Celebrating Our Rich Past

Celebrating St. Michael's School in the Irish Block
Posted on 05/17/2018

On Friday May 11th, the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board celebrated the unveiling of a commemorative plaque, recognizing one story that is part of the rich history of Catholic Education in Grey and Bruce counties.

The plaque commemorates the site of the former St. Michael’s Catholic School SSS#7 in Sydenham Township. St. Michael’s opened in 1851 with approximately 50 students. It served the Irish Block community for 101 years. In the early 1950’s an addition was built at the front of the school, which allowed for increased classroom space.

the former St. Michael's School in the Irish Block, Sydenham Township

St. Michael’s became a central hub for many community events, including the annual Christmas concerts, which are fondly remembered by former students, parents and grandparents. The school closed in 1962.

The School ground was donated by the Bye family to erect a Catholic school for the area. The Bye family provided room and board to former teachers of St. Michael’s. The present owner Phil Bye has generously allowed the installation of this plaque.

commemorative plaque
The Bruce-Grey Catholic District School board is honoured to donate this historical plaque in recognition of the importance of St. Michael’s School to the Irish Block community over the years.

Trustee Norm Bethune was instrumental in the installation of the commemorative plaque. “I was following up on an idea shared with me by Lou Cahoon.”, says Norm. “I brought the idea to the Board of Trustees, and they unanimously endorsed the project.” St. Michael’s was one of the first Catholic schools in the area, and the only Catholic School in Sydenham Township. The early settlers established the school despite insufficient funding and restrictive legislation, which was not favourable to Catholic Schools.  For 101 years it served as a community hub for the Irish Block community.

The unveiling was attended by former staff and students of the school, trustees and Senior Administration of the BGCDSB, and representatives from the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus from St. Mary’s Parish Owen Sound, as well as friends and advocates of the Irish Block. The ceremony included a blessing by Fr. Kuzma, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish.

group picture of attendees

Parishioners of St. Michael’s parish in the Irish Block joined St. Mary’s in 1949, when the existing St. Michael’s Church was destroyed by fire. Upon the closing of St. Michael’s School in 1962, the students transferred to St. Mary’s Elementary School in Owen Sound.

In his address to the crowd, Irish Block resident, and former graduate of St. Michael’s, Michael Traynor, provided recollections of his years spent at St. Michael’s, and of the history of the Irish Block. He expressed his appreciation to the school board for donating the plaque. “Thank you for not forgetting, and recognizing a rich past.”

The ceremony was a fitting culmination of Catholic Education week celebrations, Renewing the Promise of Catholic Education in Ontario.

The site is located east of Owen Sound, on Sydenham Concession 2 North, and south of the Coffin Ridge Winery.

View this slideshow to see more picture from the celebration!