Selkirk College’s Patenaude Hall Lands on Francophone Heritage Map
The history of post-secondary education in the West Kootenay and Boundary region runs deep with pioneers who helped make today's opportunities possible a vital component to its success. This is the story of one of the valued contributors.
A generous West Kootenay pioneer whose name is memorialized at Selkirk College’s Tenth Street Campus has been added to a Heritage BC interactive map featuring Francophone heritage sites across the province.
Under the umbrella of the not-for-profit Heritage BC, the BC Francophone Cultural Tourism Map recognizes contributions made by the Francophone community to the province’s economic, cultural and social fabric. Patenaude Hall in Nelson and the community of Riondel have both been recently added to the map.
Joseph Ovile Patenaude was a vital contributor to Nelson in the first half of the 20th Century where he practiced his profession as an optometrist, ran a business as a watchmaker/jeweller and was an important contributor to the region’s Roman Catholic community. Originally from Quebec, Patenaude was en route to the Klondike gold rush when his train stopped in Nelson.
“Patenaude was awestruck by the beauty of Nelson when he detrained from the Great Northern at Mountain Station in October 1897,” says local researcher/writer and retired Selkirk College librarian Ron Welwood. “What is remarkable is that within one month he had opened up his business as an optician and watchmaker. Although Patenaude retired from his optometry business in 1950, an optometrist facility continues to operate in the McKillop Block on Nelson’s Baker Street 120 years later.”
A Significant Contribution to Early Nelson
When he arrived to Nelson in 1897, Patenaude was only 26 years old. Over the next five decades, the bachelor would make many valuable contributions to the community which are still being felt today.
Patenaude was one of the main forces behind the construction of Nelson’s Cathedral of Mary Immaculate on Ward Street and Mount St. Francis Hospital in Fairview. He was a committed community builder, serving on city council twice (1908 and 1920) and was very active in the local Board of Trade with a focus on the promoting mining in the Kootenay region.
When it came to education, Patenaude was passionate about ensuring the region had a population with the knowledge and skills required to build a successful future.
“Patenaude was a great supporter of education,” says Welwood, who has done considerable research into his life and published an article about his contributions. “He was very involved in the establishment of two facilities in particular—St. Joseph’s School and Notre Dame College—both during their formative years. His donations to both institutions were extraordinary.”
The current Selkirk College Tenth Street Campus sits on land donated by Patenaude which was provided to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson for the construction of a private post-secondary institution. Construction of the Notre Dame College campus began in the mid-1950s and by 1963 the college was chartered by the province as a private, four-year university. Notre Dame University was the second degree-granting university in British Columbia.
Tenth Street Campus, A Post-Secondary Focal Point
To honour Patenaude’s contribution to post-secondary, in 1961 the main education building on the campus was renamed. Bonaventure Hall became Patenaude Hall, a fitting tribute to a man so dedicated to the community he helped shape.
The campus has taken on a number of post-secondary incarnations since Notre Dame University closed its doors in 1977, most prominently David Thompson University Centre and Canadian International College. When Selkirk College took over the majority of the campus in 1999, Patenaude Hall remained the primary educational focal point where the community pioneer’s name remains an important mirror to the past.
Patenaude sold his jewellery business in 1930 and his optometry business in 1950 after an amazing 53 years of operation in the same location. He passed away peacefully at the grand age of 85 on May 10, 1956.
You can discover many historical moments in the first five decades of Selkirk College in the recently released coffee table book Journeys Taken: Selkirk College – The First 50 years. The book is available at all Selkirk College campus bookstores and selected locations around the West Kootenay. The book features a chapter on the fascinating history of the Tenth Street Campus.