A brief historical overview of the Hellenic education in Montreal
by F. A. Komborozos
At the turn of the last century, the establishment of a regular Greek school was a priority for the original Greek Community in Montreal, after having established a Church for its religious needs. A Greek school was considered essential for the children of immigrants to learn, preserve and continue the Greek language, the history of their forefathers, their culture and their orthodox traditions and values.
In 1907, a year after the Hellenic Community of Montreal was established; Greek classes began in the hall of Evangelismos Church. In 1909, the “Platon” School was set up and in 1910, it was organised as a day school – the first of its kind in North America – with 25 students and Ioannis Didaskalou from Korinthos as their teacher. In 1911, the School, under the administration of Heracles Papamanolis, its first director, was relocated to its own building on Clark Street, behind Evagelismos Church and 35 students were enrolled. In 1913, there were 50 students, with Ms. Alexandrou and Ms. Papadakis as their teachers. In 1916, Thomas Efthymiadis from Macedonia took over as director of the School, and in 1920 enrolment totalled 110 students. It was a parochial school that followed the curriculum of Protestant Schools in Montreal and classes were taught in English, Greek and French.
The first school committee was formed in 1912 by Reverend Father Agathodoros Papageorgopoulos, Haralambos Koutsogiannopoulos, President of the Community and members Georgios Kuriazopoulos, Georgios Ageorgitis, Dimitrios Zarafonitis, Mihail Kokoliadis and Dimitris Pergantis.
Until 1917, Board of Directors of the Hellenic Community of Montreal covered all the school’s expenses for function and maintenance, and the relatively low salaries of the teaching staff and the janitor. Donations from some businessmen and the tuition fees paid by some families were not sufficient. With President H. Koutsogiannopoulos initiative and the eager assistance from the community at large, the organisation of fundraising events for the school began. Except for dance event, various theatrical pieces were taught and performed, most notably, “Loukas Notaras” by Polyvios Vasiliadis, thanks to the university students and other young people eager participation and patriotism.
In 1918, a new Financial Affairs Committee was created, comprised of Georgios Tzanetakos as its President and D. Andriopoulos, K. Gyftakis, K. Alexopoulos, P. Kritharis, G. Moraitis, S. Gemougiannis, E. Papaioannou, I. Liaskos, K. Vlahakis, G. Gouzopoulos and D. Koupa, serving as members. This committee worked very hard to organise the school, mostly financially. The new school committee was elected in 1919. It was different from the church committee and consisted of the following members: Georgios Tzanetakos, Heraclis Papamanolis, Dimitrios Lafkas, Georgios Grivakis, Georgios Moraitis, Ioannis Gerasimou, Dimitris Kokolis, Steve Rontogiannis, Georgios Lazanis and Georgios Halas. This committee laid the foundation for the school’s future. It strengthened the English and the French curriculum; it abolished tuition fees and paid of the mortgage on the school building. From 1916 to 1925, new members of the teaching staff, included Ms. Palaiologou-Zerva and Ms. Kapetanopoulou, Mr. Christos Christoforidis, teacher of English and French, Ms. Sofia Perganti and Thomas Efthumiadis, as director.
In July 1920, a School Committee was formed, consisting of 350 elected members and Heraclis Papamanolis, as its first President. The Committee’s mission was to assist with improving the school’s financial situation and its members consisted of: H. Papamanolis, G. Gerasimou, K. Alexopoulos, D. Laukas, D. Andriopoulos, O. Gyftakis, V. Xenikakis, G. Gouzopoulos, K. Moraitis, D. Argurakis, D. Tsaros and M. Papadimitriou. One of its first endeavours was the hiring of three new teachers, one for each of the languages
Following the political instability and division in Greece, in September 1925, a group from within the Community purchased the Holy Trinity Church and established a second school named “The Socrates Anglo-Greek School Inc”, which was located in the building next to the church. Michael Stavrides, a graduate of the renowned Evangelical School of Smyrna, was appointed as Director of the School, a position he held until his death in 1951. The school followed the curriculum of the Protestant Central School Board of Montreal and taught the Greek language and culture in addition to the English and French languages. However, the financial crisis that followed however, forced the Greeks to congregate at Holy Trinity Church and to unite the “Platon” and “Socrates” Schools in 1931.
M. Tsouma, P. Plati, A. Kostopoulos, X. Koumoutsidis, Z. Makrogiannoudi-Letzi, K. Kaloni, M. Natou (Kontogiannatou) and Μ. Wright and E. Longmore, made up the school’s teaching staff.
During the next two decades, Socrates School faced hard times and its operations were often supported by the Church Fund, due to low or non existing tuition fees and donations. Compatriots were admirable in their efforts to keep the school operating for the sake of their children and their survival as Greek Orthodox Christians. There were times when the teachers’ salaries and other expenses were paid throughout the year by generous benefactors of the Community.
Admirable were also the efforts of those teachers, who consciously performed their duty through adverse circumstances, while receiving inadequate salaries. Instead of choosing more lucrative jobs, they opted to devote themselves to the Greek School, considering their work as a patriotic mission. Their dedicated work proved itself through the school’s graduates. The restaurateurs, the factory workers, the peddlers and the low-income earners, who had come from Greece with a little or no education, saw their children become scientists, professionals and businessmen, aptly competing with other Canadians while they remaining Hellenes in their hearts.
This was, in fact, the vision of Socrates School from the beginning. To instill in the students, along with knowledge of the French and English languages, a love for the Greek language and a passion to preserve their faith and our cultural heritage. With the means they acquired in school they would continue their studies, pursue their professional careers in Canada, becoming good citizens, while remaining Hellenes in their heart.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, new immigrants came to Montreal by the thousands, and the number of students enrolled in Socrates School was continuously increasing.
In 1970, the “Socrates Anglo-Greek School” was renamed “École Élémentaire Socrates” and in 1971, a new building was purchased at 275 rue Houde in Ville St-Laurent, where École Élémentaire Socrates, Campus I, was located.
In 1972, with the enactment of Bill 63, the Hellenic Community of Montreal, foreseeing the future of Quebec and going along with their requirements in the Province, adopted some amendments to the “Socrates” school system. The most important change was that the implementation of the French language curriculum as opposed to the English with 48% French, 37% Greek and 15% English, in a total of 1,600 minutes of instruction per week. This change was implemented despite the reactions and fears of many members of the Community that the school would lose its Greek character and that the Community would lose control over it. In 1972, “Socrates” was also characterized as a school of public interest, according to Quebec Private Education Law which brought about its right to receive government funding (65% of the total operating costs), in the 1971-72 school year.
In 1978, an agreement was signed with the «Commission des Écoles Catholiques de Montréal», giving the Socrates Elementary School an “associated-school” status. This “associated-school” status allowed the Community to receive better academic resources from the School Board. At the time, the school’s curriculum changed to 62% French, 28% Greek and 10% English, while teaching time was increased to 1,710 minutes (instead of 1,380 minutes in public schools). Funding covers the French and English program at 100%, as well as student transportation. The Greek program, which is not regulated by the Quebec Government, is covered by tuition fees.
In the meantime, several developments in Quebec’s society, as far as the French language and culture were concerned, resulted in some law enactments, such us Bill 22 and later Bill 101. According to these laws, children of immigrants had to attend French schools. These changes greatly benefited Socrates, because it was easily considered a French school, and its students, who learned another language, broaden their studies and acquired precious skills for the future. At its height in the 1980s, Socrates had close to a 1500-student annual enrollment and a faculty of over 100.
In 1980, the name of “École Élémentaire Socrates” was changed to “École Primaire Socrates”. Two years later, after the completion of the Hellenic Community Centre, on Wilderton Avenue, École Primaire Socrates, Campus II, commenced its operations. So did Campus III in Roxboro. In 1985, Campus IV in St. Hubert on South Shore opens its doors. In 1989, an associated-status agreement was signed for the South Shore campus with the former «Commission Scolaire Taillon», now named «Commission Scolaire Marie Victorin». On June 20, 1990, the Community bought what would soon be known as Campus V in Laval. The following year, the Community signed a letter of intent with the former «Commission Scolaire des Milles-Îles, now the “Commission Scolaire de Laval”, agreeing to an association contract of “association” as soon as the Minister of Education delivered the operating permit for Campus V. In September 1993, the permit was obtained and the agreement was signed.
In 2008, Ècole Primaire Socrates was forced out of a 30-year-old agreement with the School Boards and since then it is recognised as a private academic institution. In 2010, with the merge of the Hellenic Community of Montreal and the Greek Community of Laval, the school became “Ècole Socrates-Démosthène”.
Ècole Socrates-Démosthène is still recognised today as a community school serving the Greek population of the Greater Montreal area. Its educational philosophy has always been to offer children of Greek origin a secure and safe environment, to ensure proper development and strength of their character, to inspire confidence and respect for their cultural identity. It promotes understanding, Greek pride and sense of honor, respect for the family, for religion and for traditions.
Being a community school is one of the factors that distinguish Ècole Socrates-Démosthène. It is the pride and soul of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal and a shining example of what community work, volunteerism and faith in youth can accomplish. The administration, the students’ parents with their committees, and other volunteers, are actively involved and assist the school in its work. This has beneficial influence on the children, who see their parents close to the school, participating in activities and events, it intensifies their efforts for learning. Moreover, the family school’s atmosphere, the participation in cultural and social events, where all children dance together, often with their parents, supports the formation of their cultural identity.
Through its continuously successful course over the years and its excellent pedagogical work, Ècole Socrates-Démosthène has established a tradition in trilingual education and has been recognised as a pioneer school of the Greek Diaspora. Thousands of pupils of Greek origin have passed through the classrooms of Ècole Socrates-Démosthène; they have succeeded in their higher studies and remain Hellenes making their mark in Canadian society.
• Papamanolis H., “Greek-Canadian Guide” (in Greek), 1921-1922
• Vlassis George, “The Greeks in Canada”, Ottawa 1953
• Ioannou Tina, “La Communauté Grecque du Québec”, Institut Québécois de Recherche sur la Culture, 1983
• Constantinides St. (Ed.), “The Greek Language Education in Canada” (in Greek), University of Crete 2001.
• Theophano Georgiou, “The contribution of Socrates School to the Identity Formation and Academic-Professional Evolution of its Graduates”, University of Crete, Rethymno 2008