Efforts underway to save old Sudbury school building


For many who travel through Sudbury's Uptown neighbourhood, it's just an under-utilized building that has been on Mackenzie Street as long as anyone can remember.

Time has taken a toll on the old Ecole St-Louis-de-Gonzague, or Central School as some knew it, but it's still standing more than 105 years later after it was built.

The building has witnessed the city's good and bad times, which is one reason why the Uptown Community Action Network (CAN) wants it preserved.

The CAN is calling on city councillors to officially designate the facade of the building at 162 MacKenzie St. under the provincial Heritage Act.

According to the group, the architecture is unique in Sudbury, calling it one of the most highly decorated buildings in the city.

"It has all the characteristics required by current practices in built heritage preservation: age, authenticity, rarity, and representativeness. The separate entrances for girls and boys are a striking feature," the CAN said in a news release.

The group will be meeting with councillors on Nov. 10. CAN President Cortney St. Jean said she's hopeful councillors will vote to start the process.

"It's one of the oldest (buildings) in our city and over the last five or six years, we've noticed that the former St Louis-de-Gonzague, the building, has become a bit precarious," said St. Jean. "It looks unloved and uncared for and a lot of the neighbours had concerns for its future."

St. Jean said they made inquiries with the building's owner, Autumnwood Inc., and learned of plans it had to cover it in stucco and modernize the structure.

She said the building means a lot to many in her neighbourhood and those across the city.

It was built as a school for French students at a time when French-language education was not allowed in Ontario under Rule 17.

"The importance of this school is both in the tangible, in that the building itself is unique and special for our community," St. Jean said. "Given that our city has lost so much of its physical history through various developments in both the central and downtown core, we really believe it's imperative that we draw a line in the sand."

The CAN wants to act now after other notable, historic buildings on the block were recently torn down, citing St. Aloysius School and an orphanage as examples.

They've established a working group that includes architects, historians, information technologists and archaeologists. One of those people involved is Izabel Amaral, who decided to lend her expertise.

"Well, buildings are important to save for memory. They're also important to save because of the environment. If we can preserve buildings and build less and use what we have, it's also good," said Amaral, who is also a professor of architecture.

"We think that the brick masonry is a beautiful work that should be preserved. They give more historical features to the building and they are beautifully done," she said.

In its presentation, the group received letters of support from several stakeholder groups across the city, including L'Association canadianne-francaise de l'Ontario du grand Sudbury (ACFO) and Place des Arts.

"Most young Francophones that lived in that neighbourhood went to that school," said Joanne Gervais, of ACFO. "Unfortunately, in that neck of the woods, we've lost to fire the original church of St. Anne des Pins."

Gervais said schools like Ecole St. Louis de Gonzague normalized French education in the province and protected the vibrant French Canadian culture in the city.

CTV News did make repeated attempts to reach out to the owners of the building and was told the person we'd need to speak with was unavailable for comment.

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann was also unavailable due to a personal matter but said she is looking forward to hearing from the group and the research it has been able to gather on the building.

If city council approves the notice of intent, the building owner will have 30 days to file an appeal and/or work with the city to find other solutions.

St. Jean is hopeful, if all goes to plan, they could have the historical designation on the building's exterior in place by the end of the year. 

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