19th Century, 20th Century, Institutions

The Regi Chorus

Me in Grade Twelve.

Me in Grade Twelve, apparently pointing to a drawing of myself…

Full disclosure: I went to high school at Regi, from September 2006 to June 2010. I had a relatively miserable time in high school but nevertheless thought Regi was a good place to be. Apparently the local history spark was in me even then, because in the front foyer they had class photos and memorabilia going as far back as the early 1900s, which I was always dying to look at. But I never saw anyone else doing it, and I was (okay… still am) paranoid and thought people would think I was weird for studying them intently. I shouldn’t have worried though, because I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was weird anyway.

Moving along to the point, I played clarinet in senior band, and while cleaning my room recently I found my sheet music for the Regi Chorus! This is a piece of music written before Regiopolis and Notre Dame were combined, that someone dug out one day and which the band sometimes plays at school events. I had fun playing it and will get to it in a minute, but first I’m going to go through a brief – but fun! – history of Regi, because it has signified a number of things over its long life and I didn’t know much about it myself up till now. Regi always seems slightly missing-in-action in Kingston histories (too Catholic?), despite the fact that it’s as old as the hills. There are lots and lots of dates in the next few paragraphs, but I hope it won’t be too dry.

Bishop Alexander Macdonell, Kingston’s first Roman Catholic bishop, founded Regiopolis College in 1837. Macdonell (known as “Big Sandy” back in Scotland!) had among other things co-created the short-lived Glengarry Fencibles regiment in 1794, and became the first Catholic chaplain to serve with the British army since the Reformation. After coming to Canada and being made a bishop, Macdonell wanted to have a seminary to create priests for the diocese of Kingston. On March 4, 1837, an Act of Incorporation was passed provincially for the College of Regiopolis to be created. (“Regiopolis” is a combination of Latin and Greek meaning “Kingston.”) However, the cornerstone of Regiopolis was not laid until June 11, 1839, and Macdonell was forced to go fundraising for the college throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. Unfortunately, he fell ill while on this journey, and died in 1840 in Scotland. Regiopolis opened in 1842 and received a royal charter in 1866 giving it degree-granting powers, but it struggled financially and closed three years later.

The original location of Regiopolis College on Sydenham Street, now part of Hotel Dieu Hospital. (my photo)

The original location of Regiopolis College on Sydenham Street, now part of Hotel Dieu Hospital. (my photo)

Meanwhile, the Sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame, after the request of Macdonell, had established a Catholic girls’ boarding school in Kingston in 1841. The convent school was in various locations until it moved in 1846 to Macdonell’s old house on the corner of Bagot and Johnson Streets, which he had bequeathed as a girls’ school. (It’s now part of the library, where I am currently writing this.) The Sisters also opened day schools: St. John’s School on John Street in 1875, and St. Vincent’s Academy at the corner of Bagot and William in 1892. In 1899, demand was strong enough that Notre Dame began teaching high school-level classes.

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By the 1890s, Regiopolis had entered its second life. Forward-thinking Archbishop Cleary decided to re-open the school, and in 1896 he purchased the bank building at King and William for it to be housed in. This time around Regi prospered, and more room was soon needed. In 1914 it moved to a new building on Russell Street, and in 1938 revived the use of its royal charter: Regiopolis ran with university capabilities for two years, but the venture was not successful as most high school graduates were joining the army.

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(The last photo shows Regi after 1914 in its current location, but in the original school on the site.) By the 1960s things were again looking grim for both Regiopolis and Notre Dame. Finances were difficult, enrollment was dropping (Notre Dame was no longer a boarding school), and the buildings themselves were deteriorating. In 1965, Grade 13 was tentatively shared between the two schools, and two years later Regi relinquished its own boarding school and joined with Notre Dame. And they lived happily ever after, in a “new” building (c. 1970s) which has gradually become a Frankenschool as various additions have been tacked on over the years, making Regi a confusing place for newcomers.

Now, back to the music: the Regi Chorus was written by one J. Hodgins in 1934, in the days before the unified Regiopolis-Notre Dame. It has words, but I forget what they are; I think it starts, “Something, men of Regi, something…” but that’s all I can remember! I liked playing this in band because it has a fun old-fashioned “collegiate” sound, which you can hear if you try playing the music, which I’m reproducing below. (This is slightly unorthodox for me but I can’t imagine who could be profiting from this sheet music.) You may want to keep in mind that this music is for B-flat clarinet, so it’s not in concert pitch. However unless you’re playing with a band, which you’re probably not, this doesn’t matter.

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Sources

Flynn, L.J. At School in Kingston 1850-1973: The Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Roman Catholic Separate School Board. Kingston, ON: Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Catholic Separate School Board, 1973.

Alexander Macdonell in the online Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Sources for Regi photos: King Street postcard, Russell Street postcard both held by the Toronto Public Library.

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One thought on “The Regi Chorus

  1. Brian MacDonald says:

    I attended Regi from 1962 to 1967. I was in a Grade 10 science class in 1963 when the P.A. system announced that President Kennedy had been shot. My year was also part of an experiment in 1966-67 when Grade 13 girls from Notre Dame Convent attended Regi for morning classes with the boys and all were bused to Notre Dame for afternoon classes. I took French (taught by Sr. Quigley) and English (taught by Sr. Powers) at Notre Dame. The following year Notre Dame was closed and Regiopolis College became Regiopolis-Notre Dame High School with girls in all grades for the first time.

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