StFX leaves Arichat for Antigonish

Pictured is the College of St. Francis Xavier which formally opened in Antigonish on Sept. 18, 1855.

Year two at the Arichat seminary/school saw an increase in registration.

The seminarians, some 15 or so, boarded at the old “Hubert Big House.” Forty students enrolled in the common school and academy. Though the discipline of learning proved to be tedious at times, for some it was quite a pleasant experience.

Rector Cameron and Father Girroir often joined the students for games of hurley, a Scottish sport similar to field hockey.

In this second year, the demographics of the school was decidedly Scottish. Five students came from Cape Breton, while nine were from the mainland. Three of the young scholars were Irish, two from Margaree. Because the language of instruction was English, there were no Acadians enrolled.

It had been previously decided that the college/seminary would be moved from Arichat to Antigonish in 1855. Why was this? Financial considerations favoured a relocation. Rent for the old Hubert residence was steep as was the cost of most necessities. In Antigonish there were existing facilities owned by the diocese which would be suitable. Numerous staff and students complained of the dampness of the Arichat climate and this proved to be another impediment to Arichat as a permanent location.

Perhaps most significantly there was pressure from within the diocese for an Antigonish location while there seems to be no evidence of an organized movement from Arichat to keep the school there.

One must not underestimate the importance of the initial two years at Arichat. Bishop MacKinnon had achieved a great deal with his modest experiment. With Schulte and Cameron, two exemplary rectors, he had assembled a competent staff and a program of studies that was successful in preparing aspirants for seminary studies after only one year at the little college.

In addition, and not without significance, MacKinnon had put in place essential funding sources which placed the school on a sound footing.

It must be remembered that denominational schools had sprung up earlier in the region. The Anglicans established King’s College in Windsor in 1789. Acadia College, in Wolfville, opened in 1839, was a Baptist school. In 1843 the Methodists founded the Wesleyan Academy in Sackville. Catholics were represented by St. Mary’s University, but this was in Halifax. The population of eastern Nova Scotia, particularly the catholic Highland Scots, felt they needed an institution to serve the needs of their youth especially those desiring a vocation in the priesthood.

On September 18, 1855 the College of St. Francis Xavier formally opened at Antigonish. Perhaps appropriately the German priest, the first rector, John Schulte, addressed the host of prospective students and Antigonish notables. Another Arichat alumnus, and the new rector, Dr. John Cameron, was in attendance.

Ironically the architect/builder of the two-storey wooden building that was the original StFX was Alexander MacDonald otherwise known as “Sandy the Carpenter.” A decade or so earlier, this man was responsible for overseeing the construction of the second court house at Arichat.

Bishop MacKinnon continued to guide the new college/seminary through the early years as he had in Arichat. In February of that year he had petitioned the solicitor-general of the province for an annual grant of 250 pounds. He realized that such a request would garner robust opposition from anti-Catholic elements in government, however, precedents had been set in regards to other schools and the Bishop’s petition received approval.