After several years of community work, the Art Deco exterior facade of the century-old École Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague at 162 MacKenzie St. has been designated as a heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Trust.
Beginning with a presentation in 2020, city council voted unanimously in favour of directing staff to issue a Notice of Intent to Designate the building under the Ontario Heritage Act, which came to fruition with the unveiling of a plaque at the site.
Built in 1914, it is the oldest school still standing in Greater Sudbury, and a ceremony to unveil the plaque was held Sept. 25 to celebrate the annual observance Franco-Ontarien Day. The event was held in the gym of the old school, now home to Sudbury’s Indie Cinema.
Originally called Central Roman Catholic School, the school was later renamed in honour of Luigi Gonzaga, (a.k.a. St. Aloysius or St-Louis-de-Gonzague) an Italian Jesuit considered the patron saint of Catholic youth.
The majority of its Catholic students were French-speaking and were instructed in French in defiance of Regulation 17, which restricted French-language education after Grade 2 until 1927.
Its most famous student is Alex Trebek, the long-time host of “Jeopardy!”.
For years, the mission to designate the façade of École Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague under the Ontario Heritage Act has been a focus for the Uptown Sudbury Community Action Network (CAN). At the unveiling of the plaque, Cortney St. Jean, chair of the CAN, told the crowd that after having the designation on their meeting agenda each month, she was amazed it had actually happened.
“Not only was this building beautiful in our city streetscape, it also pulls the history of a significant chapter in the life of our community,” St. Jean told the group. “This school is the physical representation of our community's resistance to assimilation and the loss of language.”
Serge Dupuis, a former Sudburian who is now an historian and professor at Laval University (Université Laval), told Sudbury.com that there is a need to acknowledge our past, as the lessons learned from it could be lost.
He notes that the Francophone population often has less access to media in their own language, and fewer opportunities to discuss and reflect. “Which means that often, these stories will exist in common knowledge and memory. But within a generation, a lot of those stories are lost,” he said.
For instance, Dupuis said he’d not heard of Regulation 17 until he attended university, even though both his parents and grandparents had faced the challenge.
“My grandmother had talked about her grandfather building a school and it was the first French school in her town, but I mean, it was vague in my understanding of things,” he said. “And for my generation, those stories were often lost.”
Dupuis said in order to dive deeper into culture, it is important to know the roots, and learn from them.
“History and time are the dimensions, and history is interesting and relevant because it helps us see a dimension of the present that’s not immediately visible,” he said. “We can find links, what it tells us about the way we live today, where we could be, and where we need to go.”
The plaque denoting the school’s designation will be installed soon, for all to view in front of the downtown building.
Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized communities for Sudbury.com