Drummondville High School Building to be Demolished
By: Barry Husk
September 18, 2019
An architectural witness to the history, presence and involvement of the English community in Drummondville is now slated for demolition. The former Drummondville High School (DHS) building, transferred to the City of Drummondville in 1982 to be used as the municipal library building, is now no longer used by them and has been sold. This former school building is to be torn down and the property used for a multi-family residential project.
Having now elected to demolish this property, it’s perhaps important to pause and take a look back in time to recall the motivation, determination and effort required for the establishment of this school, as well as some of its unique characteristics for the time.
The Establishment of DHS
When the newly-constructed Drummondville High School was opened in 1949, Drummondville was in the middle of a post-war economic boom. Local industries, primarily in textiles, were expanding and attracting employees from far afield‒many from anglophone backgrounds‒and the post-war baby boom was in full swing. All these factors were putting pressure on the single English school of the town at the time, Riverview Intermediate School, situated on Heriot Street behind the Anglican Church cemetery, which had opened around 1920. The school was overcrowded to the extent that some classes had to be held in the Registry Office and Courthouse building located nearby in St. Frederick’s Park. The condition of the school was deteriorating and it required important investments for upkeep and modernization. In addition, Riverview only offered classes up to grade 10, after which students had to change schools or go out of town to pursue their studies.
The need for a new school being recognized by the entire community, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work on organizing it. Through the Richmond-Drummond-Arthabaska School Board, the school commissioners and trustees, the Home and School Association and the provincial government, plans were put in the works.
Alfred Leslie Perry (1896-1982) of Montreal was chosen as the architect, largely due to his experience with other institutional projects, many incorporating the latest in modern designs and techniques. His architectural practice included designs for many other institutional projects, some of which are now classified as heritage properties[i]. He was also architect for another building in Drummondville, the Capitol Cinema, now also recognized‒in part because of his professional renown‒as a provincial heritage property.[ii] True to his reputation, his plans for this building were accepted by the school board and were later published in the journal Architecture-Bâtiment-Construction[iii], as well as the Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada[iv], and were considered as forward-looking designs of the time.
Typical of the can-do attitude which persists to this day in Drummondville, the Drummondville High School subscription campaign was started and the Drummondville High School Building Fund established. Over the course of this campaign, $23,000, or 9% of the total cost of $265,000, was raised through community donations, a unique accomplishment in the history of Drummondville schools. Part of the success of this campaign was due to the proposal to also use the new school as a much-needed community centre. In comparison, it is difficult to imagine this percentage of funding being raised through a grassroots campaign for a local public school in the present day.
This school was of a distinctive design in several aspects and, when constructed, offered many services and facilities unavailable to students and the Drummondville community prior to then[v]. Many of these features are taken for granted today, but were considered unique at the time, particularly in smaller communities such as Drummondville.
It embodied many of the most modern features of school architecture of the time[vi]. For example, it was the first single-floor design of a secondary school in the Province of Quebec. It was also the first school in Quebec to be equipped with radiant heating and a furnace with an automatic stoker. In addition to its classrooms, an industrial arts workshop, a home economics room, a photography darkroom, men’s and women’s teachers’ rooms and a large auditorium were included. The design included an audio-visual room with movie projector. A modern laboratory space was supplied with lab benches, hot and cold water, fume cabinets and propane gas for Bunsen burners. The U-shaped design of the building ensured perfect natural lighting and the inner courtyard opening to the south-east was a useful area for students to play protected from the wind.
As an example of his attention to detail, the architect Perry incorporated decorative designs in the brickwork, creating patterns with bricks of different colour and placement, and also specifying the Scottish bond brick pattern (also known as English garden wall pattern) on some walls, seldom seen on buildings of this region.[vii]
Most importantly, this school was designed expressly to be used as well as a community centre. The building was designed such that the classroom section could be closed-off, while allowing all community activities to be held in the east wing of the building. This minimized heating and cleaning costs and lessened building depreciation. It offered one of the largest gymnasium floors in the Eastern Townships and could seat 500 people when used as an auditorium. The large stage permitted full-scale theatrical productions and numerous pulleys permitted changing of scenery and lighting arrangements. The floor of the gymnasium was marked for three sports, badminton, volleyball and basketball. The building also contained a library, with a long bank of windows on the east side, offering 3,000 volumes. The books were used by classes, individual students and, as part of the school’s community role, were rented to other small groups when not in use by the school[viii].
The new DHS school was officially inaugurated on April 30th, 1949, with the ribbon cutting by Mr. W. Percival, Deputy Minister of Education and Director of Protestant Education for the Province of Quebec, taking place in front of four hundred interested citizens and officials present[ix].
The Current Situation
This is a brief overview of how Drummondville High School came to be established. From its opening in 1948, it continued to be used as an English high school until 1968.
In 1968 the Richmond Regional High School was opened and all DHS students from grades 7 to 11 were required to attend that school. DHS became known at that time as Drummondville Elementary School. It continued offering education for grades 1 to 6 until 1982 when all elementary students attending this school were then required to go to Richmond as well. At this time, the school property was transferred from the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) to the City of Drummondville. The City then made significant modifications to the building and used it as a space for the municipal library, as well as the local historical society and other non-profit organizations.
The 1990’s then saw a resurgence in demand for English primary education in Drummondville. No longer having a property in Drummondville, the ETSB acquired an unused primary school on Chabanel Street from the local French schoolboard and reopened a primary school there in 1998. This school has since seen an increase in its student population such that building of a new school to accommodate the demand is planned and a budget of $13 million has been allocated by the provincial government for this[x].
Also, in the meantime, a new municipal building built to house the library and other organizations was opened in 2017[xi]. Once operational, the municipal library was then moved there and the former DHS was then left unoccupied and the municipality with an unused property on its hands.
In preparation for the upcoming demolition of the DHS building, some former students, in collaboration with the Société d’histoire de Drummond (SHD), have removed the cornerstone of the building and recovered and archived the contents placed in it when the school was built in 1948. These artefacts, along with other information on the history of English schools in Drummondville, have been presented in a display open to the public at the offices of the SHD.
Finally, one of the conditions of sale of this property by the City, now zoned for residential development, is that a “physical element” be included in any new project on this site as a historical reminder of its heritage and meaning to the anglophone community[xii]. Proposals for such a memorial are being prepared to submit to the City and the future developer.
The fate reserved for the Drummondville High School property stands as one more example of how enduring symbols of once vibrant communities, established and operated only through the sustained efforts of its predecessors, can be lost forever.
- Perry, Alfred Leslie; Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec; http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=9634&type=pge
- Cinéma Capitol; Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec; http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=93450&type=bien
- Perry, A. L., Journal Architecture-Bâtiment-Construction; December 1947, pp. 48-49; illus.
- Perry, A. L., Deux Écoles Supérieures; Journal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada; May 1950; p. 166; illus.
- The Spokesman, April 29, 1949; complete issue.
- Sherbrooke Daily Record; May 6, 1949; pp. 3-4.
- Jenkins, M., Scottish Traditional Brickwork, Historic Scotland, 2014; ISBN 978-1-84917-118-2.
- Southern Canada Power News; May 1949.
- Sherbrooke Daily Record; May 4, 1949; p. 11.
- The Record; “Eastern Townships School Board to Build New School in Drummondville”; June 21, 2019.
- Ville de Drummondville; Édifice Francine-Ruest-Jutras et Bibliothèque publique de Drummondville; https://www.drummondville.ca/edifice-francine-ruest-jutras-bibliotheque-publique-de-drummondville-maire-alexandre-cusson-ministre-luc-fortin-procedent-a-linauguration/
- Ville de Drummondville; Call for Tenders, June 2018; paragraph 3.4 Historique du site.
Drummond High School, 1951
Drummond High School, 2019
Drummond High School, 1951
Drummond High School, 2019