Lisgar Collegiate graduates to celebrate venerable building

Thursday, May 3, 2018


When Lisgar Collegiate Institute celebrates its 175th anniversary this weekend, who better than David Jeanes to walk people through the corridors?

The president of Heritage Ottawa, who graduated from Lisgar in 1965, will conduct five tours of the building, three of them already sold out.

"I liked the school so much I got a perfect attendance prize for being there every single day of my high school career," Jeanes said. "It was a great school, and great people and great teachers."

The building came close to demolition about 40 years ago, according to Jeanes.

"We almost lost it back in the 1970s because it didn't meet the fire code. And the decision was made to demolish the school and build a new one. But there was a big battle and Heritage Ottawa, which is the organization that I'm with now, was one of the groups that fought to save the school."

They came up with between $4-million and $5-million dollars to bring it up to code and to modernize the interior, Jeanes said.

Through the weekend, Jeanes will take fellow alumni through the corridors of the school, whose student body included legendary showman Rich Little, Scrabble champion Adam Logan, social media tycoon Chamath Palihapitiya, and even the inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith.

Little, one of the famous alumni who returned to the city for the weekend's festivities, quipped on Friday afternoon that even in his day there was talk that the building was sinking and might be condemned.

"If it had sunk it might have been good though because my old report cards would have gone down with it," Little said.

The weekend tours will begin in the library, which is in part of the building which dates back to 1874, Jeanes said.

"And then working our way through the later additions, which were built in 1892, 1902 and 1908. Each of those parts made the school bigger and responded to the needs for new facilities, particularly for subjects like science and art, which needed dedicated and specialized spaces," Jeanes said.

Jeanes' tours will cover the entire building — but he's especially fond of the auditorium.

"The auditorium was really my home for much of those four years. I was president of the audio-visual aids committee for one year. We mounted a lot of stage shows, the annual variety concert, drama performances, music, and even the regular school assemblies each week, which often had comedy performances to advertise upcoming events. There were lots of things happening there," he said.

"Much of the facilities have been modernized but not the auditorium. If you go into the auditorium it still feels like it did in 1908. And if you go into the library you can really recognize what it was like back in 1874."


For more on the history of Lisgar Collegiate Institute, see Heritage Ottawa's 50 Years | 50 Stories.