On today’s date in 1657, Marguerite Bourgeoys opened Montréal’s first school in a converted stable measuring 11 metres by 5.5 metres.
Born in 1620 in Troyes, France, Bourgeoys became deeply religious after seeing a vision shortly before her departure to Montréal and offered to go to the post as a teacher. She landed in Québec in 1653 with French military officer and founder of Montréal Paul de Chomedey as well as about 100 other colonists.
Their goal was to defend Ville-Marie (present-day Old Montréal) against Iroquois attacks, which reduced the young colony to fewer than 50 inhabitants living in “not more than five or six houses,” according to Simone Poissant’s 1982 book, Marguerite Bourgeoys, 1620-1700.
Because many of the children died, Bourgeoys was unable to establish the school as planned and instead focused on charity and social service while convincing settlers to begin work on Montréal’s first stone church.
Four years after her arrival, she “opened the first school proper in Montréal” with the help of Marguerite Pacaud, according to William Atherton’s 1914 book Montreal, 1535-1914. The stable was donated by Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, and faced Hôtel Diéu on St. Paul Street.
Eventually, Bourgeoys and Pacaud became known as the “Congrégation de Notre-Dame,” which was largely self-supporting and earned the respect of King Louis XIV, who felt the colony “could not support a large number of materially unproductive ecclesiastics.”
In 1666, Bourgeouys opened a boarding school for young girls, and four years later, when the stable-turned-school was deemed insufficient, a large stone house was built.
1975 BOURGEOYS STAMP
Bourgeoys, who intended to establish a school upon arriving, was commemorated on an eight-cent stamp (Scott #660) issued by Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) in 1975.
Printed by Ashton-Potter, the multi-coloured stamp has general tagging along two opposite sides and had a print run of 13,400,000.