Classical College (1)
At the beginning of September, 1897, at the age of 14, I left for the Collège Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, where I was going to do the programme in classical studies. Sainte-Anne is located on the lower St. Lawrence, 90 miles down from Lévis (across from the city of Québec), on the south shore.
It was a college of parish priests with a programme of studies that was the same as the Jesuit programme: six years of study; four years of letters (Method, Verse, Literature, Rhetoric), leading to an inter-collegial BA. The last two years were for the sciences and philosophy, leading to a B.Sc. It was there, in a tightly knit structure in which the professors or masters had the students recite material from books, gave homework, supervised studies, gave points. Up at 6 in the morning, to bed at 9 in the evening - a rather monastic life. Mass every morning, two masses every Sunday - high and low, vespers. Plain chant practiced and performed. Sermons. Annual retreat. Frequent confessions and communions. Was I happy to do my studies. But there were little annoyances, especially that of being virtually in prison, for me who already had a taste for the fields, the woods, the vagabond and nomadic life!
I practiced the violin and the piano in the music rooms during holidays. I was allowed to leave the recreation room or the playing fields on the "Butte". That relieved me from the boredom that I was experiencing. I was not able to play ball against the wall, since I was younger and smaller that the large sons of the habitants who had the privilege. The same for baseball. During my year of rhetoric, I was admitted to the fanfare, playing the clarinet. That lasted three years. And then we would practise plain-chant every Saturday evening for Sundays. I did not like to sing in the choir much because one of my neighbours, by the name of Bourret, sang off key. And I had a good ear for music!
Sometimes in the fall, instead of going to music class on a holiday, I would sneak out toward the mountain. I felt at home there, profoundly delighted. I missed it while in the closed recreation halls under the watchful eyes of the masters. During recreation, I had to walk back and forth without stopping, with boring fellow students who had nothing to say, or who were bored like me. I did have a few special friends: Arthur, Thomas (an Acadian), Émile, all at the head of the class (not me). I was Arthur's "cat" (friendship between older and younger, as was the term used at the college). We were roommates at the large dormitory la Tour. One morning, as he was going to serve at mass, he leaned over me (I was still sleeping) and gave me a kiss on the forehead. A neighbour, Doyon, saw it and went to denounce us. I was called in. The Principal was mad. He said to me : "It's lewd." (new word for me!) There had not been any wrongdoing so far. But you have to stop being seen together at recreation. End of story.