'Living in Ruins': Montreal students put on play about their run-down high school

·3 min read
Students from Sophie-Barat school created a play to talk about the state of their school and its heritage.   (Anne-Louise Despaties/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Students from Sophie-Barat school created a play to talk about the state of their school and its heritage. (Anne-Louise Despaties/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Grade 10 students at a high school in Montreal's Ahuntsic neighbourhood are using theatre to reimagine the school's crumbling building.

Inspired by École Sophie-Barat's dilapidated state, students took to the stage in a play to showcase the heritage building and voice how they want Quebec to renovate it.

The province allocated $164 million to renovating the high school, making it the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal's biggest expansion project to date. Sophie-Barat is also the oldest school of the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal.

Renovations will add 200 to 250 places at the school, which currently has about 1,400 students enrolled.

But a specific timeline hasn't been set for the project.

The show, Habiter les ruines (Living in Ruins), is a theatrical journey around a school rich in history, but neglected to the point of being partially shut down.

Since August 2020, classrooms for Grade 7, 8 and 9 students have been relocated, and older students can no longer access the cafeteria or the newly renovated library.

About 100 students are taking part in the show, which is being staged this weekend.

Anne-Louise Despaties
Anne-Louise Despaties

French teacher Michel Stringer says the building withered before his eyes.

Stringer, who has been working at the school for the past 25 years, now teaches grammar and vocabulary from a classroom located at the end of a narrow staircase.

"In August 2020, when we learned that the roof was collapsing, it was a tragedy for the school," he said.

He says the theme of built heritage took hold among his students last year.

"My role as a French teacher is to make them read, to make them write, to put them in situations where they can speak up," he said.

For many students, their school first seemed like a castle or the famous Hogwarts school from the Harry Potter series. But they soon noticed the building's dilapidated condition.

Their observations on broken windows, damaged walls and overheated rooms form the fabric of the show.

Anne-Louise Despaties/Radio-Canada
Anne-Louise Despaties/Radio-Canada

"I'm afraid that the school will collapse and that we'll have to finish our classes in the ruins," one student says in play.

Some 400 people have watched the show so far.

A rich heritage

Founded in 1855, the school of the Congrégation des Dames du Sacré-Cœur was located near the village of Sault-au-Récollet, along the Rivière des Prairies.

Passerelles, a heritage preservation organization, helped develop the play.

Anne-Louise Despaties/Radio-Canada
Anne-Louise Despaties/Radio-Canada

Frédérique Gagné-Thibault, project manager for heritage preservation cooperative Passerelles, says the site shows the evolution of education in Quebec.

It was first home to a private boarding school for girls until the 1970s when it became a public secondary school for boys.

"It's a building that's complex because a lot of wings have been added over time," she said.

"We can't revive a past that no longer exists, but I think the best way to preserve it is to respect it through architecture that can be more contemporary, but that respects the spirit of adding buildings."

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