Lisgar reunion to celebrate 175 years!

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A classroom at Ottawa Collegiate Institute, now Lisgar, in 1903
Photo: Topley Studio Fonds / Library and Archives Canada / PA-008941

by Joy Heft

Older than the country and the fourth oldest high school in the province, this grand old lady–Ottawa’s first high school–will celebrate a milestone birthday the weekend of May 4–6, 2018. Alumni are invited to join in the many activities that are planned. Friday evening offers a reunion opening and variety night featuring special guests including alumnus Rich Little, a pub and trivia night. Saturday morning’s student-teacher meet-and-greet will be followed by a barbecue on the mall, performances by the band and orchestra, tours of the school led by Heritage Ottawa president and Lisgar grad David Jeanes and a gala dinner and dance at the Shaw Centre across the canal. The finale on Sunday will feature a new round of inaugurations into Lisgar’s Athletic Wall of Fame that will include former Lisgar teacher and coach Bill Fraser.

Rev. Thomas Wardrope paddled up the Rideau Canal in 1843 to assume his duties as the first headmaster of Ottawa Grammar School. The first school building was a two-storey frame house on the east side of Waller Street, a few yards south of Daly Avenue–then very much on the outskirts of town. The school moved to its present site in 1872, now named Dalhousie Grammar School, which was purchased for $3,000, and in 1874, Lord Dufferin laid the cornerstone for the new, current building.

The school has had many transformations, additions and renovations since then. Gone are the separate entrances for boys and girls and the separate male and female staff rooms that existed until the 70s. Its distinctive architecture, including Gothic renewal style buttresses, gargoyles and other adornments, makes it a bit of a curiosity, and along with its legendary fourth floor, ensures its inclusion in Ottawa’s haunted walks. Within, Memorial Hall is a sober reminder of the school’s vintage as the walls are lined with plaques bearing the names of more than two thousand alumni who served or gave their lives in the First World War, Second World War and the Korean conflict. Trophies dating back to early in the last century and chronicling various feats are housed in its trophy case.

The school was eventually known as Ottawa Collegiate Institute and the school served as the only public high school until 1922 when Glebe opened its doors. The two schools were then designated Ottawa Collegiate, Lisgar Building and Glebe Building respectively, but the sister schools quickly became known by their present names. The crest on the cover of Vox Lycei, the yearbook, read LCI by 1927. As is sometimes the case with human siblings, the rivalry was great in the early days and there are stories of skulduggery carried out to defend the honour of each. Glebites continued to attend Lisgar–Jenkins, Jonah, McCarthy–sometimes successive generations. Several teachers also called Glebe home, including the inimitable Mrs. B., Mme Kunstmann, V.P. Parsons.

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Ottawa Collegiate Institute, now Lisgar, as erected in 1874.
Photo likely about 1880 Photo: Courtesy of Lisgar Collegiate

The focus for the fundraiser at this reunion is the upgrading of Lisgar’s historic Alumni Auditorium in which some of the equipment dates from the 1950s. The goal is to raise $100,000 to bring up to standard the technology and accoutrements that enhance the mounting of first-class productions in music and drama, for which the school has become known and by which it enriches the lives of its students.

Why celebrate? In addition to its ripe old age, Lisgar boasts a reputation for excellence in the three A’s: academics, arts (music, drama, visual arts) and athletics. Alumni who have distinguished themselves in many fields include former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, impressionist and comedian Rich Little, Olympic gold medallist skier Anne Heggtveit, Come From Away creator Peter Hein, not to mention the GNAG’s own Mary Tsai. A reunion provides a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones or to discover the person each has become. While Lisgar is proud of its past, it continues to serve the community as a school par excellence as it adapts to new needs and interests. Celebrate what we were! Come to know who we are!

Registration is free at www.lisgar.net, though some events require the purchase of tickets. For those unable to register online, call 866-236-1450 and you will receive a return call to assist you. Alere Flammam! (To feed the flame)

Joy Heft is archivist of the Lisgar Alumni Association, as well as a former Lisgar teacher and former Glebite

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