Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague School

On Monday, September 25, 2023, the Ontario Heritage Trust unveiled a provincial plaque in Sudbury to commemorate the Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague School (1915-2000) at the Indie Cinema Sudbury at 162 Mackenzie Street. The unveiling was part of Sudbury's weekend-long celebration for Franco-Ontarian Day. The plaque was permanently installed in front of the former school, following the ceremony (162 Mackenzie Street, Sudbury).

The bilingual plaque reads as follows:


    The protection of language and education rights has been an ongoing struggle in Franco-Ontarian history. Regulation 17 (1912-27) forbade teaching in French in Ontario's primary schools beyond Grade 2. Despite this, the Board of Trustees of the Roman Catholic Separate Schools of Sudbury (RCSSS) chose to separate English and French students by building the Central Separate School in 1915, where the English-speaking minority could have its own classes and the French-speaking majority could continue teaching in French between the provincial inspector's visits. In 1923, the school was renamed École Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague and, from this point forward, educated Franco-Ontarian pupils exclusively. Following the suspension of Regulation 17 in 1927, the trustees of the RCSSS persuaded Sudbury High School officials to subsidize a bilingual Catholic secondary program within Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague between 1930-40, an unusual scheme since it was prohibited by provincial law. In 1940, the French High School program was reduced to a simple French language course, folded into the regular English program, and transferred to the Sudbury High School, while Saint-Louis continued to be a French elementary school from 1923-2000. Although Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague closed in 2000, the school is a testament to the passive resistance of Franco-Ontarians to the suppression of their language in Ontario schools, as well as the beginnings of publicly funded French-language secondary education, which was fully recognized in 1968.


    La protection des droits linguistiques et des droits à l'éducation a fait l'objet d'une lutte continue dans l'histoire franco-ontarienne. Alors que le Règlement 17 (1912-1927) interdit l'enseignement en français après la deuxième année du cycle primaire en Ontario, le Conseil des écoles séparées romaines catholiques de Sudbury (CESRCS) décide de séparer les élèves anglophones des élèves francophones en bâtissant en 1915 l'École séparée centrale : là, la minorité anglophone suit ses propres cours et la majorité francophone continue de recevoir une éducation en français entre des visites de l'inspecteur provincial. En 1923, l'école est rebaptisée Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague et accueille désormais uniquement des élèves franco-ontariens. Après la suspension du Règlement 17 en 1927, les conseillers scolaires du CESRCS persuadent les responsables de la Sudbury High School de subventionner, entre 1930 et 1940, un programme catholique et bilingue de niveau secondaire à Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague. C'est un fait rare à l'époque à cause de l'interdiction du financement de tels programmes par la législation provinciale. En 1940, le programme en français de niveau secondaire est réduit à un simple cours de français, intégré au programme d'anglais ordinaire et transféré à la Sudbury High School; Saint-Louis reste une école élémentaire française par la suite. Bien que l'École Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague ait fermé ses portes en 2000, elle témoigne de la résistance passive des Franco-Ontariens face à la suppression de leur langue dans les écoles ontariennes, ainsi que des débuts de l'enseignement secondaire public en français, pleinement reconnu par la province en 1968.

Historical background

Separate (that is, Catholic) and bilingual education in Sudbury is as old as the city itself. In 1884, the year following the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the first bilingual teacher was hired.1 Classes were initially offered in the presbytery (the house of the Roman Catholic parish priest), followed by two makeshift schools: the “Brown School” (1894-95) and the Jubilee Hall (1908).2 Since 1842, Canada West and Ontario had allowed Roman Catholic property owners to send their taxes to a separate school board, which could fully fund elementary schools. Such a board was established in Sudbury in 1888. As for secondary education, an 1899 amendment to the Education Act allowed for these boards to fund Grades 9 and 10, generally in regions without a high school (or without sufficient space for Catholic students).3

French-Canadians accounted for 36 per cent of Sudbury’s population,4 and for two-thirds of the city’s Catholics,5 a group that also included Irish and Italian minorities. This meant that Franco-Ontarians often formed a majority of separate school councillors, teachers, students and ratepayers. Although the school board’s affairs were conducted in English, the Trustees often acted to counterbalance the efforts of the Anglophone province to assimilate younger generations to English-speaking society. With the help of Quebec-based congregations (the Jesuits and the Grey Nuns), Franco-Ontarians, whose population rose from 14,000 (1842) to 250,000 (1921),6 progressively developed a network of publicly funded elementary schools and private secondary schools and colleges.

The famine in Ireland in the 1850s resulted in a wave of Irish-Catholic immigration to Canada, and it impacted the population in Sudbury. Until then, the Catholic population in Sudbury was predominately French Canadian. This immigration wave changed the dynamic and ratio considerably. French Canadians and the Irish combined their efforts for the right to a Catholic education but were divided on the question of language.7 Irish-Canadian Catholics were often uneasy or openly hostile to the association of their church with the promotion of French outside of Quebec. Bishops, such as Monsignor Scollard in the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, were among the most active opponents of the French-Canadians’ linguistic and political goals.8 According to English-speaking Catholics, making separate schools similar to public (Protestant) schools was the best way to gain full access to school taxes for the secondary level.

Adopted on June 25, 1912, Regulation 17 prohibited the use of French beyond Grade 2, beginning in September 1913 in Ontario. Schools not conforming with the measure could lose their government grants. Facing resistance, the government adopted Regulation 18 in October 1912, warning school boards that they could lose their power to receive school taxes if they refused to comply with the ban on French.9 In the first years of the school crisis, most bilingual schools in the Sudbury region refused to comply but, by 1918, most schools had found a way to satisfy Anglo-Protestant inspectors to maintain access to local taxes and provincial grants.

Teachers’ wages consisted of two-thirds of the separate board’s overall budget — and they were poorly paid. They earned between $500 to $1,20010 ($12,000 to $29,000 in 2023 dollars).11 The separate school board’s budget was small: $17,178 in 191612 (about $412,000 in 2023 dollars). This explains why the board’s secretary worked hard to review the work of assessment roll evaluators and point out Catholic taxpayers whose school taxes went into the coffers of the public board.13

This point helps to understand why a board might be reticent to publicly fight a government regulation and place itself at risk of losing even meagre provincial grants. The boards’ minutes of the Roman Catholic Separate Schools of Sudbury (RCSSS) are relatively silent on the conflicts between Irish- and French-Canadian board members.14 As French-Canadian trustees held three15 or four16 seats out of six, a ban of the French language in classrooms would have been hard to pass explicitly. English- and French-speaking trustees did have a common goal to develop separate education and “to relieve the abnormal crowding in Jubilee Hall rooms.”17 Many decisions were adopted without unanimity, which suggests that the one or two English-speaking trustees often abstained or voted against a motion, such as the sale of $40,000 in debentures (about $1 million in 2023 dollars) or 80 per cent of a budget,18 “to accelerate the erection of the new school building,”19 or the decision in September 1913 to proceed with “the division of the children into English and [bilingual] classes,”20 which immediately increased overcrowding problems.

The construction of a central school also allowed for the socioeconomic advancement of French-Canadians, as four out of the five most important contractors hired for the project (Laberge Lumber, Ernest Derosiers Supplies, Ricard Bros. and M. Hotte Supplies)21 were French-Canadian. Inaugurated in January 1915, the Central Separate School (which would become École Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague) was built with two storeys in red brick, along with art deco stylings, which use simple geometric forms and ornamentation.22 Distinct entrances for boys and girls acted as reminders of the preference, when possible, for gender-specific classes. The building was state of the art with “large playgrounds, the largest of any school in Sudbury,”23 a steam heating system and mechanical ventilation system — the first public building in Sudbury with this type of heating system — electric lighting, modern and sanitary plumbing equipment, woodwork, metal ceilings, interior finishings made of golden oak and floors made out of birch.24

Some could see the construction of an impressive building during Regulation 17 as proof of the Catholic ratepayers’ and trustees’ confidence in a brighter future. French- and English-speaking pupils had their own classes and floors.

Overcrowding continued to be an issue, which prompted the construction, between 1919 and 1929, of ward schools — St. Thomas (South End), St. Albert (West End), Sainte-Marie and Nolin (Moulin-à-Fleur). Even on the Central School grounds, overcrowding brought the construction of a second school building,25 which was named St. Aloysius. Therefore, beginning in September 1923, French- and English-speaking pupils had their own school buildings.26 This went against the spirit of Regulation 17. Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague became the name for the French school as of 1930.27

School boards are provincial agencies that have exclusive jurisdictions and adopt bylaws. Separate school boards, with their majority of French-Canadian trustees in the North, acted as a rare counterbalance to the prescriptions of the Anglophone provincial government. In the case of the RCSSS Board, its French-Canadian majority opted to have “the English-speaking children with 4 English Speaking Teachers removed to Jubilee Hall classrooms, and the French Children with 6 French Teachers to occupy the Schoolhouse”28 as early as 1913. This was a form of passive resistance: trustees justifying their decision as a measure “for the welfare of the children,” adopted with a majority of votes. There was common ground in this decision, as the English-speaking children formed a minority and were taught by French-speaking Grey Nuns. In fact, it was the Irish trustees who requested, in 1922, the hiring of the English-speaking Sisters of St. Joseph’s and to thank a few Grey Nuns teaching the “senior English classes”29 for their services.

The exact proportion of English taught to the French-speaking students is unclear, but it seemed insufficient to inspector J.P. Finn who, in June 1915, complained that Central School French-Canadian pupils in Grades 5 and 6 “know little or no English at all.”30 Results should have been “better than they are,” and might have been if the board had broken with its “indolence,” hired fewer nuns and found more “qualified bilingual teachers.” Three years later, Finn was again critical of “the length of time spent teaching French”31 at the school. The French-Canadian trustees pushed back on these reports, convincing Finn that he was unqualified to evaluate the students adequately without speaking French himself and that until a fully bilingual normal school was opened — the University of Ottawa would do so in 1923 — one needed to “tolerate”32 the situation a bit longer.

The board continued to promote French-Canadians, Sister Marie Eulalie being the principal of all its schools33 and representative on the examinations committee at the Sudbury High School Board.34 It also transferred its financial activities from the Royal Bank to the Banque nationale canadienne, a Montreal-based French-Canadian bank35 in the mid-1920s.

Whether from Ontario Senator Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt36 or Quebec Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, pressure on Ontario Premier Howard Ferguson to find a different measure to enhance the teaching of English in bilingual schools convinced him to reconvene Inspector Francis Merchant (whose report in 1912 had been instrumental in justifying Regulation 17) to conduct a new study, but this time with partners, such as French-Canadian inspector, Louis Côté. Together, they concluded that teacher training and the existence of a bilingual program were more useful to the proper teaching of English than any draconian ban on French. Regulation 17 was officially suspended starting November 1, 1927, although it remained in provincial regulations until 1944.37

The issue being settled, Sudbury’s separate board advanced to its next battle — “an equitable and effective distribution or division between Separate Schools and Public Schools, of school taxes payable by publicly owned Corporations and Companies and by other incorporated companies.”38 As of 1936, Catholic employees could request that their employer pay a proportion of its property taxes to the separate board.39

In 1931, a four-room extension was built at Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague.40 That same year, RCSSS Board representative and entrepreneur, J.A. Laberge,41 convinced Sudbury High School, which had faced Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague across the street on Mackenzie since 1921, to pay rent42 and teachers’ salaries so that a bilingual Catholic secondary program43 could be offered using public school taxes within Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague as of 1930. This unorthodox arrangement allowed for advanced French classes for French-Canadian pupils.44 These programs were one of a kind in the 1930s and 1940s and acted as an early form of publicly funded French-language secondary education in Ontario. In 1968, Bills 140 and 141 formally recognized French as a language of high school instruction.

After the Second World War, many Saint-Louis students would leave their mark — be it quiz-show host Alex (Lagacé) Trebek (1940-2020), who was schooled at Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague until Grade 10, as well as the bilingual program at Sudbury High,45 or singer-songwriter Robert Paquette (1949-).

Pauline Carrey Villeneuve remembers the “fights” breaking out between “les Anglais et les Français”46 in the 1940s and 1950s in the schoolyard that was shared between St. Aloysius and Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague. Trebek remembers “two primary schools side by side:” “One [St. Aloysius] taught all their classes in English. My school, St. Louis de Gonzague, taught most of their classes in French. I was bilingual. My friends and I would speak both French and English. It depended on which students I was hanging around with at the time.”47 Despite this fluidity, Trebek also remembered an experience where he was labelled strictly Francophone, despite his mixed heritage: “I transferred to an English-speaking school […]. I lasted there about two months […]. They didn’t accept me. I was new and had come from a French-speaking school. So, I transferred back to Mrs. Jennings’ class at St. Louis.”48

Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague continued to teach Grades 9 and 10 until 1968 and Sudbury High’s bilingual program, with about 200 students,49 continued until 1972, École secondaire MacDonald-Cartier having opened in 1969.

Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague continued to exist as a school offering kindergarten to Grade 8 to downtown Francophone children.50 The growth of the suburbs, the decrease in population in the downtown, as well as the opening of a first French-language public elementary school (Jeanne-Sauvé) in 1985,51 however, contributed to a decline in enrolment. In order to modernize the facility, a full gymnasium was built for $700,00052 in the interior courtyard in 1994.

In the late 1990s, cuts in public spending necessitated the newly formed Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario (CSCNO) to close three schools in the regional municipality of Sudbury, one of which needed to be in the downtown.53 As École St-Joseph (Moulin-à-Fleur) had opened in 1941, and showed fewer signs of aging, the CSCNO chose to close École Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague in June 2000.54

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Serge Dupuis, PhD, Fellow, CEFAN/Université Laval, in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2023

1 Donald Dennie, Une histoire sociale du Grand Sudbury. Le bois, le roc et le rail, Sudbury, Éditions Prise de parole, 2017, p. 41-45; Daniel Marchildon, Sudbury. Toute une histoire!, Sudbury, Centre Fora, 1991, p. 18.

2 Conseil des Écoles séparées catholiques romaines du District de Sudbury, Les Écoles séparées catholiques de Sudbury. Cent ans d’éducation catholique 1884-1984, Sudbury, 1984, pp. 1-2.

3 Jean-Philippe Croteau, dans Michel Bock et François Charbonneau (dir.), 2015, op. cit., pp. 27-55.

4 Donald Dennie, La paroisse Sainte-Anne-des-Pins de Sudbury (1883-1940). Étude de démographie historique, Sudbury, La Société historique du Nouvel-Ontario, 1986, p. 14, pp. 101-102.

5 Robert Choquette, La foi gardienne de la langue en Ontario, 1900-1950, Montréal, Éditions Bellarmin, 1987, p. 55.

6 Fernand Ouellet, L’Ontario français dans le Canada français avant 1911. Contribution à l’histoire sociale, Sudbury, Les Éditions Prise de parole, 2005, p. 496-497; Robert Choquette, 1987, op. cit., p. 352.


8 Michel Bock, 2014, op. cit., pp. 15-33.

9 James Whitney, dans « Instructions No. 18. Notice to the Teachers and Boards of Trustees of the English-French Schools », 8 octobre 1912, p. 1, dans CRCCF, C2/82/7.

10 RCSSS, Minute Book : 22 août 1913, p. 85; 19 octobre 1914, p. 138; décembre 1919, f. 2; 21 juin 1920, p. 28; été 1925, p. 129; 10 mars 1930, p. 314.

11 Board of Trustees of the Roman Catholic Separate Schools for the Town of Sudbury (RCSSS), Minute Book, 12 août 1912, p. 57, dans Archives de l’Université Laurentienne, Fonds P112, dossier I/A,3.

12 RCSSS, Minute Book, 17 septembre 1916, op. cit., p. 26.

13 RCSSS, Minute Book, 5 juin 1918, op. cit., p. 81; RCSSS, Minute Book, 16 juin 1922, op. cit., p. 118.

14 RCSSS, Minute Book, 26 décembre 1912, op. cit., p. 66.

15 RCSSS, Minute Book, 31 décembre 1913, op. cit., pp. 94-95.

16 RCSSS, Minute Book. December 1st, 1915 to July, 16th, 1919, 29 décembre 1915, pp. 5-7.

17 RCSSS, Minute Book, 4 juillet 1913, op. cit., p. 77.

18 « Central Separate… », 23 janvier 1915, op. cit., p. 5.

19 RCSSS, Minute Book, 19 janvier 1914, op. cit., p. 99.

20 RCSSS, Minute Book, 10 mars 1914, op. cit., p. 109.

21 RCSSS, Minute Book, 7 avril 1915, op. cit., p. 166.

22 Izabel Amaral, « L’école St-Louis-de-Gonzague dans le contexte du quartier Haute-Ville 1915 », texte inédit, 2022, p. 1.

23 « Central Separate… », 23 janvier 1915, op. cit., p. 5.

24 January 1915 Sudbury Star article.

25 RCSSS, Minute Book, 8 août 1921, op. cit., p. 86.

26 “Schools will open Tuesday”, The Sudbury Star, 1er septembre 1923, p. 12.

27 Donald Dennie, « L’école St-Louis de Gonzague (1915-2000), 2021, p. 3.

28 RCSSS, Minute Book, 11 septembre 1913, op. cit., p. 87.

29 RCSSS, Minute Book, 8 août 1922, op. cit., p. 122.

30 J.P. Finn, 14 juin 1915, dans André Lalonde, 1965, op. cit., pp. 38-39.

31 RCSSS, Minute Book, 3 avril 1918, op. cit., p. 75.

32 J.-Raoul Hurtubise, 1954, op. cit., p. 31-32.

33 RCSSS, Minute Book, 3 novembre 1915, op. cit., p. 194.

34 RCSSS, Minute Book, 3 avril 1918, op. cit., pp. 76-78.

35 RCSSS, Minute Book, 10 janvier 1927, op. cit., pp. 225-226.

36 Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt, dans Omer Héroux, « La race canadienne-française rendu un digne hommage à l’un de ses dévoués chefs l’hon. sén. Belcourt », Le Droit, 26 mai 1924, p. 8.

37 Stéphane Lang, La communauté franco-ontarienne et l’enseignement secondaire, 1910-1968, Ottawa, Université d’Ottawa, thèse de doctorat (histoire), 2003, p. 30.

38 RCSSS, Minute Book, 14 janvier 1929, op. cit., p. 283.

39 Ernest Désormeaux, « L’école catholique en Ontario », Relations (octobre 1942), pp. 268-271.

40 RCSSS, Minute Book, 11 mai 1931, op. cit., p. 349.

41 RCSSS, Minute Book, 13 janvier 1930, op. cit., p. 310.

42 RCSSS, Minute Book, 13 avril 1931, op. cit., p. 345.

43 RCSSS, Minute Book, 11 août 1930, op. cit., p. 324.

44 Rainbow District School Board, 2008, op. cit., pp. 36-37.

45 Sudbury High School, The Wolf Howl, Sudbury, 1958, pp. 139-150.

46 Pauline Carrey Villeneuve, 29 novembre 2020, op. cit., 1h01.

47 Alex Trebek, 2020, op. cit., emplacement 124.

48 Alex Trebek, 2020, op. cit., emplacement 136.

49 Sudbury High School, The Wolf Howl, 1958, p. 137-150; Sudbury Secondary School, 2008, p. 18, pp. 36-38.

50 Entrevue avec Normand Glaude par Serge Dupuis sur la plateforme Zoom, 30 décembre 2021, 34m.

51 Pascale Castonguay, « Pionnière à tous les niveaux », Le Voyageur, 24 septembre 2010, p. 2; « Un quart de siècle célébré en grand », Le Voyageur, 27 avril 2011, p. 12; Claire Pilon, « L’année scolaire se termine en grand », Le Voyageur, 6 août 2014, p. 24; Claire Pilon, « Une visite qui fait grandir », Le Voyageur, 18 janvier 2017, p. 9.

52 Jan Soule, “Board to oversee gym construction”, The Sudbury Star, 27 septembre 1994, p. A4.

53 Denis St. Pierre, “French school board ponders closing four schools”, The Sudbury Star, 26 décembre 1999, p. A1.

54 Terry Pender, “Schools’ fates to be known Tuesday”, The Sudbury Star, 31 January 2000, p. A3.