History, a caring spirit hovering over a space, nudges us to not repeat mistakes and connects us to our ancestral pasts. St. Mary’s Academy, a tremendous piece of Windsor, Ontario’s history, is not only close to home but is my home.
The Universe Aligned
Windsor in 1864-65 was the new home of many refugees from the United States Civil War. During that time, General Robert E. Lee was announcing his surrender, and at the end of a war, the universe seemed to be aligning as a pilgrimage like no other was about to begin. Gracious nuns from the order of The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary were planning journeys from Montreal, Quebec to several cities all over North America to build communities which included high school academies for young Catholic girls. Welcome to Windsor, where an incredible group of twelve sisters, headed by the order’s founder, Blessed Mother Marie Rose Durocher, received an invitation to Windsor by Right Reverend Bishop Pinsonnault of Sandwich and were warmly welcomed by our community. The Sisters of the order’s first St. Mary’s Academy was established in downtown Windsor where the Canadian Tunnel Plaza sits today. The valuable sale of this property for $1 million to the Detroit Windsor Tunnel Corporation seemed to be the financial blessing to achieve a much larger dream.
The Rise – A Dream Realized
Thirty acres of farmland, located in South Windsor, designated the foundation of the 2nd St. Mary’s Academy. A magnificent 5-storey, Gothic-style architectural masterpiece, was meticulously designed by of one of the sisters from the order and built in 1928. The dream was realized, much like opening the pearly gates of Windsor, and with its outstretched arms, began to embrace female students from all over the world. Five sprawling stories of awe included classrooms, a tremendous chapel, a bell tower and boarding for teachers and students. It was one of the largest structures Windsor has ever beheld and a remarkable achievement for Windsor and for 50 years, female students received the best education the world could offer, but all good things seem to come to an end.
The Fall – Shrine of Fondest Memories
In 1971, right after the 50-year jubilee celebration, the boarding school abruptly closed its doors and the property listed for sale. Five years later, despite numerous pleas to save this relic, it was sold to a local developer and imploded. It was to be replaced by a subdivision of homes. I wonder as they chanted in the alma mater “Hail, then, St. Mary’s, shrine of fondest memories,” if they knew there would be an end to this era. Countless testimonials from students and neighbours attest to the tragedy of its loss and the wonderful memories shared by all. Many spoke about the high level of education offered, the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and the tremendous sorrow felt by its closing and final demolition. Many of its relics have been found in and around Windsor. It is claimed the actual gates are the entrance of a family home on Normandy Rd. in Lasalle and some cabinets and light fixtures enhance the beauty of Willistead Manor.
Out of the Ashes – Our Neighborhood
The popular Windsor sub-division dubbed “St. Mary’s Gates or “The Gates Of St. Mary’s” lies in the exact location of the historic St. Mary’s Academy Windsor, Ontario. Its holy halls are now the winding streets of our neighbourhood where we raise our beautiful family. I will share the history with my children, so the spirit lives on and prays that St. Mary continues to bless our home, our neighbourhood our beautiful city. We are eternally grateful to the guided spirits of The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary for choosing our community to bless over 150 years ago.
50 year Jubilee celebration program book online https://archive.org/details/fiftiethannivers00stmauoft/page/n11