A philanthropist's legacyFormer students seek official historic status for West Island high school
It still stands in all its late-Victorian splendour, an aging symbol of a bygone age, when Canadians still leaned on men of great means to lead the way into their future. In his case, the future sought by tobacco tycoon William Christopher Macdonald was one of learning and scientific progress.
While fine temples to industrial prowess rose as private mansions on the slopes of Mount Royal, here, in an historic farming community on the western tip of the Island of Montreal, a revolution in English-language education in Quebec was starting. Flush with profits from his flourishing tobacco trade, Macdonald began to buy up land in the Bout-de-l'Ile district around 1903, eventually founding the agricultural college that bears his name in 1905. And it was here in 1907, under Sir William's supervision and that of a certain headmistress named Miss Peebles, that Macdonald High School first opened its doors to pupils.
Generations of Macdonald High grads planning to mark the school's centennial next year with a special reunion in the town of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue now hope to commemorate the occasion by inviting local officials to recognize the school's significant historic value. Pieter Leenhouts, chair of the committee in charge of organizing the reunion, says alumni believe that the Macdonald high school building warrants the special designation because of its historical value and because of the magnitude of its founder's contribution to the local community.
"Not only did he found the college and the high school," Leenhouts notes, "he funded its entire construction as well as scholarships and professorships."
Classrooms at Macdonald High were originally conceived as a training ground for future educators enrolled in the college's School of Teachers, which will also celebrate its centennial in 2007. Today the school operates under the Lester B. Pearson School board.
Born in Prince Edward Island on 10 February 1831, William Christopher Macdonald first gained his business acumen in the United States and then built a fortune selling tobacco under various brands owned by his Montreal-based Macdonald Tobacco Company. The college and high school in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue were but two of his many educational contributions. He was particularly devoted to farming communities and the advancement of agricultural sciences. Throughout his long philanthropic career, Macdonald established rural schools in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and he helped fund facilities at McGill, Guelph University and the University of British Columbia. His philanthropy earned him a knighthood, which Queen Victoria herself bestowed upon him in 1898.
Leenhouts says the 2007 reunion is an outgrowth of a similar event, held in 2000, when 1,700 Macdonald High alumni as far awat as Australia, Japan, Africa and South America gathered in Sainte-Anne.
The centennial celebration next year is shaping up to be even bigger.
Official registration of heritage buildings in Quebec comes under the jurisdiction of a provincial body known as the Commission des Biens Culturels du Quebec. But it's up to municipalities to identify and designate historic properties for inclusion in this registry. Leenhouts says Macdonald High alumni are considering spearheading a campaign to have the building designated as a historic monument in time for their reunion, planned for Victoria Day weekend, May 18 to May 20,2007.
For more information on the upcoming celebration or to get involved with the campaign to designate Macdonald High as a historic site, please visit http://www.machigh.org/
Courtesy of the Quebec Heritage News, we are pleased to present you with a condensed history of Macdonald High School. The story was run in Vol. 3, No.12, Nov. Dec. 2006 edition and was based upon an article written and submitted by Pieter Leenhouts, Past President MHSAA and Chairman of 2007 MHSCCC.