Schools change and grow over time, with the oldest schools proving that point more than others. Schools are products of their time, though they also respond to the needs of the student bodies. As a result, many schools don't look much like they did when they began, and these six are examples of that. They are all important, established schools. Which makes their humble beginnings all the more surprising ...
Crofton House was established in 1898 by two sisters, Miss Jessie Gordon and Miss Mary Gordon. If that doesn’t sound quaint enough, how about this: they started with just four students.
Of course, the school has grown and changed over the years. If it wasn’t a vital aspect of the educational landscape of Vancouver in 1898, it is now. Arts and athletics are strengths, as is an individual attention to each girls’ specific needs. The most important thing that girls leave with, however, is a sense of confidence and capability. Those are the things that the best girls’ schools offer, and Crofton is undeniably one of them. Girls leave with a clear sense of themselves, and an impressive introduction to civic life. The ideal student is a girl who intends to head to university and, in time, to grow into a position of leadership in her community, be it the city, the world, or anything in between.
Columbia began in 1979 with just 9 students. That's more than double the initial student population of Crofton house yet still on the, um, small side. “Our first student council asked if they could initiate a lunch service,” recalls Ron Rambarran, the current principal, and they did. This was it: “Students would walk each day to the corner of Garth and Mohawk to purchase buns, cold cuts, and chocolate milk at the local deli.” Back on campus the volunteers made sandwiches which they then sold at cost.
In any event, the school didn’t stay small for long, and in 40 years, has charted the most phenomenal growth you could possibly imagine. Despite being perhaps the smallest school in Canada in 1979, it's easily the largest today. With a student population in excess of 1800, it’s the largest boarding school in North America.
La Citadelle was established in 2000 with just 5 students and operating out of a church basement. The school remains small, with an annual enrolment of just 200 students spanning prep-k to Grade 12. The approach is progressive, and while achievement is one of the six core values, so are compassion and harmony. There is a high level of individual support — a function of a low teacher/student ratio — yet the ideal student is one that is operating ahead of her peers, able to thrive within a challenging, varied, and multilingual teaching environment.
In 1915 Margaret Gascoigne began The Study with just six students, and with classes held in, yup, the study of her home. Hence the name. In a sense, Gascoigne provided the same thing then that the school does now: a bilingual education for girls. Through the years, however, The Study sought to chart its own path, while at the same time creating a path for the girls that attended. They weren’t being educated to be shrinking violets, but rather to find their voices and, to some extent, transcend the times and circumstances that they were living within. And, they did, with alumni prominent in fields that run the breadth of Canadian life. That tradition of forthright leaders and students certainly remains today. Part of the charm of the school is that tradition, one that is apparent throughout the school. The school might be a century old, but the program remains at the cutting edge of education. The ideal student is one who can rise to the challenges that the school presents.
Selwyn House was begun in 1908 by Captain Algernon Lucas, a graduate of Selwyn College at the University of Cambridge. He was just 29 at that time, and he arrived in Canada in the same year that he graduated from Cambridge. He was, frankly, looking for a job. In Montreal, he found one teaching seven boys.
To say that the school has come a long way since it was founded is as much an understatement as you could ever hope to find. A visitor to Selwyn House today is impressed in all sorts of ways, and rightly so. The school is home to an exceptional academic program, and despite having begun its life in Lucas’ apartment, is now housed in the kind of buildings that Lucas could only have dreamed of, if even that. The school participates in the full range of traditions, and has in turn gained notice well beyond the city of Montreal. (It even plays a role in two classics of Canadian literature, Mordecai Richler’s Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang and Barney’s Version.) The alumni of Selwyn House include, literally, titans of industry, including the Bronfmans and the Molsons, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and the philosopher Charles Taylor, among many other notable Canadians, past and present.
The Dragon Academy was founded in 2000 to appeal to a very specific kind of learner, one who is intellectually omnivorous, creative, and academically gifted. The school began with just 12 students in its first year, and it remains very close-knit and intimate. Indeed, it's small size is one of the schools great strenghts. Instruction is discussion-based, hands-on, and it makes the most of the wealth of learning resources that are nearby, including the A.G.O., the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics, and the ROM. It has a lot to offer, though, again, for a very specific kind of learner. The right student will find the Dragon Academy to be a home, arriving within a community that contrasts with their prior school experience in some very significant ways. The focus is on engagement and curiosity. While the program is progressive, at least from a modern perspective, it’s also in some ways exceedingly traditional, with a focus on the classics and Socratic investigation. It’s not every student’s cup of tea, though of course no school ever is. For the students who attend, the program can be transformational and supportive in all the right ways.