The History

History of St. John's School (Elora)

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The Founding of SJK

The idea of a school began in Elora, a beautiful town 25 km north of SJK School’s current location, where, in the late 1960s, there was a popular after school choir program at St. John the Evangelist Church. Canon Robert Hulse, the rector of St. John’s who had a passion for church music, created this choir program. Canon Hulse’s initiative established a unique choral music program that proved very popular within the Elora community.

Initially, the program was on Sunday mornings, but eventually moved to Thursdays after school so it wouldn’t conflict with the Sunday service and the choir’s performances. The choir school program organized the children into grades and included Biblical curriculum, dinner, and choir practice. The program expected a lot of its participants and ran from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Eventually, enrollment dramatically grew because parents appreciated the calibre of the program as well as the structured and disciplined environment of the choir school. Consequently, the choir school planted the seeds of what would become St. John’s School (Elora).

The parents of the choir school program began to discuss the possibility of an independent school in Elora. They thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a private boys’ school like Ridley College or Trinity College School right here in our town?” Although the idea was exciting, in many ways it seemed just out of reach—simply a dream. However, these conversations continued in the homes of several Elora residents, including the home of Jim and Isobel Chalmers. What began as seemingly a dream, soon became a more distinct possibility.

Jim Chalmers was a principal with the Waterloo Public School Board and he had 20 years of experience as an educator. As well, his son Bruce was the lead choir boy in the St. John’s Choir School. While Bruce had the opportunity to participate in a summer choir program at Trinity College School in Port Hope, his parents, Jim and Isobel Chalmers, were invited to attend an Evensong service on campus. Both Jim and Isobel were very taken with what they saw at Trinity College School. Jim recalled his visit saying,

“As parents, we were invited to attend a choral evensong. For the first time, I entered a private school, one of those ‘elite institutions’ or so I had thought. While attending a rehearsal and observing the disciplined singing and the disciplined rapport between the choristers and Dr. Sedgewick, I felt a rare sensation of excitement within me. On our return trip I indicated to Isobel that if we could arouse the dreamers back home and stir them into action I would be willing to risk my 20 year career and assume a leadership role in founding a new school.”

The very next Sunday, as Canon Hulse shook hands with the parting congregation members, he was startled to hear Jim Chalmers say, “Robert let’s do it. Let’s start a school!” And from that moment, St. John’s School (Elora) stopped being a dream and became a compelling mission for Canon Hulse, Mr. Chalmers, and many others.    
The next few months were filled with meetings to garner support. In addition, a basic curriculum was created. The School would promote high standards in academics, the arts (especially music), hearty sports, practical skills, and social graces. The goal was to have 60 male students, 15 in each grade from Grade 5 to Grade 8. Those were ambitious goals for a new school.

They formed a steering committee along with subcommittees for things such as uniforms, public relations, and the budget. They designed a coat of arms and selected the motto, “To stir into flame the gift of God.” In fact, many of those initial supporters formed the first Board of Governors. Together they drafted the private members’ bill for the Ontario Legislature that was needed to establish the School. On June 25, 1972, the supporters had much cause for celebration when they heard the news that the Ontario Legislature had passed the bill that created the School. St. John’s School (Elora) now existed on paper. 

As interest for the School grew, the founders needed to find a suitable location. They were fortunate that a house came up for sale quite near St. John’s Church. In the early summer of 1972, they purchased the ‘White House’ on Price Street and it officially became St. John’s School (Elora). When they took possession of the house in July 1972, there was a great deal of work to be done before it would be ready for 60 boys. With limited construction knowledge, little money, and only 8 weeks to complete the project, they set about converting a house into a school.

In the meantime, Mr. Chalmers started the search for teachers who would support his vision. He first hired teacher Mr. Walter Langford and second Mr. Malcolm Rombach. The newly hired teachers rolled up their sleeves and pitched in wherever help was needed. Although the goal was to start school on September 7, 1972, they missed their goal by a few days and opened instead on September 11, 1972. The dream to create a school for boys in Elora had become reality and St. John’s (Elora) officially opened its doors to its first students.

The opening day of the School was very memorable for everyone involved, but especially for the School’s Founding Headmaster, Mr. Chalmers. As he wrote in his memoir, “If there is any moment in the school’s history that will have a lasting memory, it will be opening day. That morning, the faculty met at 8:15 a.m. to review the opening day’s procedures….At 8:45 a.m., with the sun shining brightly, we all walked across the village green to St. John’s Church. We were confronted with a church full of parents and their sons who had faith in our dream. At the resounding strains of a favourite hymn, Praise My Soul the King of Heaven, filled that magnificent sanctuary, I could not sing as I welled up with emotion. There at the front of the sanctuary were Glenn Carroll, Chair of the Board of Governors, and Robert Hulse and me to participate in a brief service to welcome a unique and remarkable congregation.”

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