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Le Courant

Fall 2010 | 12

The Grand Couvent de Coaticook, the nuns and their history

Sylviane Ferland, Julie Beloin

Grand Couvent, École Normale, Couvent de la Présentation de Marie and Collège Rivier are different names used to refer to this private school. The Couvent is housed in a stone building that was built in 1870. The stones are from the Cleveland quarry in Barnston (Ressources Minières du Québec). In 1870, it was known as Le Grand Couvent; later on it was referred to as l'École Normale de Coaticook, where Brevet (A) and (B) were awarded. Over the years, several notorious people studied at the Cou¬vent. From 1886 to 1893, Miss Jeanne Anctil was a boarder at the convent; she studied in Paris for one year and then moved ta Fribourg where a young assistant, Antoinette Gérin-Lajoie, met her. At the time, Home Economics studies were not available in French, therefore it was very difficult to hire teachers. Jeanne Anctil was selected by the founders of the École Ménagère de Montréal to pursue an in¬ternship in Europe in order to increase her knowle¬dge. She returned to Canada in 1906 with a di¬ploma from École Ménagère de Fribourg. In June of the same year, the Montréal division of the school received its charter and its corporate name: Les Écoles Ménagères Provinciales. Another notorious alumnus is Miss Suzanne Véronneau; she would later become Mrs Suzanne Véronneau Troutman. Native of Coaticook, she was the daughter of Sarto Véronneau and Victorine Marcoux. Miss Véronneau completed her elementary and secondary studies at the Couvent in Coaticook. In 1957, she obtained a graduate degree with High Distinction from the Université de Montréal in Ophthalmology. She was among the first women to practice medicine in Qué¬bec and the first female resident in ophthalmology at Maisonneuve Rosemont Hospital. There are cer-tainly many other alumni who have distinguished themselves and we will write about them in ensuing issues of Le Courant. In its early years, the Convent was expanded four times; 1884, 1897, 1902 and 1907. Today, this four storey building, made of beautifully cut stones, is 220 feet long. In 1950, the 190 students were split into the French and English elementary schools, the bilingual Commercial program and the four-year Literature & Science program. The Classical program included an artistic component: instrumental music and vocals, painting, modeling, calisthenics and culinary art.
The next section of this article is an abridged version of a document written by Julie Beloin on Les soeurs de la Présentation de Marie and their works at the Couvent in Coaticook.

A region, a convent, a congregation
Coaticook, an area that is surrounded by beautiful hills and valleys, captivated the nuns. Its proximity to the United States contributes to the town's significant English-protestant community. This proximity influenced the area's education system and economy, but the town's entire socio-economic profile as well. The convent saw the light of the day in the parish of Saint-Edmond which was established in 1868, following the arrival of French Canadians in Coaticook. The first parish priest, Jean-Baptiste Chartier, arrived in 1868 and built a chapel. This chapel would be expanded in 1871. Mr. Chartier's next priority was to ensure Catholic children received a proper education. The first three nuns from the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary arrived in Coaticook on September 15, 1870.
The nuns and their history:
Memoirs of Les Soeurs de la Présentation' de Marie au Couvent de Coaticook, 1870-1920.
As early as 1870, the congregation of the Sisters, of the Presentation of Mary took on the responsibility of educating the young ladies enrolled at the Couvent de Coaticook. By studying this congregation, we hope to grasp the significance of their educational vocation. Most of the documents consulted; were written by the nuns of the Couvent de Coaticook and kept in the school's annals. The annals are a resume of significant historic events chosen and written by the nuns in order to be used as documentation for the edification of the memoirs, as well as the creation of a common identity.

The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary were originally from France and their founder was Marie Rivier. Their primary goal is to provide a Christian education to the youth, specifically through schooling; this was perfectly in line with Mr. Chartier's own objective. Throughout their memoirs this undertaking is frequently mentioned. At the beginning, the nuns faced many challenges, the convents financial situation was precarious; fol lowing M. Chartier's bankruptcy and the Convent being seized by the Trust and Loan, the nuns purchased the building in 1883.
The citizens of Coaticook have always contributed to the expansion of the convent; the nuns recall being a part of the community in which they worked. Even though the relationship with the Protestant community was not always easy, the nuns did their best to join this inter-denominational environment; overall, the annals present a harmonious history.
Expansion of the teaching establishment

Right from the beginning, it is written that the nuns were certain that their works were useful. Today, the nuns are proud when they witness the expansion of their school. The dedication and sacrifice made throughout the course of their works in order to overcome many obstacles is obvious.
The congregation

In their memoirs, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary note the important role played by their headmistress, the Virgin Mary. A series of devotions and activities are completed in her honour. The nuns also bear witness to an identity story; thus, in the forefront, the annals tell the story of the foundation of their congregation. The Sister of the Presentation of Mary represent themselves as a family, in this mariner, they use many metaphors ta evoke family ties. Each member has a place in the memoirs, the significance of the entry which is devoted to each nun depends on the sister's rank and her personality. Through the Annals, we discover many similarities between the Convents congregation and the Présentines congregations of France.

The recollections conveyed by the nuns are numerous and diverse. The nuns confirmed that it took plenty of will power as it was not always easy at first; however, their very own values such as devotion, sacrifice and perseverance allowed them to realize their dream. The sense of belonging in the community is also significant in the memoirs: belonging to their institution, ta the region of Coaticook and to their congregation, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.

Le Courant

Le Courant is published by the Society every year. Society's members, professional and amateur historian shared with the readers results of their searches. Articles are available in English and French. This publication received generous support from local sponsors that the Society wishes to thank with all it's gratitude.


Coaticook Historical Society

34 Main Stree East
Coaticook, Québec
(819) 849-1023

Opening Hours
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Closed : Monday • Saturday • Sunday and public holidays
Entrance Fees : Free


Over 23,000 pictures from our weekly newspaper Le Progrès.
Copies of The Coaticook Observer 1928-1938 complete plus others of different dates.
Copies of the newspaper L'Etoile de l'Est from 1928 to 1938 (complete) and others bearing differents dates.
Copies of our weekly newspaper Le Progrès de Coaticook from 1971 to 2003.

Approximate number of objects in the collections: 23000

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