Monday, April 9, 2018
One of my earliest memories at Kemptville College was climbing up into the branches of a thick maple tree that stood between my mother’s building and the cafeteria. I climbed up with one hand because in my other hand I held a small, hard-covered Nancy Drew novel. I was working my way through all 99 in the series.
A few minutes after my arrival, class let out for the day. From my perch in the tree, I could see a long stream of college kids filtering down the sidewalk and into the dining room. The leaves sheltered me from their view. Occasionally I would catch some of their conversation. I remember the boys in their boots and corduroy jackets, the girls with their long hair and ponchos and wide-legged Howick 4-star jeans. Maybe I imagined I might marry one of those long-legged cowboys one day. I would, actually, but it would take me to nearly age 40 and it would be a professor; not a student.
In those days, students showed their prize cattle on the sawdust-covered floor of the Purvis building. Over the years the building has had many different purposes, including a library and event venue. The floor is now covered and more than one young couple has taken advantage of the natural light flooding through the high windows to exchange vows there. My sister got married on the college campus.
Cathy and I knew the administration building well, with its echoing halls and massive staircases. Our mother was the executive assistant to half a dozen different college directors during her nearly forty-year career. We would walk to the college after school to wait for her to finish transcribing her notes of mysterious shorthand onto her state-of-the-art electric typewriter. She dressed neatly, a scarf tied at her neck, her trademark Beaujolais lipstick on her lips. While directors came and went, Mom was the constant in the main office. She knew where everything was.
We went to the College Royal, staff barbecues and parties, and we trekked to the new Agroforestry Station when it was built, to eat pancakes with college maple syrup and taffy on the snow. My sister and I did not attend the college as students, because neither of us had particularly agricultural aspirations. Still, it was a very familiar place to us. It was an important part of Kemptville, and its biggest employer.
In the late ‘90s, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food passed the college over to the University of Guelph. The college brand changed a bit, and the university took over marketing and recruiting students. For a variety of reasons enrolment began to dwindle over the next two decades. In 2014, the University made a business decision. It would not be accepting new students for the coming term. It was closing Kemptville College, just a few years before its 100th birthday.
The Eastern Ontario agricultural community rallied support as the Municipality of North Grenville fought to keep its college open. The provincial government assigned someone to conduct research into the school, its assets and potential for the future. A task force was developed and a public town hall was held to hear from members of the community. I attended as a media representative, and I was live on social media throughout the session. I posted quotes and photos of speakers so that interested parties across Eastern Ontario who were unable to attend the meeting could still follow along with the discussion. Overnight I gained 300 new followers on Twitter, most of them farmers.
Over the next year and a half, the Municipality entered into discussions with a number of different educational and agricultural entities, in an attempt to strike up a business partnership with the college.
No knight in shining armour appeared to save the school, but lease agreements were made with two different French schools. The tenants are making themselves comfortable for the long term, investing in the facilities.
And now the Municipality has acquired “a significant portion” of Kemptville Campus. Four years after the announcement that the college would close, the doors remain open. A new election year is upon us. Residents of North Grenville wait to hear what the new Kemptville Campus will look like.
The Municipality is planning to establish a non-profit organization, much like the one that began the Ferguson Forestry Centre. This body will work to bring tenants into a new educational,
environmental and low-carbon community hub on campus. Those leaseholders will pay the bills to keep the college buildings maintained and operational.
That is the plan for the future. Hopefully it will grow organically to include connections with innovative partners in sustainable farming, energy-saving greenhouses, local food and more. It’s a bit of a question mark for many, but I for one am excited about the possibilities.
Posted by Diana Leeson Fisher at 4:56 PM