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home > articles > Alma Ladies College in St. Thomas, ON

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The History and Hauntings of Alma Ladies College
96 Moore Street, St. Thomas, Ontario
by Stephanie Lechniak-Cumerlato

Alma College

Looming empty and quiet, but standing proud at the corner of Moore and McIntyre Streets in St. Thomas, Ontario is the old Alma College for Ladies. Initially chartered in 1877 as an independent girls' school, Alma College had a goal to "promote the spiritual and educational growth and development of young women from around the globe." Even to this day, the College has international alumni from London and Toronto and even as far as Australia, Hong Kong, British Columbia, Mexico, the Carribbean and Japan.

The History
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In 1803 Colonel Thomas Talbot received a large grant from the Crown in what is now Elgin County but during the war of 1812 many settlements that were formed in this area were burned and ravaged by American armies. In 1844, the village had grown to 1,000 people including many businessmen and professionals and in 1852, Elgin County was separated and St. Thomas was incorporated as a village. The village began to grow and In 1861 St. Thomas was finally incorporated as a town.

"By the mid 1870's, St. Thomas was an enterprising and industrious town set in a prosperous county. Eight railways passed through with their long lines of freight and passenger cars. A small group of able physicians had set up the first medical centre in the province that became eventually the nucleus of the Medical School of the University of Toronto. Farmers brought their fruit and vegetables and dairy products to St. Thomas markets and flour mill and creamery. There was a bustling retail trade. Eight churches kept their fingers on the spiritual pulse. St. Thomas was a young ambitious town aspiring to become a city. A ladies college for the country of Elgin would most certainly add to its presitge, and put St. Thomas firmly on the map."

On October 11, 1876, it was proposed by Bishop Carman that a ladies college be established in the prospering town of St. Thomas. In 1877, the planners called the new school, "St. Thomas Ladies College" until it was formally named "Alma College" by Sheriff Colin Munroe who wanted to name it to honour the passing of his late wife Alma Munroe and also their daughter, Mrs. J.D. (Alma) Munroe Duffield.

The College colours were also chosen at the same time and represented the three brances of the school's curriculum: Literature was blue, Art was gold, and Music was crimson.

In April of 1877, the newly formed College Board put out a call for the design of the school and received 20 submitted plans from architects. It was a man named James Balfour from our very own Hamilton that won the competition. The contract for the actual construction went to Henry Lindop of St. Thomas and with all the requirements, was estimated at a total cost of about $50,000.

May 24th, 1878 marked the day that the cornerstone of Alma College was laid and it took only three years after this for the architect's plan to take form into an imposing building. Two months following this, in October of 1881, the brand new Alma Ladies College officially opened. The grounds featured a main building, a chapel, a hall, and a unique outdoor amphitheatre. The Victorian Gothic exterior of the front facade and the two flanking side facades make this structure unique in the City of St. Thomas.

Alma College - The Chapel

Empty and Abandoned
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Today, the only remaining grounds that remain are part of the main building itself, the chapel and the ruins of the amphitheatre which can still vageuly be seen carved into the walls of the small ravine.

Alma College - The Amphitheatre


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Photo Courtesy of Sun Media

UPDATE: WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2008:
Back in 2005, we we had hopes for Alma College. Sadly, just after lunch time on Wednesday, May 28, 2008, the gorgeous building went up in flames. Click HERE to read the article in the London Free Press.

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UPDATE: MARCH 11, 2005: Sadly, the plans by Alma Heritage Estates Corporateion for Alma College to be turned into luxury retirement suites has been cancelled. The building is, once again, sitting vacant and abandoned. To read more about this, see the article on the top right above entitied "Retirement community plan goes off rails"

To voice your concern over preserving this landmark, please send your messages over to the Mayor's Office of St. Thomas at: www.city.st-thomas.on.ca/mayor_contact.shtml

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PAST UPDATE: JUNE 2004: The land and buildings were purchased by Alma Heritage Estates Corporation and they are very excited to move forward with their plans to develop Alma into luxury retirement suites.

In October 29th, 1976, during an official ceremony to procliam Alma College as a provincial historic site, an unforgettable address came from Dr. Flora Sifton, the former principal of the college, who breifly outlined the history of Alma:

"Alma College has never shut its gates on the community, but has shared its culture, art and programs with others. But time has changed Alma from a place that produces 'wives of famous men' to a college which creates 'famous wives of gentlemen'."

Alma College - The Back

Sitting silent throughout the past years, Alma College's spirit still lives on deep in the hearts of it's proud Alumni Assocation who will never forget their accomplishments and time spent at the school. Their motto still lives on today and now more than ever, seems most appropriate:

"THOUGH WE ARE FAR FROM THEE
STILL WE LONG FOR THEE,
EVER LOYAL STILL."

 

The Ghost of Angela
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From the St. Thomas Times Journal
Saturday, April 6th, 1974

Alma College - Angela's TowerOne would expect Alma College, with its atmosphere of old world charm and dignity to have a ghost and true to expectations it does. The story of Alma College's ghost is recounted in a book called, More Canadian Ghosts, by Mrs. Eileen Sonin, published by Pocket Books. Mrs. Sonin, an actress by profession, is a natural medium and a member of the British Society for Psychical Research.

No one knows the origins of Angela, the ghost of Alma College, but one of the retired teachers mentioned that when she was teaching in 1930 Angela was already well established.

When Mrs. Sonin visited Alma, Mrs. Flora Sifton was the principal. Mrs. Sifton raced Mrs. Sonin on a tour of inspection up and down stairs, in and out of halls, gymnasium, swimming pok and theatre leaving her breathless.

Of special interest to Mrs. Sonin were the storage rooms at the south end of the College. These rooms, thought to be where the live-in maids once slept, are reached by what is termed as the "secret Stair". This end of the College has two towers, one at each side. The walls of one are covered with the signatures of generations of school girls, but those of the other are bare. It is this bare tower that Angela claimed for her own.

Angela slammed doors, came down from her turet, and was seen by those brave enough to stay alone in what has been nicknamed the "Ivory Tower." Her footsteps were sometimes heard and varoius objects in the art room were moved around.

Of the many stories about Angela, a persistent one seemed to concern an unpopular music teachre who was locked in a cupboard in the tower by the girls. However, the records which date back to the earliest start of the school in 1881, mention no teacher with the first hname of Angela.

On Hallowe'en, a birthday party is held for Angela. High jinks take place with disguises and fancy costumes, and the Dean's bell is run.

Mrs. Sonin thinks that Angela may now have passed on to another plane, but she undoubtedly once haunted Alma College and perhaps now and again she slips back, just to see how things are going at her old alma mater.

Alma College

 

Useful Information
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A Map of St. Thomas, Ontario and Alma College

Zoomed Out

Zoomed In

 

Resources and Other Interesting Reads:

Many thanks goes out to Chris Rutkowski of Manitoba for mailing us a copy of the story of Angela from "More Canadian Ghost Stories"

Alma College International Alumnae Association
http://www.almacollege.20m.com/index.html

"Alma College ghost inhabited tower"
St. Thomas Times Journal, Saturday, April 6th, 1974

About St. Thomas, Ontario
http://www.city.st-thomas.on.ca/about_history2.shtml

A Virtual Walking Tour of St. Thomas, Ontario
http://www.elgin.net/stthomas/walking_tours/walking_tour/

** all photographs were taken by Stephanie Lechniak and are copyrighted

Updated images - From Alma site:

Alma College - St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Alma College - Omen rock found at site
Alma College - St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Alma College - The overgrown theatre
Alma College - St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Alma College - Chapel (used to be attached to college)
Alma College - St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada
Alma College - View where college used to be


Recent Articles
On Alma College

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May 28, 2008
Alma College
burns down

London Free Press
by Sun Media

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March 11, 2005
Retirement community
plan goes off rails

S.T. Times-Journal
by Ian McCallum
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May 11, 2004

Alma College flap
claims Heritage boss

London Free Press
by Randy Richmond
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Alma is Sadly
Disappearing

Editorial
by Lisa Dye
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