Published in the Montreal Gazette on November 23, 2013

When, on November 29, 1913, Chairman of the Westmount Board of School Commissioners John Macfarlane laid the cornerstone of the new Westmount High on Academy Road, most Montrealers still vividly recalled the Hochelaga School Fire of February 1907 (Gazette, September 9, 2008). That horrific blaze in the city’s East End, it will be remembered, took the lives of 16 primary school pupils along with that of the head teacher, Sarah Maxwell. Its haunting memory affected school construction for many a year thereafter.

Accordingly, the plans for the new $480,000 edifice outlined an educational facility of the highest standard and which was promised to be “absolutely fireproof in every detail.” The building was meant to accommodate some 1000 students with the option of adding two extensions to the structure whenever necessary. Indeed, in response to rapid growth, this was done in both 1929 (a west wing costing some $86,000) and 1931 (an east wing costing some $142,000). The school’s first principal was one Ralph E. Howe who held the position until 1927.

On that late autumn day now nearly a century ago, Chairman Macfarlane evoked the period in the early 1870’s when Westmount (then known as Cote St. Antoine Village) opened its first school in a dwelling at the corner of Clarke Avenue and Cote St. Antoine Road. Its capacity was for fourteen pupils and one teacher.

Eventually, others schools came to be familiar names in Westmount: King’s, Queen’s, Roslyn all came to share in the responsibility of educating the burgeoning town’s scholars. When they were no longer large enough to fulfill the task, the new building on the southern flank of Westmount Park was commissioned.

Constructed in a Mock Tudor style with substantial stone and brick materials, the dashing new facility initially housed grades seven through to eleven, although this arrangement changed several times down through the years.

(Below, Westmount High School, 1915)

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Today, Westmount Park School is home to students who collectively speak some 40 different languages and hail from 53 assorted countries. It is truly a miniature United Nations and an expression of Canadian multiculturalism at its very best.

With its centennial theme  “100 Years of Excellence”, the school has embarked on a multi-faceted celebration. There are banners and photos, displays of historic artifacts, and teaching projects planned about school and student life over the past century.  History, music, dance, art – in every way, the anniversary will be an  exciting inspiration for learning.

In addition, to mark its centenary, the school is planning an extensive series of events. The official launch was at Meet-the-Teachers Day & Corn Roast in September, with monthly “The 100th Challenge” events throughout the year. These activities started last October when pupils were called upon to read during the course of the month 100 books per class, or 2100 books in all.  In November, each class is working on a “100 documented acts of kindness” challenge.  The commemorative festivities will culminate at an Open House on May 29, 2014 for former staff and students.

Perhaps the most symbolic event of all will take place next Friday when the edifice marks the 100th anniversary of the laying of that same cornerstone. On that occasion, pupils and invited guests (EMSB representatives, City of Westmount officials and other dignitaries) will participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony at that same keystone that is found immediately to the right of what used to be the main entrance to the school. After the ceremony, the merriment resumes inside the school with both musical activities and a dance performance.

The 2013-2014 academic year for the Westmount Park School community will be a special one indeed.  While it is to be a time to celebrate and to learn about its own one hundred year history, this vibrant, multi-cultural institution is looking forward to a strong future built on this foundation of excellence.

(Below, Westmount Park School in festive, anniversary mood, October 2013)

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