Peter Elmhirst - Marketer, Entrepreneur, Investor & Dad in Toronto Canada

Grenville Christian College – A Very Different Experience

Grenville Christian College

There has been a lot of media attention surrounding Grenville Christian College, which I attended from 1996 to 2001…

Like many past students, I barely recognize Grenville Christian College in its sensational media portrayal, although the class action lawsuit covered a period mostly before my time. I am not here to refute or confirm the allegations of those who came before me, as they were of a different administration. I wish only to share my own experiences and opinions for the sake of a balanced understanding and because the school meant so much to me.

Grenville Christian College evolved dramatically during its 38 year history. I had been told that it began as a school for missionaries and gained a strong reputation as a school for challenging students, but it had evolved to become so much more and have a new identity which was loved by many.

Grenville Christian College was never positioned to me as being the pinnacle of eliteness and probably had as much or more in common with a reform school than the likes of Exeter. As a result I found my peers to be:

  1. The children of staff, aka ‘Staff kids’, most of whom lived on site with their families.
  2. Foreign students, many asian non-Christians, who were there to learn English.
  3. Local area residents fed up with the public school system
  4. Students whose parents, aware of Grenville’s reputation for strictness, felt Grenville could provide some much needed guidance.

I was a blend of #3 and #4.

While at Grenville I washed dishes, prepared meals, scrubbed floors and was scolded countless times (never without cause). In today’s world where children are never reprimanded and everyone receives a participant’s ribbon, some will find this appalling. But for all of these experiences I am grateful. I believe it made me a more grounded person with an unshakeable code of ethics.

Believe it or not, my time there was not spent in perfect lines endlessly humming Gregorian chants before a whip wielding monk… although the staff did sing the chants daily. We had after school brownies and muffins, winter staff and student snowball fights, soccer, basketball, band, cheerleading, school plays, and endless hours just goofing around being kids. One room had a foosball and pool table and you could almost always find intense video game battles going in the boy’s dorm.

Grenville Christian College Logo

Many of the teachers were the kindest, most compassionate teachers you could imagine. Quite a few viewed missionary work and helping children like myself as their vocation. I believe some students received more love from these teachers than they did from a parent. If you attended a traditional non-boarding school then you must understand that Grenville Christian College was so much more than an 8am-3pm school. Even as a day student you spent a good portion of your life there. As young people, we needed the staff to guide us, else a Lord of the Flies scenario seemed inevitable.

Unquestionably my favourite teacher and role model of the 4 grade schools I attended was a Grenville Christian College teacher named Geoff Henderson. It is because Geoff taught HTML website coding in Grade 7 that I own an online marketing agency today. It is because he spent evenings and weekends coaching debating and driving us to debating tournaments in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto that I am able to negotiate in the business world and no doubt assisted in convincing my wife to marry me 🙂 And it is partly due to his dedication and profound effect on his students that I feel obligated to volunteer as a mentor at my Toronto high school. His lessons will last a lifetime and I can’t imagine where I would be without them.

In 2001 my family moved from Brockville to Toronto and I left Grenville Christian College to attend a more expensive and far more liberal private high school. There I made some life-long friends, had some amazing teachers and am grateful for all it provided. I also met many fellow students who would have benefitted greatly from the guidance, compassion and discipline I received at Grenville.

If you are reading this because you are looking to hire a former GCC student or teacher, please don’t pass judgement based on what you read elsewhere. Many very good people are suffering from this negative publicity. If you hire them, they will possibly be the kindest and most motivated hires you have ever had. If you are just curious about the school’s past, please consider that a place with as varied a history as Grenville will have created many experiences, all different, all valid to the individual. If my story had the same ratings boost as what you see on TV, there would be many others with experiences like mine flooding the news.

Thank you Grenville Christian College and thank you to all the teachers I had while there.

3 Comments

  1. Diana on June 18, 2019 at 5:17 am

    There is a very great difference between the experiences of students who attended the school after “Father” Charles Farnsworth was demoted from his position as Head Master. A former Grenville teacher, Mrs Joan Child’s has described the period during which he was Headmaster as a “reign of terror” and I do not disagree.
    I attended the school in the late ’80s and believe me, it was a Gothic nightmare of humiliating “light sessions”, which were sometimes held in the middle of the night and could last four days, sleep-deprivation, sexually inappropriate behaviour on the part of several staff members and other intense psychological and physical abuse.

    I am the daughter of an ex-military man so i understand the difference between “military style discipline” and cult practices. Grenville fits into the latter category and indeed, the Community of Jesus, which was at that time, the mother ship, if you will, of Grenville, had received fairly extensive media coverage long before the Class Action Lawsuit began. It has been labeled a “mind control cult” in many media outlets and its practices were carried on at Grenville during the time I was there.

    I can bear witness to the so-called “sensational” experiences that have been spoken of by the victims.

    This is the first time I have myself have spoken out about this.

    • Peter on June 18, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story, Diana.

      I’m sorry you experienced that and hope you’ve found a path towards healing since then.

      It’s sad to hear how experiences varied over the years given how wonderful many of the teachers I had were towards the end of Grenville’s years in operation.

  2. Jordan on June 29, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    The W5 episode was complete and utter sensationalism. I went to GCC 1983-1988 and know 90% of the students from the episode. Hollywood’ed up for TV. I got in trouble 24/7, suspended 4x in 5 years with countless times on ‘D’. It’s my opinion that these ‘complainers’ should take it up with their parents b/c their gripes fell on deaf ears. Joan Childs turning on the staff and the school is ridiculous – I had many run-ins with Joan and she was one of the main henchwomen at the school. She told me once that she would never allow herself to be alone a room with me b/c I was evil and could manipulate women’s minds. Ridiculous. The only students that have a solid platform are the staff kids who were ‘trapped’ at GCC 24/7 while we got a reprieve by going home on breaks/Xmas etc. They had it rough. Great memories of my times at GCC and a tonne of genuinely caring staff and students I’m still friends with today.

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