a young lady’s education

 

September 18, 2020

She was barely over five feet tall, but what Miss Maud Le Gallais lacked in stature, she made up for in determination.

As a young lady, Miss Le Gallais was educated in England at a boarding school for girls and she arrived in Vernon in 1912 bent on starting a similar institution here. By the sounds of it, she didn’t face much opposition. At the time, Vernon was inhabited by many European families, and since boarding schools were an “Old Country” tradition, Miss Le Gallais’ project was welcomed.  

St. Michael’s Boarding School for Girls opened in 1914, in a large house on East Hill (2000 37th Avenue). The four upstairs bedrooms were converted into dormatories, and the downstairs rooms into classrooms.

 

 

St. Michael’s School for Girls with surrounding gardens in 1927

The first “St. Michaelites” were local girls between the ages of 8 and 18, but as the school’s reputation grew, so too did its catchment area. By 1917, it was bursting at the seams, and a second residence on the opposite side of the street was added. At the same time, the school was incorportaed as “The Bishop’s School of the Diocese of Kootenay.”

The education at St. Michael’s had an obvious English flavour; like in boarding schools across the Atlantic, instruction covered the “three R’s,” plus English and Canadian history, geography, botany, French, Latin, scripture, gymnastics, drawing, dancing, music, and needlework. The students were taught to be perfect ladies—at least by the standards of the early 20th century. In the first issue of the school’s magazine, Headmistress Le Gallais recorded her wishes for her pupils, saying “I have visions of reading in future magazines of old St. Michaelites taking high places in all the learned professions … and of their making the most of all the oppurtunities that have at last come to women, to make the world a better place for their use of those oppurtunities.”

By the time the school’s enrollment grew to 55 students, the two residences were so over capacity that a proper school building was well-needed. In 1921, a structure three and a half stories high was built on five acres of land overlooking what is now Polson Mall.

This new building was a significant upgrade. In addition to classrooms and living quarters, the school now also had a library/music room, an impressive kitchen, and a gym which doubled as an auditorium for dramatic presentations and assemblies.

The girl’s enjoyed a number of fun activities during their time at St. Michael’s, from picnics with the local girl guides, to toboganning in the Winter, to weekend hikes in the summer, to cricket games, to visits from the boys at the Vernon Preperatory School. 

Miss Le Gallais retired in 1932, and following a decline in enrollment during the Great Depression, the school closed its doors five years later. In 1978, the school building was torn down and replaced by a townhouse development aptly named St. Michael’s Court.

Gwyn Evans