How 650 girls ended my Catholic education

I didn’t continue my Catholic education into high school at Scollard Hall in my hometown of North Bay, ON, for two reasons: first, it cost money to go there and we had none; and second, no girls. It was an all boys school and that was taking religion too far for me. Besides, a mile from my home and half the trip to Scollard Hall a brand new, ultra modern, mega school had just been built and we were to be the first full year class. There were 1,300 students which meant at least 650 girls which in turn meant my Catholic education came to an abrupt halt.

But that was in the bustling, booming, railroad centre, North Bay, ON. That wasn’t in a fishing community like Cocagne or Escuminac, NB, where a decent education wasn’t about choosing which of five high schools you wanted to attend, but about deciding to go to high school at all. And if you made the choice to be educated, you most certainly were going to be educated by priests or nuns within the Catholic religion.

The luxury of choice of schools

What I’m getting at here is that as a teenager I had choices ― lots of choices ― as to how I wanted to be educated and in what language and I didn’t have to leave home to do it. The worst case scenario was a 20 minute bus ride uptown. However, if I had been born twenty years earlier and 1,500 km east, things might have been different. Anything like higher education — namely, high school — meant leaving home, leaving your family and friends, impoverishing your family twice, once by the tuition and board and once by your not being there to help fish or farm.

headshot of older woman
Jeannette talked to us about life in the Cocagne area. She was especially adamant that edlucation is what changed everything for Acadians.

Education was biggest boost for Acadians

Lots has changed since then. Louis Robichaud, P’tit Louis,  New Brunswick’s premier during the sixties, made basic education for Acadians a reality. It sounds third world, I know, but when Elaine and I chatted with a friend of hers, Jeannette Deprés, who grew up near our cottage in Cocagne, she talked about the poverty of the Acadians in her time. 

When I asked what change most improved their lives she blurted out, “Education.” I, with my five high schools to choose from, thought I was listening to a turn of the century story but that story would have been mine had I grown up in the Acadian peninsula.

Now, everywhere you drive in Acadie you find large, modern schools for k-12 and now there are remote campuses of the community colleges as well as the University of Moncton. I work with a young woman who learned 3D-modelling  at the Campus de la Péninsule acadienne in Shippigan, traveling the 40 minutes from her home in Tracadie-Sheila every day. Incidentally, good roads was the second major factor Jeannette said improved the lives of Acadians in her time. She described going a lot of places by fishing boat.

I wonder how many young Acadians understand how far their people have come in such a short time. When I hear Acadians of the generation before mine talk about what they had to do to get an education, I know if I had been born here in Acadie, I probably would have gone to work at the railroad down the road like my father did.

Editor’s note: In 1985 Scollard Hall boys high school and St. Joseph’s girls school joined into one.