What Are They Saying….

Baron Byng High School is unique in the cultural history of Montreal, particularly the rich history of its Jewish community. Built by the Protestant School Board of Montreal it was named in honour of a distinguished British soldier, Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount of Vimy, who later became the Governor General of Canada. Baron Byng was present at the 1921 inauguration of the school.

The school was designed by renowned Montreal architect John Smith Archibald and built for $486,136.  Born in Scotland in 1872, he emigrated to Canada and arrived in Montreal in 1893. Soon after he joined the office of noted architect Edward Maxwell and stayed until 1897 when he formed a successful partnership with Charles Saxe. Upon the dissolution of this office in 1915, Archibald continued to undertake a variety of commissions for residential, institutional, educational and public buildings in the Montreal area, including BBHS. Noted for his hotel design, Archibald executed five landmark buildings across Canada for the Canadian National Railways Co. Perhaps some of his most well-known Montreal commissions are the urbane and sophisticated Masonic Temple on Sherbrooke Street West, the Montifore Club on Guy and the original Forum at the corner of Atwater  Avenue and Ste.-Catherine Street.

Until it closed in 1980, Baron Byng welcomed immigrants and first generation Canadians into its student body. Located at 4251 St. Urbain Street in an area today known as “Le Plateau”, BBHS was first situated in the centre of a predominately Jewish immigrant community. From the 1920s through to the mid-1960s, the student population was largely Jewish, reaching 99% in 1938. By the end of the 1960s the Jewish population began to decline and was replaced by a wave of Greek immigration.

Click to see a video in which alumni talk about growing up in the Baron Byng neighbourhood.

Baron Byng High School

Photo: Alexis Hamel, http://www.imtl.org

Map: © Sydney Berne (Sydney Bernstein 1921-2013). Berne settled in Montreal after returning from service overseas. He was known for his land and streetscapes, Reproduced from Joe King’s “From the Ghetto to the Main: The story of the Jews of Montreal”, (Montreal: Montreal Jewish Publication Society, 2001)

BBHS will forever stand out in the collective memory of the Montreal’s Jewish community.  Its alumni include many accomplished men and women in almost every field of endeavor from art to medicine and literature to business. Some of the most well-known graduates include poets A.M. Klein (BBHS ‘26) and Irving Layton , writer Mordecai Richler (BBHS ‘48), the Honorable Justice Morris Fish (BBHS ‘55), Nobel Prize recipient Rudolf Marcus (BBHS ’40), former N.D.P. leader David Lewis (BBHS ’28), renowned doctors, Phil Gold (BBHS ’53) and Peter Metrakos (BBHS ’77). And the the list goes on.

Today the premises of BBHS is the home of Sun Youth, a social agency catering to and serving the needs of the surrounding community. It was founded and is still directed by alumni Sid Stevens (Sidney Stavitsky, BBHS ‘58).

How does one explain a school that, although open for only 60 years, produced so many graduates who went on to make names for themselves in a multitude of fields, a school that still has reunions to this day, a school that is cited in so many articles and books?  The answer is its spirit — The Spirit of Byng. And that spirit is still evident today by the fondness the alumni and community have for the BBHS.