The Name Game - The Schizophrenic History of the Many Names of The Great Ghost

The Origins of West Hill as a Name

When the school was first opened in 1919, the school located at the top of Westhill Avenue naturally took the name of street. It was a common tradition that was followed by its closest elementary school, Kensington (located on Kensington Avenue).  Originally this part of the Montreal Island had gone by the name of West Hill, although it is hard to imagine NDG as a hill these days. Nevertheless, when NDG was largely orchards and melon farms (in 1918 that was still very much the case), the name "West Hill" referred to the area, being the westernmost slope of Mount Royal. The name fell into disuse once  Westmount assumed it's own similar name. The common and legal name, Notre Dame de Grace (NDG), came from the Catholic parish created on the eastern side of of the area.

A New High School is Foreseen

Originally servicing a local population of 5,000, the school was soon bulging and additions were required in 1926 and 1931. In 1931 the Board announced that no further additions to West Hill High School were being considered - instead a whole new school would be built within five years. By the time actual planning began for a new school in the 1940s a site at Draper and Somerled avenues and a name were chosen. The name was to be "Somerled High School", announced in 1943. By the time work began on the new school, however the name had been changed to Monklands High School. "Monklands" was the name applied to the district north and east of the West Hill area and extended from eastern NDG through Snowdon. The new building was completed, a year late and at a cost of $2,000,000) with  an elaborate carved stone frieze  atop the central entrance  stating "Monklands High School". At the time of the completion, the original West Hill High School was to be renamed "West Hill Intermediate School", reflecting it's role as a grade 7 and 8 facility, feeding the new school

The Name Game

It seems that the renaming of the older school from WHHS to WHIS caused concern among the students, alumni and local citizens. At the last moment they mounted a furious campaign led by the Student Council of WHHS to have the new school renamed  West Hill  High. The Board  relented, and even though it meant very expensive changes to the building - most notably removing the carved name that extended the width of the central building, and commissioning a replacement. This also involved transferring all of the old schools awards, trophies and plaques, as well as the traditional colours, maroon and grey.

The decision created another dilemma: what would the old West Hill now be called. Clearly having a WHIS and a WHHS would lead to confusion, so a new name was found for the old school. The Board chose Westward School, and we really haven't found out why so far. The name Westward had been used by a couple of local associations (The Westward Amateur Athletic Association on Royal Avenue and the  Westward Rotary Club) based in the area and perhaps had a traditional meaning.

Three Names and You're Out

It didn't really matter because the Westward name would survive only three years because the school reverted to it's full high school status in September 1955 when it was renamed for a third time as Monklands High School - the name that had originally appeared on the Somerled School. Again we're stumped by this decision  since the PSBGM now had a high school on Somerled called West Hill, which was not on Westhill Ave. or even on the "West Hill" itself, and a school called Monklands, which was not in the Monklands district or even on Monkland Avenue. Why it didn't retain the "Westward" name is another mystery. One theory might be that the Board had an awful lot of stationery, documents, bookplates and signs that said "Monklands" on it, left over from the renaming of the new school. Although the board explained that the name "is associated with the history of the west end of the city and with the history of Lower Canada", it seems quite a reach to have selected the name of a building, located a kilometer away (the one time Governor General's residence).

By the time of the 1958 first graduating class of Monklands High the rivalry between the old and new West Hill schools was set. The feeling that the new school had absconded with the history and posssions of the original West Hill (as Chris Milligan calls it, "The School With Three Names") continued until the closing of Monklands in 1979.

A footnote: The City of Montreal also wrestled with the Westhill/West Hill issue. The fact that the school had a different name than the street caused confusion on services such as mail deliveries. A newspaper article took issue with the problem in 1958. In that year  the city decided to change the street signs to match the school name - long after that school name had been transferred elsewhere.