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Community support for a community centre — fundraising for Howick’s ‘Pink School’

Lorelei Muller

On June 29, approximately 200 people gathered at Howick’s Salaberry Park for a musical party to benefit the local community centre, the École Modèle, also known as “the Pink School.” Yielding about $2,000 to go toward much-needed repairs to the building, the festive event was also deemed a great success as a social occasion, in that it “brought together neighbours who hadn’t had a chance to visit in a long while,” according to one of the organizers, Marcelle Chabot.

Also speaking with pride about the party was Gladys McCaig, president of the non-profit group that manages the community centre. “The kids enjoyed the face painting. Everyone said the food was great.”  A passing shower did not put a damper on the fun, she said: “It went very well, [judging] from the response of the people that I talked to. People enjoyed the music and the visiting. Some were wondering if we plan on doing it again. The musicians enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere; if another event like this is going to be planned in the future, they would be willing to come back again.”

The party was just one part of a wider effort to fund renovations on the aging but beloved building. Located at 63 Lambton St., the École Modèle was built in 1914 and is the only example left in Quebec of this type of four-classroom school.  It served as the village’s Catholic school into the mid-1970s when students were relocated to École St-Jean. The building was then transferred to the Fabrique de la paroisse de Très-Saint-Sacrement until a number of citizens gathered as volunteers to create a non-profit organization, the Groupe EM, which in 1979 paid $1 to acquire a 99-year renewable lease on the building. The contract states that the building is theirs so long as the group takes responsibility for management, maintenance, and upkeep.

Currently served by seven volunteer directors, the Groupe EM has a mission to provide the communities of Howick and Très-Saint-Sacrement with affordable accommodation for different activities and events.  For 40 years, the building has been managed by the non-profit group with assistance from both municipalities, which help with funding as well as snow removal and lawn maintenance. Though it is called the École Modèle community centre, it is perhaps best known in English as “the Pink School,” which, according to Groupe EM president Gladys McCaig, comes from the French “l’école rose” in reference to the colour of the bricks.  “It’s funny how things get named and it sticks,” said McCaig. The Très-Saint-Sacrement town hall was housed there from 1994 to 2004 and the Catholic church maintained an office in it until the mission was centralized to Ste-Martine.

The operating budget covers basics like heating, cleaning, electricity, and insurance, but leaves little for major repairs.  Windows on the first floor were replaced about 20 years ago and on the second floor in 2014.  The possibility of a chairlift was considered, but McCaig says, “The roof needs to be fixed: no ifs, ands, or buts.”  The cost to replace the roof is estimated at $35,000.

Among fundraising efforts, McCaig referenced a bingo at Easter and acknowledged that “We were given a very generous donation when the Howick Curling Club closed — so that helped too.” With the money generated at the recent benefit, the campaign to “Save the Pink School” has reached the halfway mark.

Noah Tolhurst left and Bruce Barr right Photo Credit Lorelei Muller
Food face painting and fine music were all part of the festivities that brought the community together to raise funds for Howicks community centre Photo Credit Lorelei Muller


At the June 29 event, Marcelle Chabot, the community agent for the municipalities of Howick and Très-Saint-Sacrement who recognized the party’s twofold importance, raising both cash and community spirit, volunteered her time to greet guests at the entrance and welcome donations. Assistance was provided by the two municipalities, the Maison des Jeunes, and a large group of volunteers including makeup artist “Mundy” Linda Deschamps, musical performers, and community members who assisted with preparing and serving food and drinks.

The widespread sense of support was also noted by Noah Tolhurst, who helped Chabot organize the musical lineup.  According to Tolhurst, “People were ready to embrace the event.” Fellow musician Daniel McKell admitted that as a resident of Ormstown he didn’t know too much about the Howick institution, but that it was clearly “a hub that holds the community together.”

Local small businesses, such as a dog trainer and a masseuse, have used the facilities but the greatest use is by youth groups.  The Maison des Jeunes, based in Huntingdon, uses the centre as a hub for Howick teens. From September to June, Une Affaire de Famille uses one room to offer a drop-off daycare service, and members of Girl Guides and Scouts gather for weekly meetings. The Howick 4-H Club holds regular square dance practices and occasional special events. Former 4-H member Bruce Barr, who entertained with his fiddle on June 29, remembers the “sense of community” during square dance practices he attended there 30 years ago. Though some activities slow down for the summer, the library is open on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m.

One office is currently vacant and available for rent.  The basement, which seats up to 80 people, is available for special events, funerals, and celebrations.  For information or to make a donation, contact Groupe EM president Gladys McCaig at 450-843-8330.

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linda deschamps 2019-07-16 at 23:35

J ai beaucoup apprécié la présence du gleaner .
Notre petite communauté as toujours besoin de ce faire connaître .
Nous vous remercion de votre appuie

jessica morin 2019-07-16 at 19:28

It was a great pleasure for Jessy ann duo,(Jessy Ann and Ben Monette) to perform and share our passion of music during this event


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