Colin Keith-Hill

In 1806, Trinity’s own John Strachan founded my high school. I am originally from  Cornwall, Ontario, and I went to Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School, affectionately  known as CC. My family has a long history with the school. My great-grandfather, so the legend  goes, would ride his horse from his family’s farm just outside town to attend school there. My  grandmother and all her sisters attended high school at CC too, and later on my grandparents  would both teach English there. I graduated in 2020, almost a century after my great-grandfather  would have graduated. 

CC claims to be the oldest high school in the province of Ontario. There is, however,  some debate as to the proper holder of this title. Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute was  founded in 1792, but was closed down in 2020, and Jarvis Collegiate Institute in Toronto was  founded in 1807. 

Even if he did not found the oldest high school in Ontario, John Strachan certainly left his  mark on my hometown. He was the rector of the local Anglican church, also called Trinity. After  it was rebuilt in 1875, the new church was dedicated to his memory, and now stands as Trinity —  Bishop Strachan Memorial Church. 

Despite the connection, Cornwall is a far cry from the Trinity College quad. Trinity has a  certain reputation for eccentricity, while Cornwall has almost the exact opposite. A former  industrial town, Cornwall enjoyed great prosperity under the auspices of mills like Domtar and  Courtaulds. When these factories pulled out, a lot of people were left jobless and the town was  forced to adapt.  

Despite the challenges of economic adjustment, Cornwall is still an excellent town.  Situated along the beautiful St. Lawrence River, one hour from both Montreal and Ottawa, it is,  in many ways, an ideal place to grow up. I spent every summer at my grandparent’s cottage just  outside the city. From the cottage you can see up the St. Lawrence one way to the Saunders 

Hydroelectric Dam and the other way towards Lake St. Francis. The great big tankers pass both  ways right in front of our dock, and when I moved to Toronto, I finally got to see one of those  ships docked. 

In high school my friends and I began to explore the city. From the abandoned canal  system in Lamoreux Park, to the shops and cafes downtown, to Louis’ Pizzeria in the East End,  Cornwall is full of hidden gems, and some not so hidden ones too. Beyond Cornwall, the land is  dotted by little towns and quilted in interlocking farmer’s fields. Just to the south of the city, is  the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne, which straddles the international boundary between Canada  and America, and the provincial boundary between Ontario and Quebec. The landscape is green,  open and flat, probably like something would Toronto have looked like a few centuries ago,  before the concrete, high rises and urban sprawl.  

Trinity College harkens back to that time and that place, and in some ways, that is  perhaps why I chose to come here. As a small-town guy (I lived in the middle of nowhere before  moving to Cornwall at the beginning of high school), Trinity College has given me a much needed sanctuary right in the heart of the metropolis of Toronto. 

I sometimes feel as though, having come from Cornwall to Toronto, that I am following  in John Strachan’s footsteps. Although, as of yet, I have no plans to get ordained, or become  Bishop of Toronto. Going from Cornwall to Toronto is one thing, but it is a whole other thing  going back. As the old adage says, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So here’s to Cornwall,  and to all the other small Ontario towns like it. If you, the reader, are ever in that little corner of  Eastern Ontario, be sure to check out Bishop Strachan Memorial Church and Cornwall  Collegiate and Vocational School to experience a little part of the story of Trinity College. And  while you’re there, don’t be afraid to stop by a little cafe called Tilly’s on Pitt Street. The staff is  friendly, and the coffee is made the right way.

2 thoughts on “John Strachan, Cornwall, and Me”

  1. Loved your article Colin! I too am a CCVS 1989 grad, and former Miss Cornwall 1989. Cornwall and cottage time hold a special place in my life. Dad taught at CC for over 30 years. My grandmother attended around 1914. And my niece Lauren is a friend of yours was also a graduate!
    Hope Toronto treats you well!
    Laura Barclay

  2. Loved your article Colin! I too am a CCVS 1989 grad, and former Miss Cornwall 1989. Cornwall and cottage time hold a special place in my life. Dad taught at CC for over 30 years. My grandmother attended around 1914. And my niece Lauren is a friend of yours was also a graduate!
    Hope Toronto treats you well!
    Laura Barclay

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