École Normale Jacques-Cartier

2330 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal

By Michelle Renaud
Photo Search: Josée Sarrazin


The building located at 2330 Sherbrooke Street West housed École normale Jacques-Cartier (girls sector) for some sixty years1.  It was established in January 1913 and closed in June 1969 following the implementation of reform measures contained in the Parent Report; from then on, future teachers were to receive their degree from universities. What follows is the historical por­trait of Montreal’s most highly regarded normal school which had its roots in a tradition that went back to the very beginning of Ville-Marie.

The Early Years in Old Montreal

In 1856, Quebec’s Council for Public Instruction was established and regulations were passed for the creation of normal schools. In 1857, three institutions were established: in Quebec City, the École normale Laval for young men and women; in Montreal, the McGill Normal School for the English-language community and the École normale Jacques-Cartier for the French-language community. Initially, this last institution was open to men only2.    

On October 3, 1899, the girls sector of École normale Jacques-Cartier was opened in the Mother House on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Street with Sister Saint-Anaclet as Director and In­spec­tor McGown as Professor of Education. This was an important development in the history of women’s education. However, the oldest normal school for young women in Montreal had al­ready existed, in theory, for forty years. Manuscript notes explain that: “The Government granted the same amount to two normal schools: Laval immediately opened the girls sector. It is said that after some deliberation on this matter, it was decided that the amount for the girls sector in Montreal would, for a short time, be put at the disposal of the Principal, Abbott Verreau, to help him build his house. The situation lasted for forty years3!”    

While there were twelve registered students in 1899, forty-one students received their di­plo­mas from École normale Jacques-Cartier in 1901 and the number of students continued to increase for the next nine years4.    

In June 1908, the Mother House of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame moved from Saint-Jean-Baptiste Street to 3040 Sherbrooke Street West (today Dawson College). The eighty-four students who entered the Normal School on September 10, 1908 found the building quite empty and vast! The Sisters of the new Mother House made sure to invite the “Normalites” to midnight Mass on Christmas 1908 and “provided hospitality in the large dormitory5.”    

The formation of teachers continued under the direction of Sister Saint-Isaïe who replaced Sister Saint-Anaclet in 1903. Very soon, however, it became necessary to find a site on which to construct a building which would be better adapted for the needs of the Normal School6.  This became even more essential when the act of sale for the building on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Street by the City Council was signed in 1911. This expropriation was required to ac­com­mo­date the wholesale merchants on Saint-Paul Street, and for the common good of the City as Saint-Laurent Street could then be extended to the river. It was hence that, on July 17, 1912, “with unspoken yet deep regret,” Sister Sainte-Marie-Ananie and Sister Saint-Liguori re­lin­quished the keys to the building which had borne witness since 1657 to 255 years of uninterrupted CND presence7.    


At 2330 Sherbrooke Street West


Construction Work

Construction of the new Normal School began in 1911 on a site generously donated by the Sulpicians. It was separated from the Mother House by Atwater Street. On January 13, 1913, the Normal School moved to 2330 Sherbrooke Street West in a building designed by architect Jean-Omer Marchand, “considered to be one of the most innovative architects of the early 20th century8.”   Engraved in the stone frontispiece under the monogram of Mary, one could read “École Normale Jacques-Cartier9.”    

In 1914, the school also became the Provincialate for Notre-Dame Province (an ad­min­is­tra­tive entity of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame) and Sister Saint-Aglaé was the first Provincial Superior to establish it as a residence10.  In the same year, during the school’s 15th an­ni­ver­sa­ry celebration, over two-hundred former Normal School Alumnae reunited. At their request, in October 1923, the school began the publication of Stella Matutina, a newsletter intended to maintain ties between Alumni and their Alma Mater11.    


Twenty-fifth Anniversary

In June 1924 the Normal School celebrated its 25th anniversary. On this occasion and on the recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Cyrille Delâge, Sister Sainte-Marie-Odile, the school’s director, organized the first Pedagogical Congress. Former students, who were still in teaching, attentively followed this series of conferences chaired by the Honourable Athanase David and other personalities12.  After the celebration, it was decided that Notre-Dame des Écoles Alumni Association would be established; this association, however, only began on January 30, 1926.


A classroom at École normale


The Evolution of the Normal School

Under the direction of Sister Saint-Anthime (1928-1934), the school continued to evolve:

From 1934 to 1938, the school continued to flourish under the direction of Sister Sainte-Césarine. During her term, “silent retreats as well as monthly days of recollection, study circles, the newsletter entitled Le Rayon [formerly Stella Matutina] and the Notre-Dame des Écoles Alumni Association thrived14 .”  Also at this time students joined Jeunesse étudiante catholique – Young Catholic Students (JEC). From this stemmed the association, Jeunesse indépendante catholique féminine – Young Independent Catholic Women (JICF) made up of students led by Maria Voukirakis. The association set up its central office in the school15.    


École normale students on the school grounds

In 1938, Sister Sainte-Yolande replaced Sister Sainte-Césarine when the latter was elected to the General Council of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. This new director was equally in­volved in the material and pedagogical aspects of the institution. During the conferral of di­plo­mas on June 20, 1944, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Victor Doré, awarded her the medal for Academic Merit with “high merit” to underline her generous thirty-year contribution to the Normal School16.  In 1944, Sister Sainte-Véronique-du-Sacré-Cœur, who had taught at the school for many years, replaced her.


Fiftieth Anniversary

In the year of its Golden Jubilee, in May 1949, École normale Jacques-Cartier could take pride in having awarded over 3,000 diplomas; at that time 1,200 graduates were still teaching; 180 were Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame; 120 had entered other Congregations. Over 500 former students participated in the festivities. Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau, who pre­sid­ed over the events, spoke in eloquent terms of the institutions which “extended Marguerite Bourgeoys’s influence through thousands of teachers17.”    


In the École normale chapel on the Feast of Our Lady of Schools in 1964

Closing the École normale

In 1969, École normale de Montréal (its name since January 17, 1957) closed. It was not the only school to close. The Parent Commission, whose responsibility was to study education in Quebec in the 1960s tabled its recommendation: the formation of teachers will, from now on, be provided by universities. From 1965 to 1969, fifty-three normal schools were closed. While in existence they had awarded diplomas to over 80,000 teachers18.    

A Formation Tradition Dating Back to Ville-Marie’s Very Beginning

The Congrégation de Notre-Dame has a long standing tradition of forming teachers. Indeed, at the time of Ville-Marie’s first school in an abandoned stable in 1658, Marguerite Bourgeoys was already forming teachers à la manière de son temps (in the manner of her time). Bishop de Saint-Vallier wrote: “From the house of the Congregation came many school teachers who went out into the colony. They taught catechism to children and provided instruction to people of their own gender”19.    

As Sister Simone Poissant, CND, comments, these teachers “promoted values, had an im­pact on the way women and girls lived … even before 1700 […]. This means that from the very beginning, the Congregation’s goal was to educate children and establish schools, a goal the Congregation has maintained throughout”20.    



  1. On January 17, 1957, the school was renamed École normale Notre-Dame-de-Montréal. [return to text]
  2. La formation des institutrices : les écoles normales de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Interview with Sister Simone Poissant, CND, March 13, 2009, http://www.archivesvirtuelles-cnd.org/en/node/3101 [return to text]
  3. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. X, book I, p. 313. [return to text]
  4. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. X, book II, p. 493 [return to text]
  5. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. X, book I, p. 315-16. [return to text]
  6. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. XI, book I, p. 27. [return to text]
  7. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. XI, book I, p. 33. [return to text]
  8. http://www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/inventaire/fiches/fiche_conc.php?id=192 (page consulted November 26, 2012). See also: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/jeanomer-marchand [return to text]
  9. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. XI, book I, p. 247. [return to text]
  10. École normale Jacques-Cartier, 1899-1949, Archives CND, p. 27. [return to text]
  11. Ibid. [return to text]
  12. Ibid. [return to text]
  13. Ibid., p. 29. [return to text]
  14. Ibid., p. 35. [return to text]
  15. Ibid. [return to text]
  16. Ibid. [return to text]
  17. Histoire de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, vol. XI, book I, p. 247. [return to text]
  18. Micheline Dumont, « Des écoles normales à la douzaine », Cap-aux-Diamants : la revue d’histoire du Québec, no 75, 2003, p. 43-48. http://www.erudit.org/culture/cd1035538/cd1046317/7322ac.pdf [return to text]
  19. Original French from École normale Jacques-Cartier, 1899-1949, CND Archives, p. 21. [return to text]
  20. Original French from La formation des institutrices : les écoles normales de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame, Interview with Sister Simone Poissant, CND, March13, 2009, Inventaire du patrimoine religieux immatériel du Québec, http://www.archivesvirtuelles-cnd.org/en/node/3101 [return to text]

What are
the Sisters of
the Congrégation
de Notre-Dame
doing in 2024?