Jeff Green | Apr 01, 2015
Marcel Giroux has been a busy guy since he came to Sharbot Lake High School to teach French and Gym in 1956.
The school he came to was eight years old and it was already showing signs of being too small for the demands of the local community. A few years later, with the baby boomers hitting high school, the school was expanded during a two-year period in which Marcel served as the interim principal.
“The high schools were under the supervision of Frontenac County at that time and the public schools were under the townships. The problem in the high schools was overcrowding. When Sharbot Lake High School was expanded in 1962 it was built on the premise that it would be 100 students in grade 9; 70 in grade 10; 40 in grade 11; 30 in grade 12; and 20 in grade 13,” he said.
Most jobs only required a grade 10 education at that time, but that changed to grade 12 just as the baby boomers were coming through.
“The school was built for 240 students and 380 students showed up in September. We had that problem for years.”
In the late 1960s the push was on to close one room schools and establish larger public schools. Marcel, who was the head guidance counselor at SLHS by that time, a position he held until his retirement in 1988, visited those schools every year to talk to the grade 8 students who were going to come to SLHS the next year. He supported closing the one room schools and expanding Hinchinbrooke, Sharbot Lake, and Clarendon Central Public Schools, and building Land O'Lakes Public School.
“People have a romantic view of one-room schools, but the reality was that of the 14 that were in our townships, one or two were good, most of them were pretty poor, and a couple of them were horrendous. The good ones had established teachers and financial support from the township and community. But that was rare. I remember visiting a school that was being taught by a young girl who had just graduated from high school herself. She was taking chalk out of her purse in the morning because she had to supply it herself. That's the kind of thing that went on.”
In 1969 the Frontenac School Board was established. It included two rural high schools, Sharbot Lake and Sydenham; Lasalle High School in Pittsburgh Township and Frontenac High School in Frontenac Township. The Kingston and Frontenac Board merged sometime later. Eventually Lennox and Addington schools were added and the Limestone Board was established.
Marcel Giroux was elected to municipal council in Oso Township in the fall of 1972, and he had an ulterior motive for seeking office. Within six months of his election he was holding meetings with representatives from three neighboring townships to talk about building an arena, a project he had wanted to make happen for a long time.
“We realised quite quickly that between the four of us we were only big enough to build half an arena. The people in Portland Township were also thinking about an arena and they concluded they were only big enough to build half an arena. So we all got together.
“Portland came up with ten acres of land bordering the boundary road with Hinchinbrooke and we developed a plan and eventually got it built. I remember that since it was built closer to the south than the north and people from Kennebec and Oso had to drive further, it was agreed that Portland would pay 52% of the costs and the other four townships would pay 48% of the costs.”
One of the reasons for the long-term viability of the arena, in Marcel's view, was staffing.
“Jim Stinson was the first manager and he ran that place very well for 40 years. That's probably why it has been so successful.
When Marcel retired from teaching on a wintry Friday in 1988, he took it easy for a day, and then on the Sunday formed a committee to start working on building a new Catholic Church in Sharbot Lake. The congregation had outgrown the 45 seat, unheated church on Road 38 and Elizabeth Street by the mid '60s but for a variety of reasons no new church had been built.
“We had 80 people coming to mass in the winter and 300 in the summer. We said mass in the parking lot of the beer store one Sunday, in the bar at the hotel, in the township hall, until we eventually started holding mass in the high school for 15 years, but we needed a church of our own."
The property where the church is now located had been purchased for $2,500 in 1962, but over 25 years had passed and the congregation had $22,000 in their building fund.
In 1988, freshly retired, Marcel was in a position to jump in.
“The reason it happened then and not before was that Father Brennan, who was new and enthusiastic, had just come to our congregation, and there was also a new bishop in place. Suddenly the things that were in the way disappeared. A two-year fundraising campaign raised over $430,000 and the church took back a mortgage for $169,000 and a new church was completed in 1992.
One of the best fundraising activities was spearheaded by Doris Onfrachuk. A half-finished waterfront cottage was purchased for $60,000 and was then finished using volunteer labour and donated materials. $100 raffle tickets were sold and $132,000 was raised.
In the late 1960s the push was on to establish a Frontenac County Library. In order to make that happen, according to Ontario regulations at the time, the majority of the townships in the county, representing over 60% of the population, needed to establish branches. Pittsburgh and Frontenac townships already had branches in place, and they represented 70% of the population. What was needed, however, was for seven of the other 14 townships to get on board.
Different people took on their own councils to convince them to start up a library branch. Marcel was involved in Oso Township, but as he tells it, the success came from the fact that when a petition asking for a library to be established was brought to Council, the first three names on the petition were those of wives of council members, and the fourth was the name of a woman who was sitting on council herself.
“They had no choice; it was brutal,” Marel recalls. The first branch in Oso was a not much more than a set of shelves in the United Church Hall in Sharbot Lake.
Efforts in other townships were equally efficient and in 1969, 12 of the 16 Frontenac townships joined together to form the Frontenac Public Library.
When municipal amalgamation was about to take place, it became clear that since Pittsburgh and Frontenac townships were joining with Kingston, the Frontenac Public Library was no longer going to be viable.
Marcel was the chair of the Library at the time, and representatives from each branch began meeting in September of 1996 to work out the details of establishing the Kingston Frontenac Public Library.
“We met monthly for a while and then bi-weekly, each time taking on a problem that needed to be solved - and there were many. We had different labour agreements than the city, a different computer system, different procedures. But by the time amalgamation took place, we had all the legal agreements in place, and all the politicians in Kingston and the four new townships had to do was pass bylaws establishing the KFPL - and they did."
While it seems like Marcel Giroux has spent his whole life on public projects, he has also been a husband to Pam since 1968, and is the father of four adult sons.