Dating back to 1818, Université de Saint-Boniface is the very first educational institution in Western Canada. Established by Father Norbert Provencher, it had its humble beginnings in a small house where Latin was taught to the boys of the French-speaking Red River Settlement, thus introducing a tradition of excellence in education.
The school continued to grow and moved into the building on the corner of Taché Avenue and Masson Street in 1855. From 1866 to 1870, under the guidance of Bishop Dugas, the school developed a more classical college model, with emphasis on the teaching of Latin, Greek and philosophy. One of its more notable students was Louis Riel, who went on to become the founder of the province of Manitoba.
Manitoba joined Canadian Confederation in 1870. Following its incorporation in 1871, Collège de St. Boniface, as it was named at the time, became one of the first official institutions of the fledgling province. In 1877, it took part in founding the University of Manitoba. Around the same time, Manitoba saw a major influx of French-speaking newcomers from Quebec as well as France, Switzerland and Belgium. In 1880, increased enrolment at the institution led to the construction of a larger building on the site of what is now Provencher Park. Annual enrolment at that time was around 300 students.
In 1916, the government of Manitoba prohibited the teaching of French in public schools. As a private institution, Collège de St. Boniface continued to operate and even encouraged public schools to defy the ban. French language teaching continued clandestinely.
In 1922, a major fire destroyed the institution, including its registries and the 40,000-volume library. In response to this tragedy, Mgr Arthur Béliveau, Archbishop of St. Boniface, donated the new seminary (Le Petit Séminaire) located at 200 De la Cathédrale Avenue, the present location of USB.
The 1960s were marked by three major changes: the arrival of women into the classroom (1959), the beginnings of continuing education (including conversational French classes, which are still very popular today) and the institution’s transition to a secular administration (1969). In 1975, it began offering technical and professional programs, and this division continues to flourish. Eight years later, the institution began to focus solely on post-secondary education, with high school courses being transferred to Collège Louis Riel.
Since its inception, USB has been a pivotal point, a protector and a promoter of French life and culture. Today, its students come from countries around the world and its reputation for excellence has spread far beyond Canada’s borders.
Source: Carole Pelchat and Michel Verrette
Complete history (French only)