It’s funny how some things become ingrained in our memories from childhood, while others slip so easily away. I still remember the Ascot Consolidated School just outside of Lennoxville that sat at the end of Spring Road where it connects to Rte. 108, surrounded by the Experimental Farm’s fields. If you had tried to tell me recently that it was torn down in 1989, I would have told your dates must be wrong. From all accounts, however, it appears to have been demolished in the summer of 1989, meaning I was not quite six when it was demolished, and yet I can see the building so clearly in my mind’s eye. I can still feel the curiosity and wonder that the seemingly abandoned, run-down building evoked in my childish imagination (I learned later that AGRHS used it for storage for many years, so not quite abandoned).
We are a fortunate bunch, that a drive through country-side, small towns and larger cities in the Eastern Townships leaves us with persisting evidence of our educational heritage. From the one-room schoolhouses that have been preserved over the decades and academies that date from the some of the early days of settlement, to the words “high school” that remain etched into some of the local elementary school buildings. The Ascot Consolidated School attests to one part of this heritage: the process of consolidation.
The first steps of consolidating Quebec’s rural one-room schoolhouses into larger schools were brought forth early on in the 1900s. Following a survey of Protestant schools across the province by John Adams, a report was issued finding that rural schools were particularly struggling as many townships tried to maintain and fill their numerous small schoolhouses. To deal with this problem, Adams recommended that the schoolhouses be closed and larger, multi-grade schools be established to serve all the students in a school board’s territory. An early result of the Adams Report was the construction of a couple “consolidated schools,” with the hope that they would serve as examples of a more suitable educational model for other school boards across the province.
One of the model consolidated schools in Quebec was in the Eastern Townships, in Kingsey. By 1905, the new school was opened and included two classrooms with new books, maps and modern blackboards. In some communities, the move towards consolidation was met with resistance, as parents felt the long commutes and more impersonal learning environments would be detrimental to their children, while others were supportive, feeling that the greater resources of a larger, modern school would offer a better education.
Despite the initial push towards consolidation in the early 1900s, the government never made consolidation mandatory and, as a result, it was a gradual and largely organic process across most areas of the Townships over the first half of the twentieth century. In the face of a dwindling rural and English population, the move towards the consolidation of rural, one-room schoolhouses became unavoidable over time. Pushed by similar population shifts and educational reforms, Model/Intermediate Schools and Academies in towns and villages were expanded to become High Schools, offering elementary and secondary education to the surrounding areas.
The period of consolidation and local high schools would eventually come to an end in the 1960s, as new regional English high schools replaced local institutions in the secondary education of the Townships’ youth.