Classical Tales: Cornwall’s first college celebrated at reunion

By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall Classical College was the first post-secondary institution to lay down roots in the city.

Many local public figures, politicians and sports figures were pictured in yearbooks being passed around at the 2013 reunion. The College taught grades nine to 13, and offered a college degree as well. It opened in 1949, as an all-boys Catholic school. The college closed its doors in 1968.

At St. Lawrence College, dozens of former College students and alumni gathered to remember an education that taught many valuable life lessons. It was a fitting venue, since SLC is housed within the same walls as the former College.

Yearbooks and classroom photos surrounded former student Maurice Poirier, who enrolled in 1959 and graduated with a BA in 1967.

“The success attained by a remarkable number of Classical College graduates is a testament to the quality education they received at that school,” said Poirier. “It required effort, perseverance and dedication to graduate from that program, preparing many of them for leadership roles.”

He said many former College students would likely recall the ‘great football rivalry’ that existed in the mid-60s between the College and its Quebec-based opponents.

“Many Cornwall residents will be interested in learning that some of those players became phys ed teachers in the area, notably Bernie Charbonneau and Fern Mainville,” said Poirier.

The recently deceased Gerry Samson was the team’s star quarterback, who also had a stellar education career afterwards.

The College was founded shortly after WWII, at a time of rapid expansion in Cornwall, when the Seaway was just being built.  Poirier said a lot of parents had high hopes for their sons (at the time, the College was an all-boys school – girls came later in the mid-60s), and the College was a great opportunity to give them a “classical” education; this provided a broad exposure to culture and science, in a French-language environment.

“Consequently, the College had a deep and lasting impact in particular on the strength and vitality of Cornwall’s francophone community,” he said. “In a broader sense, the College added a sense of culture to a town mostly known then for its industrial production.”

Among the graduates, there were a number of priests who served in and around Cornwall: Réjean Lebrun, René Rivet, Denis Vaillancourt, Raymond Dumoulin, Gary Ostler (deceased), and René Dubé (deceased).

Many students and graduates went on to careers in education as teachers and senior administrators in the Cornwall area and elsewhere: Marcel Bard, André Lalonde and Denis Chartrand became Directors of Education in other parts of the province; Marc Schaefer was superintendent of Education for the Upper Canada District School Board (and now chair of the Board of Governors of St. Lawrence College); Maurice Poirier was Director of Curriculum for the Province of Ontario in the 80s and 90s; Collin Geoffrion, Richard Rozon and Ralph Perry were high school principals; numerous others had successful careers as teachers, department heads, consultants and elementary school principals

Other students and graduates also had interesting and varied careers: Bob Kilger (mayor, MP), Robert Marleau (Clerk of the House of Commons, Ethics Commissioner), Gaston Levac (executive director, Canadian Hospital Administrators Association), Robert Guy Scully (media personality). Numerous other accountants, doctors, lawyers and engineers went through their initial basic education at the College, making their mark here and elsewhere.

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