considered a gang) chased us off of our playground with wooden guns which fired elastic bands. When we eventually regrouped and returned (with our older brothers) the site was reclaimed and pronouncements of victory were jubilant. These conflicts, however, were few and far between.
With the threat of school closures, contested space became an issue in a broader sense. Here we can see how space and identity can create direct opposition between groups vying for the same space. “A proposed school swap in St. Laurent has pitted English and French students against each other. Angry parents and students at Father McDonald Comprehensive High School have vowed they won't leave their school for a nearby French one.”51 The argument over space was not restricted to those directly involved in the struggle, and letters to the editor were regularly included in the discussion over school closures “Perhaps one of the most distressing aspects of the closing of Mount Royal High School as an English language institution is the disgustingly selfish attitude that the spokesmen for the English students, their parents, have taken. LEIGH D. CRESTOHL”52
Furthermore, shared space often was met with a similar attitude, whereby one group felt the other was infringing on their territory. “"We don't mind sharing," said school committee chairman Angela Cristiano. "But this is a bit like inviting a friend into your home to share a room and the next thing you know he's kicking you out of your house."”53
Reaction to school closures was manifested in several ways. At times there were vocal protests - “But a crowd of about 300 mostly English-speaking parents and students hollered, booed and chanted, telling the board they were "fed up" with the annual exercise of trying to save their schools in the face of dwindling enrolment.”54 Petitions and other forms of protests also were commonplace “The school board's final decision on the future of Maple Hill will be made on Jan. 30, two days after it hears the parents' case and receives their petition, which has more than 2,000 signatures.”55 At times the protests moved beyond mere words:
“Enraged students engaged in shoving matches with administrators and eggs flew through the air after the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (PSBGM) voted last night to turn Mount Royal High School over to French-speaking students next year. Mount Royal parents hurled abuse at the commissioners on stage, and students from the school began chanting "walkout, walkout," and "burn the school."”56
Further, these protests were not confined to school board meetings. At times students exercised their agency within their schools “A student walkout disrupted classes yesterday at Mount Royal High School, where courses resumed despite an attempted firebombing late Friday night. The students were protesting the school board's decision to turn their school into a French-language high school in September 1985.”57
A common theme throughout the all forms of protest reported on by the Gazette center around the repetitious nature of threats to school closures. Often parents and students would find that defending their school was an annual affair “Silvana Mirarchi, school committee chairman for Emmett Mulaly School, said dozens of angry parents had begun calling her by 7 a.m. yesterday. "We fought this out last year and won. Now we have to start all over."”58 Often, however, when the battle for the school was ultimately lost, resolve settled in “Unlike earlier meetings, there was no angry shouting or insults from Mount Royal's English-speaking parents.The handful of them at the meeting filed away quietly and refused requests for comments.”59
There is no clear solution to the problem of declining enrollments at English schools in the Montreal area. Certainly there are factors which have contributed to this decline, yet simply identifying them does not create solutions. Bill 101 and other such language laws which limited access to English education within Quebec is one major factor of the which can be seen as the root cause for the emigration of over 100,000 Anglos during the late 1970s. There is no doubt then that the closures which occurred were ultimately necessary, and yet the manner in which they occurred could have made the transition somewhat less harsh. Certainly the French language and culture is safe from extinction (although it is arguable whether that threat was ever real.), and perhaps it is now time to lessen restrictions on education in Quebec, this, it seems, is unlikely.
The absence of Edward VII from the debate surrounding school closures is disheartening to some degree, however whatever the changes which have occurred to Edward VII and the 4 blocks which I called my neighbourhood, the events, places, and people who made up the landscape remain safely guarded from the reality of the present. As Massey wrote “‘the past’ is seen in some sense to embody the real character of the place.”60
Ironically, just as I was concluding this paper I did one final search for Edouard VII under the Yahoo! Search engine and found the following website which answers some of the questions which I could not find, including the year in which Edward VII was transferred to the French sector of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. It is interesting that 66 years of history could be summed up in a few sentences: