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KC Motto: Maxima Debetur Pueris Reverentia (Youth are Entitled to the Greatest Respect)

It is usually a sad occasion when one says goodbye to an old friend or institution for the last time. In 2018, many people in Kingston and beyond, especially numerous generations of families who graduated from an iconic institution of over 200 years, perhaps will be saying goodbye for the last time to Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute. Many may feel as former student Ellen Fleming, in the Whig (June 24, 2014) who used as a vehicle, the lyrics of the song ‘To Sir (KCVI) with Love’, to express some moving sentiments about KCVI.

KCVI is still, for the time being, the oldest acting high school in Ontario and the second oldest in Canada. The present location of the school on Frontenac Street is the third since its inception in 1792, not counting two or three temporary moves in its history. Before 1792, the first grammar school in the province was located on the corner of King and School (Lower Union) Street. It was called a ‘Select Classical Institution’ and was established in 1786 by Reverend John Stuart. In 1792, the school in Kingston became the ‘Midland District School’. This first school remained at the same location until 1849 with an average attendance of 50 students and two teachers over those years. By the late 1840s, the school was falling into disrepair, so temporary arrangements were made for classes to be held in the east wing of Summerhill, the home of Archdeacon George O’Kill Stuart, located on the grounds of the recently chartered Queen’s College (1841). Classes began in 1853 in a new building on Clergy Street, which is today Sydenham Public School. At the same time, the school was renamed the Kingston County Grammar School. Also, the school began to compete with the new Queen’s Preparatory Grammar School, which eventually merged with the County Grammar School in 1863. The title ‘Collegiate’, at the time, was an honourary title given by the provincial government to grammar schools that had at least 60 boys whose studies included compulsory Latin and Greek and with a minimum of four full time teaching masters. ‘High schools’, a relatively new concept as well, provided a more general or liberal education without the Latin and Greek.

On May 23, 1876, a fire gutted the school. The trustees had to find temporary space to finish the school year. Catholic Archbishop O’Brien generously provided rooms in Regiopolis College until summer vacation. The City Hall provided space in the fall until the restoration of the school building was completed in November. for the first time and from 1885 to 1896, the school housed a training institute for prospective high school teachers.

By the late 1880s, the school building was showing signs of serious deterioration. With the suggestion from Queen’s Principal George M. Grant, the board decided to construct a new building on a larger lot. The new impressive Victorian structure opened in 1893 on the corner of Earl and Frontenac streets. The main entrance on Earl Street was beautifully adorned with a terracotta arch which was dubbed the ‘gateway to the temple of learning’. George Dillon, a former student (1953 to 1958) and teacher at KC (1968 to 1998), referred me to a photograph from a yearbook, The KCVI Times, 1973, that illustrated two sculptured terracotta heads, one, male and the other, female, on each side of the arch near the bottom. In 1959, when the 1892 wing was demolished, Mr. Terry, a teacher at KC at the time salvaged the female sculpture. It can be seen today in the Centennial Room at the school.

In 1931 renovations included two new gyms, shops and a magnificent auditorium that is still used today. A Public address system was installed that negated the time consuming weekly information and announcement assemblies that had been the norm. Peter commented that his years at KC were wonderful with great teachers and classmates. He added that a major asset of the school was its location next to Queen’s. Diane later became an actress who appeared, as a regular, as a law firm secretary, on the hit Canadian TV series of the late 1980s and early 1990s called Street Legal; Simon Whitfield, gold and silver medalist in the triathlon in the Sydney (2000) and Beijing (2008) Olympics respectively; John Molson, later a famous brewer from Montreal; Robert Mundell, Nobel laureate and the ‘father ‘ of the ‘Euro’; Hugh Dillon, actor (CBC’s X Company series) and musician (The Headstones); and members of The Tragically Hip who graced the halls of KCVI with their early music as they came together as a band at the school in 1984.

Countless very successful people in different walks of life from the Kingston area and well beyond have frequented the halls of KC over its long history.

I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of a rather a unique and interesting organization a few weeks ago. Coffee Club’ that meets every first and third Tuesday of each month. The team went undefeated that year, and unbelievably, did not have a point scored against it in eight regular season games, and it went on to win the Eastern Ontario Secondary School Athletics (EOSSA) championship. Don ‘Newt’ Foster, who introduced me to the group, was the captain of that ‘famous’ team. He was also ‘Mr. Sliter, an accomplished athlete, teacher and later principal at KC (1886 1910), was allowed to play on the school football team. Clark Carnegie whom I’ve known for many years, quartered back the 1944 senior football team to an EOSSA Championship. Kelly, ‘Knobby’ Seright and others. The club has been going strong for nearly 25 years at the Odd Fellows Hall on Concession Street. It seems, as the 1936 37 KCVI Times noted, that the graduating class of that year attempted to organize an Old Boys’ and Girls’ Association to keep in touch after graduation and continue the high level of school spirit. The tradition continues and probably will for many more years to come.

The KCVI Cadet corps had been a fixture at the school for many years. It really began in 1865 with ‘drill associations’ just prior to Confederation, but it was in 1913 that a cadet corps was formed at the school. Instructors were regular Force non commissioned officers. A rifle range was set up in a basement corridor of the school and in 1917, the KCI Corps participated in the ‘Dominion Marksman Club’ competitions. Some of these cadets went on to the trenches of World War I. In 1942 rifle ranges were once again set up in the basement of the school in an area now referred to as the ‘Cave’. In the same year, King George VI formally introduced the title of ‘Royal Canadian Army Cadets’. The annual cadet dances were quite popular as cadets attended in full uniform, I’m sure, to the delight of their female partners. Clark Carnegie told me about a trip that he, as a sea cadet, and some KC army cadets made to Ogdensburg N. Y. to go on parade promoting the sale of victory bonds in the last year of the Second World War. After the parade, the organizers brought out barrels of beer for the troops but the Kingston cadets ranged from 15 18 years old. The organizers apparently thought that the cadets were from RMC. I’ll say no more.

KC received a number of distinctions in later years. In 1990, through efforts of teacher George Dillon with the Heraldry Society, Ontario Lt. Governor Lincoln Alexander awarded KC with its first Coat of Arms. It was the first such presentation in Canada. Two years later, the bicentennial year, Governor General Raymond Hnatyshyn presented the school with a new coat of arms to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the school’s existence. Later, KC was granted the right to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate Program (IB). In 2012, the Fraser Institute ranked KC as the top performing school in the Limestone District School Area and among the top ten in Canada.

Through 225 years, the school has had a number of names:

1792 1809 Midland District School

1809 1828 Royal Grammar School of Midland District

1828 1852 Midland District Grammar School

1852 1871 Kingston County Grammar School

1871 1872 Kingston County High School

1872 1931 Kingston Collegiate Institute

1931 2018 Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute

The school has survived almost twenty five years into its third century. However, the financial bottom line, the drive of economic practicality and efficiency of progress, as usual, trump the sentimentality of social culture and history when it comes to the pocket book, especially that of the taxpayer. The merits of both sides of the ‘closing the schools’ debate have been argued at great length since the announcement of the closing of KCVI and as well QECVI. Now one has to look hard to the future in order to preserve some of the past. It is hoped that the heritage of both these excellent schools, will continue in the new structure. A special, highly visible place should be designated to exhibit relics, artifacts and archival memories from both schools, perhaps along with time capsules. The name of the new building hopefully will reflect these two important heritages. Then perhaps, Mr. Ede’s hope and comments of over twenty years ago, might continue to have merit at what, hopefully, will be recognized as the fourth location of this iconic institution in our neighbourhood.
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