The City of St. Lambert has seen dynamic growth and significant demographic changes over its 150-year history, and the history of the City's English schools have evolved over time to meet the educational needs of its English-speaking residents.
St.Lambert's first school board was organized in 1857, with the municipal councillors also serving as school commissioners. The first school, constructed at a cost of $621, was opened in 1861 at 95 Riverside Drive, and enrolled both English and French students. The building had one classroom and an apartment for the teacher. The same teacher taught all students, English and French.
In 1878, the French-speaking citizens formed a separate board and built their own school. For English students there was a new one-room school built by 1875 near the site of Horsfall Apartments, neighbouring Castonguay's cycle shop. It served until a larger school was constructed in 1887. This was known as the Grand Trunk School, and later the St. Lambert Protestant Dissident School. It had two classrooms and two teachers, one English and one French, and was located on Victoria St. where the village park is now situated, across from Taylor's department store. By 1893 the staff had grown to four, and it was commonly referred to as “The Model School”. In 1895 the school population had increased to 100 with five teachers.
The Model School was replaced by the new St. Lambert Elementary School in 1896, and the building was sold in 1899 to the town and became the town hall, unfortunately burning to the ground in 1901. The St. Lambert Elementary School was built in 1896, and sufficed until the early 1920's when expansion of the Elementary School and the construction of two neighbourhood primary schools on each side of the town became a necessity. The Anglophone population of St. Lambert had increased from about 600 in 1891 to 2,425 in 1921 and then 4.039 in 1931. The construction of the Montreal and Southern Counties Railway and easy access to booming downtown Montreal had proven to be a great attraction for commuters to locate in St.Lambert. The two new schools, Merton School and Victoria Park School, were opened in September 1924, and Principal Mr. Ford was able to say that for the first time in over a decade the pupils were in comfortable quarters and all above ground.
The Second World War provided another opportunity to show the schools' patriotism. If schoolchildren had any doubts about the importance of defending the British Empire, the St. Lambert School Board put them at rest in 1941 when it purchased 1,000 copies of “There's an Empire Back of the Union Jack” and distributed these to all students.
In June of 1944 the Quebec government passed the Central School Board Act, and the St. Lambert School board came under the control of the Chambly County Central School Board in November of that year. This centralization meant the St. Lambert High School became the school for students from all parts of the County, and to meet the demand for more space, a new high school in St. Lambert was built in 1954, despite some St. Lambert residents complaining that it was needed only because the school was accepting many students from outside the town. The pressure on space at CCHS was only lessened by the South Shore Regional School Board, formed in 1965, building a new regional school in Greenfield Park. It was named Centennial High School and was completed in 1971. The local school boards of St. Lambert and Longueuil merged in 1972 to form the St. Lawrence School Board, which reported to the SSRSB.
The first experiment in French immersion teaching in North America took place in a kindergarten class at Margaret Pendlebury School in 1965, soon followed by St. Lambert Elementary. It did not come about so easily, as parents had to overcome the opinions of experts who claimed “only the top students would not have to repeat a grade”. The three mothers who began this crusade, Olga Melikoff, Murielle Parkes, and Valerie Neale, enlisted the assistance of two eminent McGill University professors, world-renowned neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield and experimental psychologist Wallace Lambert. Dr. Penfield wrote: “I can only say that, if I had young children of my own, I should like to enter them there (in a French-immersion class). I am perfectly certain you will have the parents of young children coming to St. Lambert.”
The teaching of French from the earliest grades and for half or more of the students day became commonplace. Many students became fluently bilingual and this became an advantage to attract new students. Access to English schools had been severely restricted by Bill 101 after the Parti Quebecois came to power in 1976. An exodus of corporate head offices from Montreal and the flight from Quebec of many English-speaking families led to increasing challenges to the school boards. Where for many decades they had fought to acquire adequate facilities for a fast-growing student population, the boards are now faced with declining enrollment and buildings which are becoming increasingly expensive to operate.
In 1998, the Quebec government passed a law reorganizing school boards along linguistic, as opposed to religious lines The Riverside School Board is now the regional authority over all English schools in the County and the administrative offices are located on Sir Wilfrid Laurier Boulevard in St. Lambert. Mr. Jim Munro, chairman of the board, stated in 2005, “We are proud of the success of our educational services, particularly in special needs, and we are very encouraged because, for the second consecutive year, Riverside has obtained the highest graduation rate of all the public school boards in Quebec.”
St. Lambert Elementary School, 81 Green St.
The first "Saint Lambert School" was built on the corner of Green and Notre Dames Streets in 1896.
In 1912 it was enlarged so that students from the county of Chambly could attend.
The land for the St. Lambert Elementary School was sold in 1896 by Mr. Noel Mercille to the School Commissioners of St. Lambert for $3,000 and the first section of the school was built that same year at a cost of $7,000. It was commonly known as St. Lambert Academy and had grown to eleven teachers in 1914-15, and to fourteen by 1916-17. In 1917 kindergarten teacher Miss Kydd had a class of 51 students of a total school enrollment of 409. By October 1919 there were 477 students enrolled, including 48 in kindergarten and 53 in Grade 1. During World War I children of soldiers received a free education but at the end of the War this entitlement ceased. School fees were 0.50 cents a month for Grades 1 to 7, and $1 a month for those in Grades 8-11. Students from outside St. Lambert paid $1.50 each month.
A number of charitable groups organized fundraising in the school for a variety of patriotic causes during the First World War: the Red Cross, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), and the South Shore Patriotic Fund-the latter helping the St. Lambert pupils make a major donation to the relief of suffering children in Belgium. Government representatives spoke in the assembly hall on the importance of avoiding waste, particularly of food; inspired the children organized a shipment of chocolate, which they stoically gave up, to the soldiers overseas. Boys served in a cadet corps, and many volunteered to travel to Western Canada to help bring in the crops during their summer holidays.
In January, 1920, Dr. Mitchell was engaged to provide an annual examination of each child and a report to be sent home to the parents. In September of that year, the name of the school was formally changed from St. Lambert academy to St. Lambert High School, with total enrollment now 485, with seventeen teachers. Space that had been rented from the St. Lambert Lumber Company since 1919 was still required in 1920 at a rent of $600 per year.
The shortage of space was so acute that in the early 1920's classes were held for 5 and 6 year-olds at the residence of one of the schoolteachers, Mr. C.J. Davis at 193, Second Street. An extension was built from 1921 to 1923 at a cost of $125,000, and then another in 1923-4 at a cost of $100,000, which included ten extra classrooms and a gymnasium-auditorium. For the year 1923-24 there were now 694 students in 20 classes, and there were numerous complaints from parents of children who had their classes in the basement of the school.
The Elementary School building also housed St. Lambert High School which was renamed Chambly County High School (CCHS) in 1949. CCHS remained at the St. Lambert Elementary building until the new building at 675 Green Street was completed in the Fall of 1954.
Chambly County High School/Chambly Academy
Chambly County High School came into existence when St. Lambert High School was renamed in 1949.
The old high school was the building that still stands at Green and Notre Dame.
Overcrowding had become a serious problem at St. Lambert Elementary as early as the late 1940's, and in 1947 the St. Lambert School Board purchased the Colour Research Building on Green Street corner of Mercille that became known as the “Annex”. It consisted of 6 classrooms with a capacity of about 200 students. This building has now become the St. Lambert Library.
Student Janet Brown (1949-54) remembers her days at the St. Lambert Elementary School:
“It was an old school with beautifully polished old wood floors…that sometimes creaked. There was a nice old staircase with a banister inside the front door. The science lab for biology and chemistry was in the low-ceilinged basement. The well liked janitor and his wife, Mr. And Mrs. Sylvestor, lived in the basement apartment provided for them and this meant there was very little vandalism or break-ins at the school. They would also let teachers in who wanted to work in the school in the evening.
Every morning, recess, noon and after school, teacher Ian Hume would supervise high jump, broad jump, and pole vault at the back of the school. Ian was very dedicated and well-respected by all, he taught French but ran all the track and field events and coached many school teams.”
A later enlargement was added in 1959 at a cost of $551,000. This last expansion was funded by the Ministry of Education in the amount of $334,000, the remainder was raised by an additional property tax.
In September 1969 enrollment at the school consisted of 272 in a bilingual program for kindergarten to grade 4, 358 in the traditional English section grades 5 to 7, and 74 French Protestants, for a total of 704 students. In the principal's report by D.S. Hadley on January 13, 1970 was an incident with a different ending than would be the case today. “A small fire was started in a garbage can in the basement play area, which was being used as a lunchroom by grades 4 to 7 students. A Grade 6 boy did have matches and admitted to throwing one in the garbage can. The boy was strapped and suspended from school for one week.”
Of the 786 students enrolled in the school in 1972, approximately 300 stayed for lunch. Attendance at the school declined with St. Lambert's English population through the '70's and 80's, to 598 in 1996 in grades kindergarten through grade 6. At this time, and with the reorganization of school boards along linguistic lines, Margaret Pendlebury, Victoria Park and St. Francis of Assisi schools were closed as elementary schools and all students transferred to St. Lambert Elementary. The school currently offers two streams of education, the traditional English curriculum and faithful to its tradition as a pioneer in this field, a French immersion program.
Chambly County High School/Chambly Academy, 675 Green St. St. Lambert was in full growth after World War II and the baby-boom generation had begun, with the consequent demand for spaces in an overstretched school system. A new high school was needed, but there were no new English high schools outside Montreal, and it would be very costly to build one.
The following account is from Wally Charron, St. Lambert High School graduate of 1939, and a member of the St. Lambert branch of the Canadian Legion.
Colonel Redmond Roche was a World War II veteran, an honorary member of the St. Lambert Legion, and a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Chambly County. He was a highly respected member of the Union Nationale and a confidant of Premier Maurice Duplessis. Although Chambly County had voted for the Union Nationale, St. Lambert was a staunch Liberal stronghold. St. Lambert's Protestant School Board wanted to build a new high school in a separate building than the one shared with St. Lambert Elementary and the Board approached the Legion to enlist their assistance in lobbying Colonel Roche. A meeting was arranged in late 1952 between the Legion and Colonel Roche, who was very understanding and of course had done his homework.
He said: “I'll be glad to approach the Minister of Education for a grant, but I can tell you what his reply will be. As St. Lambert has never supported the Union Nationale party they will get exactly what they are entitled to by law, no more, no less.”
Mr. Charron and the other Legion members asked what they could do to improve the outcome and the reply was “There is going to be a Provincial election soon. I am confident of re-election despite how St. Lambert votes, however, if I get a majority vote in St. Lambert, I can then go to the Minister of Education with a good chance of a favourable reply.”
Legion members and others actively campaigned in St. Lambert on behalf of the good Colonel. Their message to voters was that a vote for the Colonel was the first step towards a new school. The day after the election Colonel Roche called the St. Lambert Legion president and said: “You got me a majority in Saint-Lambert now I'll intercede for you.” The grant did come through and the new Chambly County High School opened in November 1954 with 750 students in grades 8 to11.
The land had been purchased from the City of St. Lambert for $9,000 and construction costs were $577,000. The school was designed for most students to return home for lunch as the cafeteria had a capacity for only about 70 students. The school had 26 regular classrooms, labs for biology and chemistry, a woodworking classroom, a classroom for home economics, a library, a music room and a gymnasium with a stage.
As a result of increased enrolment, the current building at 675 Green Street was opened in November 1954 and Chambly County High School became the first English language high school on the South Shore. When the doors first opened 51 years ago, the building was a source of envy for school boards across the province. It was, at the time, the biggest high school in Quebec outside of Montreal, equipped with the most modern facilities and big enough to accommodate 560 students. Nevertheless, within a few years four “portable” classrooms were constructed in 1965 at the rear of the school to keep up with Saint-Lambert's exploding school population. These temporary classrooms were to remain over thirty years until the late 1990's when they were condemned as health hazards, demolished and replaced by four permanent classrooms.
These 4 temporary classrooms were built in 1965 at a cost of $35,000. They were intended as a temporary measure, and this was shown on the contract, which stipulated that each one of the portables could later be relocated anywhere on the South Shore within five years at a fee of $1,000. In 2003 a contract was awarded to demolish the portables at a total cost of $36,000, and a separate contract was awarded to build four permanent classrooms at a cost of $796,000.
Principal E.Y. Templeton (1954-64) remembers the move to the new school in 1954:
“I remember the eagerness and excitement of all of us as we set forth for the first time in this spanking new building with its long corridors, shining floors, modern labs, spacious gym and so on. The move from 81 Green Street to 695 was a pleasant one for all concerned. The emphasis during the 1950's and 1960's was on high achievement in both the academic and extracurricular fields. Each year one or two of our graduates placed among the top twenty in the province in their final examinations, thus bringing credit to themselves and their school. Likewise, other students excelled in public speaking, the variety show, student council, athletics, Red Cross, Hi Y youth club, and school choir. Graduation exercises were proud and colorful occasions with much emphasis once again on excellence.”
In January 1959, the school's architect, A. Leslie Perry, wrote to the School Commissioners advising them that the winter's exceptional snowfall upon the flat roof of the school was “causing us considerable concern, as the loads on the flat roofs could be a real peril. It is probable that present loads exceed the design figure, and any increase or rain could put your roof into the danger zone. We would earnestly recommend that you take the safety precaution of shoveling from your roofs all the piled snow.”
Presumably this led to earnest questions from the Board, as the architect replied in February: “We have re-examined the drawings of the high school, and confirm that the rear wing has been designed to support an additional storey, and that it is capable of containing 18 additional classrooms.”
Student Peggy Gilbert Evans, who graduated in 1961, remembers the extracurricular activities:
“The sports were seasonal: volleyball, basketball, hockey and football. We played intramurally until we got to be seniors, then we could try out for school teams that went outside to play against Royal George in Greenfield Park or Lemoyne D'Iberville in Longueuil. Bowling was very popular and the students marched down Green Street to the alley which was above Jazzar's five and dime store, where the pool hall is today. Gymnastics, track and field and a ski team were also formed. Our sports events were very well attended and we had cheerleaders to encourage most of the teams. The support we gave each other was outstanding.”
There were intramural teams which were the foundation of the sports activities in the school and all students were inducted into one of four houses when they arrived at CCHS: Montcalm, Wolfe, Laurier, and MacDonald. This was based on the time-honoured system of “houses” from the British public school system. Each student competed as a member of his house against the other three houses.
Dr. Leslie Lukacs
Who had been Vice Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Budapest, fled Hungary during the Revolution in 1956 and emigrated to Canada where he received his Bachelors of Education degree and taught in various high schools, including CCHS: “I learned to love my Canadian students whom I regard as maybe the best people in the world. They may not be the most outstanding in their academic knowledge, but for me, and I speak from experience, they are the least prejudiced and the most loveable students.”
During the sixties the girls wore a uniform of grey skirts, white blouses and blue blazers and the boys wore grey flannel pants, shirt and tie, with a white or red school sweater. With the baby boom in full flight class sizes ranged from 32 to 40 students, straining the school's resources to the limit.
E.N. Gould was principal from 1964-70.
“During my six-year period, a number of significant events and changes occurred. The first library and guidance services were established. The uniform dress regulations were dropped. The school's 1967-68 Centennial Project was the financial “adoption” of a poverty-stricken community in Nigeria. The teachers' professional association became a union and the first union pressure tactics were used in negotiation. An extracurricular activities ban by teachers led to student protests in 1968-9. The student population of CCHS reached its highest level and at one point led to conversion of the girl's locker room into a temporary classroom. In general, the 60's saw a radical change in the society in Quebec. It was an exciting decade and CCHS reflected this excitement. It was a great time to learn and teach.”
P.M. Crowe was the principal from 1970-76
“I had the good fortune of being Principal of CCHS during the turbulent '70's. Somehow we survived those exciting years: the walk-outs by teachers, the sit-ins by students, the drug cult, underground newspapers and flower children. It was also exciting because CCHS was alive with activities: the annual drama production, the birth of the school band, an active sports program, dances, variety shows, even apple picking excursions to Hemmingford. However, I will best remember CCHS for the fine people I came into contact with, especially four individuals who were handicapped yet each of them in their own way became leaders within our student body. Their cheerful personalities were a source of inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune of knowing them. For me, they represent the true spirit of CCHS.”
In the '60's and '70's there was a division of available courses by whether the student was male or female; the girls had to take home economics while the boys were offered industrial arts. In the '70's student David Rowley prevailed upon teacher Jean McHarg to have a “Bachelor Cooking Class” after school hours. By the end of the '70's all students had to take home economics and the course received a name change to “Skills in Living”. In the mid '80's enrollment in these courses began to drop as most senior students had to take a larger number of provincially-mandated compulsory courses and a new optional course was developed for Secondary III students in Leadership. Over the years many conferences were hosted, leadership camps attended and an entire all-years reunion was organized with the assistance of alumni in 1995.
John Prince was the principal of CCHS from 1976-85 and commented
“We enjoyed a student population of academically capable and enthusiastic young people and a competent staff who believed in their students and their ability to succeed. Our geographic base was added to, now having a large percentage of our population come to us from the Preville area of St. Lambert and Brossard. This diversified our student body and added a special richness provided by the heritage of more than twenty cultures.”
The culture of volunteerism and civic duty is not a recent development. English and History teacher Stanley MacDonald, who retired in 1982, remembers the creation of a Junior Red Cross society that on average raised $1500 a year for the Montreal Children's Hospital and other local hospitals. During this time many teens became volunteers at the “Children's” and Stan was particularly proud that CCHS had more “Volunteens” than all the other schools together. Students at Chambly Academy were still actively involved with supporting the “Children's” in 2005: among numerous activities were fund-raising by an art auction for children with Cystic Fibrosis, and a collection of DVD's for children hospitalized in the Oncology Ward. Students also collected and delivered 250 food baskets, raked leaves for senior citizens, assisted handicapped students at REACH school, and participated in numerous community events. The school website stated in 2006: “The school has an excellent reputation for being in first place when it comes to taking an active role in the community. The parents and the administration work together to ensure that the students understand the importance of making community service part of their daily lives, now and for years to come.”
B.E. “Bernie” Praw began teaching at CCHS in September 1970 and retired as principal in July 2005
“Since 1970 I must have been involved in as many as 20 variety shows and numerous musicals. Fifteen trips to Europe and 2005's visit to China have broadened our students' experiences from the quaint village of St-Lambert and the bustle of Brossard to the wonders of strolling down the Champs d'Elysee and climbing the Eiffel Tower. Oh yeah-I forgot, I was hired to teach mathematics, but I was also the Student Council advisor, yearbook advisor, guidance counselor and the first teacher of PSD (Personality and Social Development). And now it is July 2005 and we are reliving all of these years at another all-years reunion. Our remembrances may be selective but our hearts will always belong to Chambly.”
In September 1999 CCHS was merged with another English high school, Penfield Academy of Brossard and was renamed Chambly Academy. Penfield Academy, named after the world-renowned neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, had previously been merged in 1993 with St-Francois-Xavier High School of Laprairie.
In September 1999, Penfield Academy, an institution named in honour of Dr. Wilder Penfield,
an innovative and brilliant neurosurgeon, and Chambly County High School merged to become Chambly Academy.
In 2006 Chambly Academy had an enrollment at full capacity of 560 students, most of whom arrive by bus and very few who return home for lunch. The cafeteria for 70 students is totally inadequate and major repairs to the school are required to keep it in operation. Kevin Lukian, the Director-General of the Riverside School Board, in an interview with the author in August 2006, said that that Chambly Academy continues to provide a quality of education that is very attractive to parents, both due to its International Baccalaureate program and its small size compared to the Board's two other high schools, Heritage in St. Hubert and Centennial in Greenfield Park, each with over 1500 students. Planning is in progress to build an addition to Chambly Academy to provide a modern gymnasium, adequate cafeteria, and other facilities.
Despite the change in name the school at 675 Green Street remained pretty much the same as when it opened in 1954 until renovations were made in the summer of 2007.
There have been four All Year Reunions. The first was held in May of 1995, and later in 2005, 2010, and 2015.
All of these reunions were well attended by alumni and were a financial, as well as a social, success.
The next All Year Reunion is scheduled for May 2020 in St. Lambert.