“Cornerstones” were articles that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Calgary Herald between 1997 and 2000. The following article appeared December 6, 1998.
St. Mary’s School (St. Martin de Porres)
• 1916 2nd Street S.W.
• Built: 1909
• Architect: James O’Gara, who collaborated with Hodgson and Bates. O’Gara also designed other Calgary buildings: St. Mary’s Parish Hall; the medical, surgical and maternity wings of the Holy Cross Hospital; and the Lacombe Home in Midnapore. O’Gara became a separate school board trustee in 1911 and served as president of the Alberta Association of Architects in 1915.
• Contractor: Michael Healy
• Original cost: $63,969 including equipment
• Original owner: Lacombe Separate School District #1, formed in 1885 as the first Separate School District in the Northwest Territories, which included the Calgary area. In 1911 the name was changed to Calgary Roman Catholic School District #1.
• Construction materials: Red brick and sandstone.
• Original interior details: The Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus described the new four-storey school building in their 1910 report." We re-opened the school in January, under very improved conditions…It is a tremendous advantage for us to get into this spacious building, which, apart from its usefulness, is certainly very ornamental. It is an academic-looking structure of vermilion - colored brick, with grey sandstone trimmings. It has fine double entrance doors, all glass, at the back and front; every room is lighted from the left, furnished with single desks, and with 70 ft. of blackboard. There is an enormous fire-hose at every landing and all the great corridors communicate at each end with fire escapes on the outside of the building. It is supplied with a modern method of ventilation, by means of air – shafts. There is electric light and steam heating throughout. The exterior is adapted to the interior; grass seed has been sown over the ground surrounding the school, so that in summer we shall have two elegant lawns; a fringe of small pines and maples skirt the fence near the road, and concrete walks have just been laid up to front and side entrances. At the top of the edifice is the Assembly Room for concerts having a stage with foot – lights and a drop curtain. The boarders relish the walk across the garden to school every day and their private study in the evening in their own classroom is all the better for the change."
• Calgary’s first St. Mary’s School was founded in 1885 by a teaching order called the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. From 1885 to 1911, St. Mary’s was the only school in the separate school district. A two-storey log cabin housed the convent and the school until 1893 when classes moved into the newly constructed Sacred Heart Convent, which also provided accommodation for resident students.
• The site of the 1910 St. Mary’s School was part of a block of land acquired in 1883 by Father Albert Lacombe and Father Hippolyte Leduc for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The Oblates intended to develop a French speaking, Roman Catholic settlement south of Calgary. This area, now known as the Mission District, was incorporated in 1899 as the Village of Rouleauville and annexed to the city in 1907.
• On January 14th 1909, the school board passed a by-law for the sale of $65,000 worth of debentures to build a new school. In April the lowest tender was accepted from M. Healy for $55,548. By this time Calgary’s population was 29,265 and climbing.
• St. Mary’s was opened in 1910 with a teaching staff of nine and a janitor. Initially the school offered grades 1 to 12 for boys and girls
• Enrolment continued to increase and by 1911 the Assembly Room was converted into classrooms. Two years later additional classroom space was rented at Sacred Heart Convent.
• In 1918, senior boys’ classes were relocated, creating St. Mary’s College for Boys. Although the younger boys stayed at the 2nd Street St. Mary’s, it became known as St. Mary’s Girls’ School. Until the 1960s it was the only Catholic high school for girls.
• St. Mary’s closed for an extended period during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 – 1919
• In 1920 a Domestic Science Room was constructed.
• The Calgary Separate School Board offices were located at St. Mary’s between 1924 and 1952.
• A $27,000 fire closed the school in November 1926 for nearly four months.
• In 1958 construction was completed on two new wings. The addition, designed by the architectural firm of Rule Wynn and Rule, included more classrooms, a gymnasium and a cafeteria. The 1909 north and south side entrances and a small library addition demolished at this time.
• By 1959 elementary and junior high classes were relocated to another school with St. Mary’s offering grades 9 to 12.
• St. Mary’s Boys’ School, built on 18th Avenue S.W. in 1957 – 1958, was expanded in 1969 and became co-educational when girls’ senior high classes were moved from St. Mary’s Girls’ School.
• In 1970 the old St. Mary’s Girls’ School became a junior high and was renamed St. Martin de Porres. The school closed in 1979 and the Calgary Pastoral Centre subsequently occupied the building. For the past three years old St. Mary’s has been vacant.
• The Calgary Herald of October 1998 reported " By a 4-3 vote, trustees [Separate School Board] directed the administration to pursue demolition [of old St. Mary’s Girls’ School] although they gave those concerned about the destruction until January 1 to propose alternative uses."
• November 25, 1998, the School Board rescinded their motion for demolition. "That #461/98 regarding the old ST. Martin de Porres building be rescinded until further options can be explored by administration and that this item return to the Board for decision prior to April 1st/99."
• After delays to the April 1st decision, the Friends of St. Mary’s Girls School (1909) proposed that the School Board enter into a working relationship with them.
• On June 23, 1999, the School Board voted 5-1 in favour that "the Board of Trustees delay a final decision on the disposition of the old St. Martin de Porres building until June 30, 2000."
• With the hope of working together with the School Board to identify funding opportunities, the "Friends of St. Mary’s Girls School formed (in July 1999) a registered non-profit society under the new name, "Society for the Preservation and Restoration of St. Mary’s School (1909).
“Then & Now” columns appeared weekly in the Calgary Herald between 2002 and 2005. The following article appeared July 23, 2002.
• St. Mary's School was designed by James O'Gara and built in 1909 on property acquired in 1883 by Fathers Albert Lacombe and Hippolyte Leduc. The site was part of a larger dominion government land grant that included the entire Mission district east of present day 4th Street S.W. This area, known as the cradle of Calgary's Catholic community, was incorporated in 1899 as the Village of Rouleauville and annexed by Calgary in 1907. When St. Mary's opened in 1910, with a teaching staff of nine and a janitor, the school offered grades 1 to 12 for boys and girls. Over the years, the school adapted to meet the changing educational needs and demographics of the Catholic community. Into the 1960s, it served as a girls' high school, and by 1970, as an elementary and junior high under the name of St. Martin de Porres. After the school closed in 1979, the Calgary Pastoral Centre occupied part of the building. Since 1998, when Catholic school trustees voted 4-3 to proceed with demolition of St. Mary's, a number of interested parties have made efforts to save the city's oldest purpose-built Catholic school from the wrecking ball.
• The Calgary Catholic school board, at an estimated cost of $700,000, is demolishing St. Mary's school complex. The Society for the Preservation and Restoration of St. Mary's School and its many supporters failed to save the historic school.
In spite of lengthy negotiations and an offer to buy and move the 1909 building, demolition of the brick and sandstone structure began earlier this month. To date, no application for a development permit for the site has been received by the city.
This "Then & Now" article appeared June 24, 2003.
Then: Sacred Heart Convent
• The first Sacred Heart Convent, established in 1885 by Reverend Mother Greene of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, was a little log cabin on the banks of the Elbow River. Consecrated by the archbishop of the Northwest Territories in October 1885, it served as a boarding and day school for Roman Catholic girls and a residence for the teaching sisters. In 1893, increasing enrolment led to the construction of a new "gray stone" building with a French mansard roof. The school offered a full education in English and French. By 1913, the convent accommodated 14 teaching sisters and 75 boarders. The curriculum included plain and ornamental needlework, pianoforte playing, singing, painting, stenography and elocution. The school flourished, leading to the construction of St. Mary's School in 1909 and further additions to Sacred Heart Convent in 1924.
Now: Sacred Heart Convent
• Around 1982, the convent boarding school was converted to the Faithful Companions of Jesus Christian Life Centre, with a mission to "share God's vision for a peaceful, joy-filled and just world." Although it has been renovated many times over the years, many elements of the original 1893 structure remain intact. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the FCJ Centre offers a wide variety of programs for members of all faiths, including retreats, workshops, family life programs, scripture courses, youth leadership training and spiritual direction.