Historic Sites of Manitoba: École Provencher / Provencher School (320 Avenue de la Cathedrale, Winnipeg)
École Provencher’s history extends back to the earliest Catholic school in the Red River settlement. About 1818, the first missionary in the region, Father (later Bishop) Provencher, used his chapel as a school where he taught boys the four Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. In 1844, the Grey Nuns assumed responsibility for the school.
In 1906, the School Board constructed a school at the site where École Provencher stands today, at 300 Avenue de la Cathedrale. It was a modest three-storey brick and limestone building, featuring an entry tower surmounted with an elegant ogee roof. The central 12-room portion of the current building is the original 1906 section. Built in 1912, the west wing doubled the size of the school to 25 rooms. The basement of the school had shops for teaching industrial arts. Dating back to 1911, this could be the earliest shop class taught in Winnipeg. The Provencher School Cadet Corps is one of the oldest cadet corps in Manitoba. The school basement doubled as a firing range. Some of the heating ducts still have dents from stray bullets. The Corps’ old drum, along with the school’s trophies and memorabilia, is displayed proudly in a striking stairwell vitrine.
On 4 January 1923, the school was severely damaged in an explosion and subsequent blaze causing an estimated $175,000 in damages, leaving only blackened outer walls standing. While massive repairs were undertaken, students shared the facility of St. Joseph’s Academy across the street, attending half-day classes. Designed by local architect G. W. Northwood, the rebuilt school opened its doors in January 1924 and was formally re-opened on 27 March 1924 by St. Boniface Mayor R. J. Swain, School Board Chairman J. A. Marion, and Principal J. H. Fink.
École Provencher celebrated its centenary in 2006. As part of the celebrations, the entire façade of the school was sandblasted back to its original bright limestone face. You can see the difference between the cleaned facade and untouched stone on the left side of the picture. Located on the front grounds of the school are two plaques mounted on a large stone. One marks the 90th anniversary of the school and was unveiled on 21 April 1996. The other celebrates J. N. Provencher as founder of the first school in the West in 1818 and was unveiled on the centenary of his death on 6 June 1953.
Acclaimed author Gabrielle Roy, a Grade 1 teacher at École Provencher, taught there from 1930 to 1936.
Photos & Maps
“Provencher School staff is announced,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 27 August 1920, page 2.
“Important St. Boniface Schools,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 7 September 1922, page 5.
“Incendiarism is suspected by board officials,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 4 January 1923, pages 1 & 3.
“Provencher School destroyed by fire,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 4 January 1923, page 3.
“Rebuilding work to be undertaken soon,” Manitoba Free Press, 5 January 1923, page 2.
“St. Boniface,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 8 January 1923, page 12.
“Provencher School destroyed by lighted cigar or cigarette butt,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 6 February 1923, page 3.
“New Provencher School,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 13 March 1923, page 15.
“Schools by-law given majority,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 18 April 1923, page 3.
“St. Boniface to rebuild school,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 10 May 1923, page 17.
“Provencher school to open about Jan. 14,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 23 December 1923, page 1.
“Provencher School formally opened,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 28 March 1924, page 2.
Annual Reports of the Manitoba Department of Education, Manitoba Legislative Library.
Information for this page was provided by The City of Winnipeg’s Planning, Property and Development Department, which acknowledges the contribution of the Government of Manitoba through its Heritage Grants Program.
Page revised: 3 January 2015
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