A hundred years of Glebe Collegiate

Glebe Collegiate Institute was completed in 1923 on the “outskirts” of Ottawa. For information on anniversary celebrations currently planned for October 14-16, 2022, visit glebe100.ca.   Photo: Courtesy of GCI

By Zahra Duxbury

Glebe Collegiate’s “Naked Room” ceiling mural, reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, was painted by Peter Ferk in 1977. Photo: Elsa Cattelan

A reminiscence on our school’s past and its relevance today

Aside from our school’s exterior, which remains solid proof of the time from whence it came, the memories of a different Glebe, a past Glebe, are sustained by stories. Naturally, as time passes, these stories fade. The responsibility of keeping them alive rests on our shoulders, as it has for many generations before us. Why bother? Because through small efforts, like word of mouth and an article in the school paper, we will do ourselves a favour. Somewhere along the line, perhaps even now, when the future seems blurry and unapproachable, we will look to the past. It truly is a valuable resource.

Where to start a story? On a fall day in 1922, when a school, though not officially opened, officially started.

The Building

Glebe Collegiate was not initially founded as Glebe Collegiate. Instead, it was built as an expansion of the Ottawa Collegiate Institute (OCI ) which is known now as Lisgar; the OCI’s symbols can still be found on our school today. In 1917, the OCI had outgrown its facility because of an increase in school enrolment. This was due to Ottawa’s rising population – it had increased 43 per cent since 1901 – and to a newfound emphasis on education – the 1919 Adolescence School Attendance Act mandated student attendance until age 16. The OCI was overcrowded with 46 students and teachers, and circumstances were in dire need of change.

In 1919, the land between Percy and Bronson was purchased for $74,000, and the prominent Ottawa architect H. Albert Ewart was hired to design the school in a collegiate-gothic style. The school, which would accommodate modern amenities such as a plunge-pool, gymnasium and greenhouse, was well-regarded; upon its official opening in 1923 (students had already started attending the year before), it was described by the Ottawa Citizen as a “beautiful building” and “a reflection of the advance of education.”

The Rivalry

Soon after, the OCI was split into Glebe and Lisgar, and a rivalry started between the two schools, which were both known for their academic prowess. This competition was a prime motivator for academics and athletics. Occasionally, the rivalry went a bit too far. In 1972, according to a Lisgar anecdote, the Glebe senior boys arrived en masse to prank their rival school, but they were unable to leave in their getaway car because the Lisgar students had stolen the distributor cap! Later on, a tense club meeting in the Glebe cafeteria resulted in a food fight between the two schools, which didn’t end until the principal intervened. This rivalry has definitely mellowed over the years, and though friendly competition still continues, it’s safe to say that Lisgar and Glebe, both great schools, have come to terms with each other.

The Graduates

Glebe Collegiate is home to quite a few notable alumni, such as Peter Mansbridge, a former CBC news anchor, Alanis Morisette, a seven-time Grammy award-winning singer, and Patrick Watson, a director, among other things, who created the Heritage Minutes that many of us are so familiar with. A story worth noting is that of Peter Ferk, who painted the notorious “naked room” mural when he was a 16-year-old student at Glebe. Inspired by Dante’s “Inferno,” Ferk dedicated the majority of his year to painting it, even missing prom! He is now a veteran of the animation industry, having worked with companies such as Disney and Universal Studios.

I write this article to remind people that the past has brought us to the present and that when people feel disconnected from the times in which they’re living, it can help to look back. These past few years have been far from ordinary, and sometimes it’s hard, especially for new students like me, to imagine Glebe might once have been different than this current reality. But history begs to differ – it shows a hundred years behind us, full of vibrancy and boundlessness, where students faced obstacles and overcame them, just like we have and will. And if you listen, it tells you something else: Glebe’s history has only just begun.

Zahra Duxbury is a student at Glebe Collegiate Institute.

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