Today I remembered the threats from my late father 50 years ago to send me to St. Helen’s School for Girls near Dunham, Quebec. I have to admit that two places I loved going with him on his “electrical repair” calls were the Brome Lake Duck farm and St. Helen’s School for Girls. I was completely mesmerized by the seemingly “perfect world” of the school and girls.
For 97 years, minus a few, privileged girls attended St. Helen’s School for Girls in Dunham, Quebec. It was fuelled by the growing preference of women to teach in schools rather than in private families. The young ladies studied a curriculum similar to that which was provided in boys’ private schools, with an emphasis on academic attainment and sports rather than domestic roles.
It should be noted though, that the girls’ of St. Helen’s ultimate destination in life was still to be that of wife and mother. So, one was also educated to be a “companion” to her husband and to learn how to mother her future children. By the looks of the school photos I used to look at in the late 50s and early 60s they were also taught to be terribly refined while posing for photographs.
I took a huge interest in the school after being told St. Helen’s would “knock some sense in me” and studied their annuals carefully. A note to self was that I would never come out alive with some of those gals who would learn quickly that I was a little different than most.
The first thing I noticed was their green school uniforms with crisp white blouses that I knew I could probably never keep clean and neat. There was no skipping class, or going down to the girls washroom during Home Ec as you were destined only to leave class at a specific time during the day to visit the dentist, doctor or even have your hair styled.
Family connection would be solely any letters or packages from home; and knowing that the only mail would be probably my Grandmother’s homemade squares I laid low for years not wanting to ripple the waters and end up there. I really meant to behave in my childhood, but there were just too many other options.
Even if they looked like refined young ladies, those gals at St. Helen’s were no angels. I heard my Dad tell my Grandmother a story once after he did some electrical work there. He never did tell me about the the suspension of five young women from the school and the expulsion of three of their comrades out of fear I might change my mind and really want to go there.
Apparently the members of the senior class gave a reception in the gymnasium to which the juniors were not invited through an oversight. The juniors were offended by the seeming slight and, bent on revenge, a score of girls made a raid on the school kitchen, dressed only in their nightgowns, and secured a supply of jellies and jams.
They made their way to where the seniors were sleeping and played all sorts of tricks on them. Pillow cases were smeared with jelly and chairs were suspended from lights. The fair marauders then marched to the lawn, where they nearly frightened the life out of the watchman, who thought there was a procession of ghosts from a nearby graveyard. He went and informed the Head Mistress who encountered the girls while they were having a dance in the dining hall. On her appearance the girls put out the lights and tried to escape. Several did but, those who failed were recognized and brought before the faculty. It was said that an effort to the reinstatement of a few girls would never happen.
The train took them all back to Windsor Station in Montreal, and some of their friends waved to them from outside the train. The girls inside the departing train were completely happy because they were going home, and maybe those smiles would change once they reached Windsor Station when their parents had a “jam session” with them.
- The Gazette,
- 17 Jun 1965, Thu,
- Page 28
The founding of St. Helen’s School (as Dunham Ladies’ College), by the Reverend Ashton Oxenden, Bishop of the Diocese of Montreal of the Church of England, dates to 1875, though it did not open its doors until 1878. Administered by a corporation composed of
clergymen and lay people, Dunham Ladies’ College encountered many financial problems and had to close from 1885 to 1888 and from 1890 to 1894. In 1913, with the College still facing financial difficulties, the Corporation leased it to the then principal, Miss Wade, at her request. Now under the management of a board of governors, Dunham Ladies’ College was renamed St. Helen’s School. In 1972, St. Helen’s School was closed down after almost a century of existence –-Eastern Townships Resource Centre
Lesley Fields-Merrill Some of these faces are familiar (I attended BCS the 1st year it went co-ed and we had loads of girls that attended St Helen’s) judging by the length of the tunics this is late 60’s early 70’s (I even remember how you measured your tunic to get it hemmed so it was that short 😉 you ended up with enough leftover material to make a skirt. From OutofKontrol
Before it closed in 1972, Anglican school girls from across Canada knew Dunham as the home of St. Helen’s College, a private boarding school built in 1878. The Quebec Women’s Institute was founded in Dunham in 1911. This photo was taken in 1958 at the end of my Grandfathers driveway. You can see the Pinnacle mountain the background. This was taken at what was then my grandfathers house, an apple orchard between Dunham and Frelighsburg. Story goes that my grand parents would invite the girls up to pick apples in the fall. I wonder if you would remember them Hal and Ernie Riordon?
Author Joyce Mitchell
- The Winnipeg Tribune,
- 18 Jun 1941, Wed,
- Page 8
- The Gazette,
- 12 Jun 1947, Thu,
- Page 4
- The Gazette,
- 06 Jun 1945, Wed,
- Page 13
where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and theSherbrooke Record and and Screamin’ Mamas (USACome and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place. Tales of Almonte and Arnprior Then and Now.