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School is in at Louisbourg

For the week of Monday October 7, 2013

On October 11, 1727, Sister Marguerite Roy de la Conception opened the first school for girls in Louisbourg, Cape Breton. In less than two months, 20 pupils had already registered!

The school under attack during the second siege
© Archives of the Congregation of Notre Dame - Montreal / Illustration by Francis Back
When it was built in 1713, the Fortress of Louisbourg did not include a school. Parents who wanted to educate their children had to resort to expensive solutions, such as hiring private tutors or sending the children to boarding schools elsewhere. The situation changed when Monsignor de Saint-Vallier, the Bishop of Québec, established schools in the most remote regions of his diocese.

Ignoring the advice of the Congregation of Notre Dame's Mother Superior, who was opposed to nuns being sent into a colony without spiritual guidance, and of the Minister of the Navy, who refused to fund the mission, Mgr de Saint-Vallier convinced Sister Marguerite Roy to establish a school at Louisbourg. Lively and independent, Sister Roy drew the wrath of most of the clergy, owing to her visions of grandeur and her taste for the miraculous, which was not greatly appreciated in her order. However, she was an excellent teacher and was highly valued in the colony.

Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame
© Library and Archives Canada / 1933-145

The girls who attended the Louisbourg school could board or live at home. Classes, which ran from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., alternated religious readings with exercises in writing and mathematics, and manual work. The manual work served to produce goods that were sold to fund the school. The goal of the Congregation of Notre Dame was not only to instruct the girls in the Christian religion, reading and household tasks, but also help them become humble, pious and modest women. Ironically, these were the very qualities that Sister de la Conception was accused of lacking!

The Congregation of Notre Dame was designated an event of national historic significance in recognition of its contribution to the teaching of children. The Fortress of Louisbourg was designated a site of national historic significance owing to its crucial role in the economic and military life of New France.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of Louisbourg. To learn more about Louisbourg and the education of girls, please read: A Forward-thinking Saint, Saskatchewan's First Teacher, A Pioneer of Women's University Education, "Take this Lamp of Learning", Community seeks safe harbour, ideally with good fishing... and New France builds a Mighty Fortress in the Archives of This Week in History, as well as the Fortress site.

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