Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/5/2017 (1704 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The demolition of the former St Adolphe personal care home building began shortly after 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and as layers of brick, wood, and steel were peeled back, a deep reservoir of memories was revealed underneath.
As a hydraulic excavator made quick work of the building’s brick exterior, a strong northwest wind swiftly carried the dust away from the onlookers who periodically came and went, taking in the demise of a community landmark that has stood since 1906.
Rhea Trudeau, a lifelong resident of St Adolphe and member of the St Adolphe Heritage Group, said she attended the Catholic school run by the Filles de la Croix (Sisters of the Cross) that first occupied the building. Later, during the institution’s second life as a private nursing home, Trudeau worked there for 33 years. Pointing to a window in the top right corner of the structure’s crumbling front façade, she noted it used to be the view from her office.
"This building means a lot to me," she said. "I have many good memories in that building." Many of those memories were recorded in "The Old Convent Tells Its Story," a memory and photo book Trudeau helped publish in 2014.
The building was a Grades 1 to 12 school from 1906 to 1961, scaling back to Grades 1 to 8 from 1961 to 1967. Construction of new schools nearby gradually siphoned off its students, meaning a change in function was needed. It became a 42-bed private nursing home soon after, and operated for over 40 years until it was shuttered in 2013. Residents were moved into Niverville’s new PCH facility.
Angele Kirouac arrived on site Tuesday with two helpers, spades, and a wheelbarrow. She was there to salvage patio stones from a shaded area on the south end of the property, she explained, to be installed in a new patio at Cooperative Chalet St Norbert. Several windows from the old building had already been incorporated into a greenhouse there, she said.
A tear came to Kirouac’s eye as she recalled attending Grade 1 at the school and receiving instruction from the nuns. Unlike boarding students who comprised the majority of the student body, Kirouac, a local, could walk to school each morning. There was also a thrift store on the third floor, she remembered.
As the years passed, Kirouac’s family remained connected to the building. Her aunt would later work at the personal care home, while her grandparents were residents there. Kirouac’s mother settled into a home two doors down the street. Surveying the excavator’s progress, Kirouac called the removal of the building "bittersweet," saying daycare spaces are sorely needed.
Lina Le Gal, a member of the St Adolphe cultural committee, snapped photos of the demolition and visited with other onlookers. A student at the school for eight years, Le Gal said its chapel was "a little gem."
"This was the hub. This was the major employer in St Adolphe," she explained, as her family history attests. Le Gal’s two cousins were nuns with Sisters of the Cross, while her father, uncle, and cousin served as school trustees. Her mother would later become the director of the nursing home.
Le Gal also told of a time when the school was just shy of the number of students needed to qualify for a provincial grant. Administrators called a school in La Rochelle, north of St Malo, and asked them to send a pupil or two. There were more mischievous moments, too. Metal fire escapes allowed eager boys to catch a glimpse of the girls through third floor windows.
Jean-Marie Taillefer, a former history professor at the University of St Boniface who hails from La Broquerie, helped coordinate the book with Trudeau. He recalled archival research indicating the school was considered top-notch by inspectors and renowned for its concerts, choirs, and sporting events. Taken together, the school, parish, and rectory were the cultural and religious centre of the community. Most boarding students came from what are now the Red River Valley and Seine River school divisions, Taillefer said.
The institution continued to have close ties to the community after its transition to a personal care home. As proof, Taillefer referenced a resident named Archie, who was known to disappear and be found later enjoying cake, tea, and company in a nearby home. But there were difficult times, too, Taillefer said, including labour strikes and picketing in the 1980s.
Gilles Marion said he moved from La Salle into the adjacent Chalet Bonsejour six or seven years ago, and remembered the last few years of the PCH’s operation.
"I think it will be good," said Marion of Niverville Heritage Holdings’s ambitious plans for the lot, which include a mix of life lease and assisted living units. Construction noise will be a short term bother for him and his fellow residents, Marion admitted.
Steven Neufeld, CEO of the Niverville Heritage Centre, said local interest in the plans for the site still need to be gauged, but appears to be strong, with individuals already calling to inquire about a waiting list. Neufeld said he is "very confident" the development plan will go forward.
According to Neufeld, NHH has until March 2018 to make a decision. If development moves ahead, public consultations would precede construction, with the latter beginning in the fall of 2018 and wrapping up in 2020.
By 11 a.m., the excavator had stripped away most of the building’s north and west faces. David Williams, president of Smashers Demolition, said 15,000 bags of asbestos were removed from the 30,000-sq-ft, 3.5-storey structure. The site is expected to be completely clean by the end of June.
Lesley Gaudry, the RM of Ritchot’s community economic development officer, said a portion of the bricks will be reclaimed and repurposed, to preserve their heritage value and reduce the environmental effect of the demolition. A decision on whether bricks will be made available to the public, however, will have to wait for a new council, she explained.