The First Schools Of Combermere

In the year 1871 the rate-payers of Dennison’s Bridge organized themselves into a school section. They purchased land from Mr. John Dennison, father of Mr. Charles B. Dennison, for the sum of one dollar.

A log building was erected, which was used for school purposes and church services. The first teacher was Miss Josephine Williams, who taught for the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars a year. The first Secretary-Treasurer was Daniel Johnson, the first postmaster (and operated a general store).

The second teacher was Miss Elsie Lake; the third was Mrs. Jones, wife of the village Doctor.

In 1880 the name “Combermere” was given to the village and in that same year a new frame building was erected on the school property and the little log building became a wood shed.


Frame school house to replace log school
Frame school house to replace log school

In 1883, Mr. John E. H. Miller (Combermere Postmaster) became Secretary, an office he held until 1919.

In the year 1892 the new school house was burned mysteriously in the night. The present school building was then erected.

In 1900, Mrs John Stubbs was given the office of caretaker of the school, at a salary of ten dollars per year. At that time the school was swept but once a week. Mrs. Stubbs held the position continuously for thirty years. In 1929 the old log building was torn down, the thick pine grove surrounding the school partially cleared, and the school property and buildings were made as they appear to-day.

In 1936, cloak rooms were partitioned off and in-door toilets installed.

In May 23, 1939 a maple tree was planted to commemorate the visit to Canada by their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

In 1944 a Union Jack  flag 3″ x 6″ on a 7′ standard pole with brass top was presented to the school by the Paardburg Chapter I.O.D.E. Hamilton, Ontario.

On May 13, 1953, the officially opening of the C. F. Cannon Public school took place in Combermere. Work was started on the school in 1952 and completed in 1953 when it was ready for use. Miss Kathryn Farmer and her pupils moved in on the 20th of January 1953.

C. F. Cannon School
C. F. Cannon School

On April 1, 1953 the Combermere Home & School Association was established with Mrs. Mock Dunn, President. Other officers were:

  • Mrs Harry Stevenson, Vice President
  • Mrs Lester Schweig, Secretary-Treasurer
  • Mrs. Stephen Kenward, literature and programs
  • Mrs William Colfe, membership.

Charter Members of the Home & School Association were:

  • Miss Kathryn Farmer
  • Ernest Stevenson
  • Bill Boehme
  • Inez Boehme
  • Lester Schweig
  • Pat Schweig
  • Hortense Stevenson (Mrs Harry)
  • Bill Colfe
  • Nellie Colfe
  • Mrs. Bessie Pringle
  • Mock Dunn
  • Agnes Dunn
  • Paul Brooks
  • Alice Brooks
  • Rev. Mr. Stephen Kenward.
  • Mrs. Kenward
  • Mrs. Henry Drevniok
  • Mrs. Fred Conley
  • Mrs. E. Hamilton


Early in 1948, Reverend Mother Catherine Windle , who had just been elected Superior General of the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, came to open another house in Canada. Mission City in British Columbia had been selected as a possibility but this was ruled out when the whole area was destroyed by the flooding of the Columbia River in March.

Now Mother Catherine’s thoughts turned toward her own birthplace at Wingle, Ontario in the Madawaka Valley. Here she knew there was a need for more educational facilities, particularly a high school. The little one-room schools of the area were trying to give the basics to grade 1 through 10 which marked the end of formal education for 95% of the children.

After consultation with Bishop Smith and priests of eh area, Mother Catherine purchased a small property on the banks of the Madawaska River about 20 miles from Wingle. The small property had been built as an over-night home for tourists.

The parish priest, Father. P. Dwyer was ill when the little house was ready and was replaced by the Oblate Father. So here in Combermere as in the West ? Years the first mas was offered by an Oblate of Mary immaculate. Reverend Mother Catherine, Mother Euphemia Hickey and the six sisters who were to make up the new community, assisted at the first Mass.

Before leaving, Mother Catherine arranged for the addition of two classrooms and a large assembly hall to be added as the nucleus of the high school.

On September 7th, Sister Miriam Ryan and Sister Brigid Murphy walked down the road to the parish school  – a one room edifice. The parishioners agreed that a second room should be built, so the children were divided – grades 1-4 and 5-8. Sister Miriam suffered the inconvenience only she could describe, in teaching for the better part of the first year in the parish hall. Sister Joseph Laffin stayed and Sister Mary Rita Lovett stayed to work in the high school. Superior Mother Zoe O’Connell was kept busy with music lessons aided by Sister Dominic Davis. Sister Mary John Somers helped with the boarders and the catering. The first year there were two boarders – one for grade 12 and one little one for grade 3, on eight day scholars.

St. Mary’s opened on September 1948

The community consisted of the following individuals:

  • Mother Joe O’Connell fcj
  • Sister Miriam Ryan
  • Sister Bridgid Murphy
  • Sister Joseph Laffin
  • Sister Mary John Somers
  • Sister Mary Rita Lovett

Sister Miriam and Sister Bridgid taught in grade school Sister M. Joseph and Sister Mary Rita taught at St. Mary’s High School

One boarder, a Joan Lesieur (Sawyer) from Quadeville who asked if she could live with the school to do grade 11 and 12. Mrs Agnes Kreiger let her daughter June drive her car. Twelve children from Combermere in grades 9-12.

Sister Mary Somerville joined the community and taught art and music. The school had 8 boarders from Maynooth and Toronto.

Sister Agnes Couglin came to teach in grade school. Sister Miriam came to the high school There was a bus from Palmer Rapids, Quadeville and Latchford Bridge (Mr. Proudfoot, RIP) bought the bus.

Pupils came in private cars from Barry’s Bay

The new st. Mary’s opened with approximately 39 boarders

The largest number of boarders. The school took in their first foreign student and they had 80 boarders.

The new school was ready for classes and a new chapel was added.

Sisters at St. Mary’s from 1952 to 1974

  • Sister Philomena Clarke
  • Sister Philomena Fitzgerald
  • Sister Elizabeth Fitzgerald
  • Sister Frances Murphy
  • Sister Mary Hoseph McIntyre
  • Sister Sabina Hajeau
  • Sister Elizabeth O’Connor
  • Sister Germaine McDonald
  • Sister Maura Grimley
  • Sister Delores D’amour
  • Sister Helen Costigan
  • Sister Joan DeGrace
  • Sister Annunciata Curtin
  • Sister Mary Agnes Young – kitchen & laundry
  • Sister Merchtilde Rouillier – kitchen & laundry
  • Sister Catherine Quigley – kitchen & laundry
  • Sister Pascal Vallely – kitchen & laundry
  • Sister Madeleine Dodrill RIP
  • Sister Winnifred Dunne RIP
  • Sister Felecitis Fortier RIP

Grade School

  • Sister Joan Theilan
  • Sister Patricia Wraw
  • Sister Catherine Manning
  • Sister Ann Fensom
  • Sister Donatienne Mullin

After Easter in 1949 the two classrooms and hall were ready to open its doors to the surrounding villages. Both boarding and day schools increased in numbers and by 19653 it was deemed advisable to build a larger convent. The ground was broken in September 1953 and the school looked forward with great expectations was the beautiful building was constructed. The building was supposed to be ready by August 1954 and Reverend Mother Catherine invited many people from near and far to spend the summer of 1954 in Combermere. However, because of strikes, etc during the year the visitors had to be invited to the little house. The community finally moved in early December.

St. Mary’s Convent & School
St. Mary’s Convent & School

The school was closed June 7, 1977 due to declining enrolment and the new high school (Madawaska Valley District High School) opening in Barry’s Bay.

Sacred Heart Separate School
Sacred Heart Separate School

A separate school named St. Mary’s was built in 19? across from the church approximately where the Georges Vanier Separate school is to-day. Grades … were taught from 19.. to 19.. when an unexpected fire broke and destroyed the school building. The building was demolished and a new school was built and renamed George Vanier separate school. It had ? Rooms


George Vanier Separate School
George Vanier Separate School

As mentioned above, George Vanier Separate School was built in 19.. across from the Sacred Heart / Holy Canadian Martyrs Cemetery. It was considerably larger than the St. Mary’s school and has a large gymnasium, ? class rooms and teaches classes ? to ?. It also has a large outdoor play and sports area for the students to exercise.