St. Mary's Teachers' College Class of 1968 back together
Sean Chase/Daily Observer The 1968 graduating class of St. Mary's Teachers College reunited for the first time over the weekend in Chapeau. The reunion was held at the site of the former college which is now Dr. Wilbert Keon School. In the photo are (front left to right) Marilyn McGuire, Sister Marjorie Fitzpatrick, Betty Jeffrey, Donna Tierney, Rosemary Ryan, Bev Cobus, Linda McCann, Sheila Durocher, Anne Martin, Kathie St. Cyr, (back left to right) Janey McGuire, Marian Field, Jim Moore, Kenny Dubeau, Brian Sarsfield, Frank Bechamp, Zig Wargala, Gail Allen and Vernon Carroll.
CHAPEAU – The year 1968 was one of the most compelling in history – tragic assassinations, the election of a consequential Canadian prime minister, a growing war in Vietnam and mankind's first flight to the moon.
That year, St. Mary's Teachers' College graduated its penultimate class of future educators. Over the weekend, 19 of those students returned to the old convent in Chapeau, the site of the college to renew acquaintances, lifelong friendships and share precious memories made 50 years ago.
For many, it was a challenge trying to recognize some of their classmates when they came together at the reception. Today, the college has been taken over by Dr. Wilbert Keon School. The graduates were also surprised at the great changes done as they toured their old classrooms.
“We're trying to figure out where everything is because it's all been taken apart and redone,” said Sheila Durocher Duff, who chaired the reunion committee. “It is so nice to get together.”
Beginning in 1940, St. Mary's Teachers' College was operated as a private educational institution by the Sisters of St. Joseph under the jurisdiction of the Quebec Department of Education. The college aimed to prepare female English-speaking teachers, who came from western Quebec, the Gaspe Bay, the Eastern Townships and Quebec City. The inaugural class saw 22 registrants. In 1963, the school was expanded to include male students after it was recognized that the area's young men had difficulty travelling to Montreal to receive their education.
“This was a wonderful opportunity for the local high school graduates,” said 1968 graduate and reunion committee member Brian Sarsfield. “They could live at home and go to college for $100 a year.”
The graduates were united in their believe that the sisters gave them a formal education, taught them how to teach children and helped them grow up as responsible adults. The students and teachers had to deal with several hardships back then, as well. There was no doctor, the water supply was inadequate and the holidays were few and far between. There was no bridge connecting Allumette Island to Pembroke making travel difficult for local students. However, many of the students ended up boarding at the college paying $12 for board, lodging and laundry.
“It's like night and day,” recounted Sarsfield. “We had blackboards and things were reproduced on the alcohol machine. Now schools have photocopies and computers, and the new schools have white boards.”
Duff lived in Waltham and took the high school bus to college everyday. She said they really looked at the world differently back then.
“I don't know if we thought the way kids think now,” she said. “We were a small group and you knew everybody. I thought 'Hey I am going to get out of here. I am going to make some money and get out on my own'.”
When the Parent Commission came out with its recommendation to create a ministry of education, the school boards were reorganized with the number of Catholic boards reduced to 55, while he classical colleges were abolished. St. Mary's College was closed with the last class graduating in 1969.
The college has been remembered through several reunions with the first one being held in 1974 to mark the 100th anniversary of Chapeau. In 1994, former students came together when the Sisters of St. Joseph's left the community. Last year, the Class of 1967 had their reunion.