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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 Daniel Cumerlato

Alma College

The land was chartered in 1877 for an independent school for girls, and on that land they put a beautiful example of architecture that would become the Alma College for Ladies.

Once standing at the corner of Moore and McIntyre Streets in St. Thomas, Ontario. The goal for this place of leaning was to "promote the spiritual and educational growth and development of young women from all over the world."

And to this day, Alma has alumni living in London and Toronto and even as far as Australia, Hong Kong, British Columbia, Mexico, the Caribbean and Japan.

The History
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"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 prestige, and put St. Thomas firmly on the map."

Then in 1876, Bishop Carman proposed that a ladies college be built in the prosperous town of St. Thomas. The name was set to be "St. Thomas Ladies College", but was immediately changed to "Alma College" by Sheriff Colin Munroe, to honour his late wife and daughter, both named Alma.

The cornerstone was laid on May 24 in 1878 and it took only three years to complete. Two months late and Alma Ladies College was accepting students.

On the grounds was the main building, a chapel, a hall, and an 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: Plans by Alma Heritage Estates Corporation to turn the building into luxury retirement suites has been cancelled. The building is again abandoned. To read more about this, see the article on the top right above entitled "Retirement community plan goes off rails"

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On the day of October 29 in 1976, a ceremony was held to proclaim Alma College as a historic site. During this an unforgettable speech came from Dr. Flora Sifton, the former principal of the college:

"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'."

The reputation of Alma College's still lives on through its proud Alumni who never forget their time at the school. The Alma motto still echoing through them:

"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

One 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 pool 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 turret, and was seen by those brave enough to stay alone in what has been nicknamed the "Ivory Tower." Her footsteps were sometimes heard and various objects in the art room were moved around.

Of the many stories about Angela, a persistent one seemed to concern an unpopular music teacher 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 name of Angela.

On Halloween, 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

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/


Recent Articles
On Alma College

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May 28, 2008
Alma College
burns down

London Free Press
by Sun Media

__________

March 11, 2005
Retirement community
plan goes off rails

S.T. Times-Journal
by Ian McCallum
__________

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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