Subversive CEGEP and Other Innovations: Adulting in the 70s


Champlain 2 Copy


Mom was the first in the family to do a lot of new things.

1)     She was the original household emoji user

Mom had to communicate many things to her four teenage children: directives, instructions, and affections any youth needs in order to be part of a household and also to manage life. So, if Mom was going to be out when we got home from school or (as was more likely the case, especially in summer) if she was leaving for work before we got out of bed, she left us notes. They were attached, with magnets, to our ornamental metal stair banister.

The notes often included a hand-drawn happy face.

In our later teen and early adult years, the notes were written on decommissioned library catalogue cards:

This is the one to use

…directives/instructions/affections/emojis on one side, title/author/publisher/reference number on the other.

Mom had a massive stash of these cards because…

2)     She was on the ground floor of that subversive new education system: the CEGEP

In 1960, six years before my family arrived in Quebec, Jean Lesage was elected premier. He ousted the party that, for the previous 16 years, was considered to have kept the province from keeping up with modern times. Lesage set out to modernize and secularize the province in a very short time, and educational reform was one of his big projects.

With a view to raising the education level of the population and producing a skilled labour force, a system of free post-secondary non-university education was set up across the province. These Collèges d’Enseignement Général et Professionnel (CEGEP) were designed to ensure that Quebecers could pursue better-quality studies, for longer, in their own regions.

The CEGEP system was established in 1967. Five years later, a tiny new English CEGEP, Champlain College, opened kitty-corner from my elementary school in St. Lambert. Mom went to work part time to help set up its library. She unpacked big boxes full of mixed-up library catalogue cards, sorted them, and filed them in catalogue drawers. A year later, the first phase of the College’s new facility on St. Lambert’s seaway field was ready.


So Mom unpacked, sorted, and filed those library catalogue cards a second time; and then she stayed on as administrative staff.

Very soon after that, the library’s attention turned to the notion of computerizing the catalogue system. Mom remembers the discussion: the idea of computers in the library carried no more weight than the notion of getting a microwave for the staff room. Both were considered a luxury, to be accepted or discarded with equal ease. One can’t always see what’s coming.

The Champlain College library decided in favour of computers, and so…

3)     Mom was the first in the family to work with a computer

It wasn’t easy. This is the only time I saw her come home from work frustrated. But she got there. And she kept using that system for the twenty more years of her career.

But when computers replaced the card catalogue – which Mom had already unpacked, sorted and filed twice – the cards were packed up in boxes to be tossed out.

Which brings us back to those notes stuck onto the stair banister. Because…

4)     Mom was the original household recycler

She brought those boxes of catalogue cards home. Our household used them for years as scrap paper and notepaper. I took stacks of them with me to university to organize my research notes. Somewhere, there are trees that were never cut down because Mom and her household spent years never buying paper.

From then on, into the 80s, society quickly learned that, rather than tossing waste out, we should engage with it and put it to use. Society also made a mad gleeful dash toward a wildly increased use of emojis. Plus, society fully embraced the computer. That’s a whole other story. And Mom was there on the forefront of it all.


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