Posted by: Paul Jenkins | February 15, 2008

Our Alma – An Example of Social Media – Part I

Built in 1877, Alma College in St. Thomas, Ontario – 200 km southwest of Toronto – is easily as impressive as the buildings of Toronto’s university or Montreal’s McGill. The entire site was once spectacular. Over the past decade, however, it has fallen into disrepair.

Alma College was a private boarding schools for girls. On January 13 of this year, the Ontario Municipal Board decided that its demolition be approved.

This is the start of my public relations campaign to stop that from happening. Although not pretty, I’ve even started a wiki:

Step one, publish a letter to the editor of the St. Thomas Times-Journal.

It’s OUR Alma College.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Letter to the Editor of the St. Thomas Times-Journal:

The Ontario Municipal Board’s recent approval to demolish Alma College makes me nauseous. The silence of our local politicians on the issue deafens me.

Where are the leaders of our community when we need them the most? Why has no one articulated a vision of what our city might be? Is this, then, the end of one of our nation’s most impressive pieces of architecture?

Not only does Alma College deserve a better fate than that engineered by the combined Scrooge-like forces of City Council and the Zubick family, so too do the most important stakeholders in the OMB’s decision. Together we are, the citizens of St. Thomas.

To say that Alma College is past repair is simply a lie – you don’t have to be an engineer to see that. City Council’s frugality does not make the College’s reconstruction impossible. The Zubick family’s absolute ignorance of our City’s heritage does not necessitate the arrival of the wrecking ball.

Understand, that if the Prime Minister of Canada or the Premier of Ontario announced that our Alma must stand, it would. It is honest and obvious that political will is the best way to preserve Alma College.

One way to motivate political action is through populist pressure. If we want to serve our city in the twenty-first century we must consolidate our voices.

Let’s not talk exclusively and nostalgically about what Alma once was, but instead have a conversation of what next she can be.

This Wednesday, February 20, I’m interviewing Elgin-London-Middlesex MPP, Steve Peters.

I’ve created an online wiki to facilitate a discussion on Alma’s fate at

I’ll put my interview with Peters, St. Thomas historian and Ontario’s Speaker of Parliament, on my blog soon.

Join in the conversation and allow our city’s history to live to see the future.



  1. I think it’s great that you’re actively persuing a community cause. Community relations is an emerging field in the PR industry. Judging from your efforts here and your poop-cicle campaign mentioned in class (still laughing over that), perhaps this is the niche you were meant for. You have a passion for things that to some may seem extreme, but to people like me are admirable. Keep up with great efforts like these, and if your next step is a petition I’d be glad to sign the dotted line.

  2. bcarlos, I appreciate your observations, thanks.
    I did get the letter to the editor in the St. Thomas Times-Journal, but there has been no movement on the wiki because of it – very ineffective public relations; at least its impact can be measured. I was hoping for at least a minor stirring of interest though – perhaps a simple discussion board would have encouraged the two dozen visitors so far to contribute.
    I’ll have the interview with Steve Peters published soon.

  3. Hey Paul,
    I also think it is wonderful that you are trying to help. I have been trying since February last year.
    I did my Project on Alma for school, that I could send to you if you would like. I had contacted the owners to see if I could take some pictures of the inside and out for my project and was allowed to. It is a magnificent building but quite vandalized inside.
    I gave the Zubics my ideas sheet to try and give them ideas on saving it, hoping they would change there mind in taking the building down. They looked it over but I assume they are not interested.
    I had written letters to Oprah (for the history of teaching anyone, no matter what race you were…unheard off in 1877), Bill Gates (the educational aspect of it all), Michael Moore (Canada seems so quick to destroy history or Heritage Buildings instead of saving them…we should be proud of it, not try to hide it…what would we teach our kids). I have had no responses. Maybe I should have found a public figure that was Canadian.
    I have included a copy of my ideas sheet that I gave to the Zubics.
    I am sorry if I used up most of your space.

    Saving Alma College Ideas

    – Alma Women’s College – St. Thomas, Ontario
    96 Moore Street.

    – 10 Acres
    – Frontage is 272

    – Owned Presently by Mr. & Mrs. Zubick

    – Total Assessed Value – $ 1,389,000.00
    – Taxes $ 21, 678 for 2006

    – Movie made at Alma College – Mr. Headmistress, Silent Hill.


    – Turn into a charity
    – Use Volunteers
    – The Motto – “Never Moving Backward” “Toujours En Avant”
    – Donations from Companies – Theme “Room by Room”
    – Companies get to claim on their taxes when they donate a room to finish.
    – Plaque outside the door or on the door for designation. Example: This room has been restored by the Donations from (Company Name) on (Date of Donation).
    – Renovate to what the college was built for. Examples: Arts School, Special Needs Programs, Teach adults to help put them back in the workforce.
    – Have Trades be taught at the school while completing the renovations.
    o Electrician students wire the school while learning.
    o Dry walling students put drywall up while learning.
    o Plumbing students do plumbing while learning.
    o Woodworking students do the woodwork while learning.
    o Masonry students do the brickwork while learning.

    – People could volunteer there time, expertise or trade to help in restoring Alma College.
    o Someone could clean when certain work was done.
    o Trades could volunteer there work and time.

    – Involve the College, University and even High school Students (Co-Op Programs) to be a part of restoration. A learning Experience for them.
    – Involve the media to get a broader range of help from around the world for Alma College. (Many people from around the world have been taught at Alma College)
    – Make the restoration and renovations to follow as close as possible with Heritage rules while trying to be environmentally friendly.
    – Try and get a copy of the original plans if at all possible done by James Balfour of Hamilton.
    – Fix the Amphitheatre
    – Someone needed to take care of the grounds

    – Help to try and reduce upkeep cost of Utilities by:
    o Radiant Heat Flooring
    o Solar shingles
    o Update Windows but keep the style like the originals
    o Spray the blue insulation on the entire exterior walls from the inside
    o Geothermal Heat & Cooling

    – Try and get a Committee together on volunteer bases that deal with and are good at certain areas. Example: Someone that knows advertising, publicity or charities, etc.

    When Completed Ideas

    – Do tours on Specific weekends
    – School during the week
    – Night school for adults
    – Pictures for Weddings on site
    – Guest Book
    – Area in Alma College that is designated for Memorabilia
    – Gift Shop (Portions go back into the college to cover costs)
    – Have the St. Thomas Rail Tour stop at Alma College (since it is right next to the train tracks)

    In 1876 there was a meeting to present a formal report on the Approval of the construction of Alma College.
    The report reflects the atmosphere and level of the discussion of this first meeting.
    A great deal of thought and research into the report, and a record of its recommendations and the almost unanimous approval it received.

    – An educational institution designed to afford young ladies a liberal course of instruction in all that tends to make their lives useful and happy, and their tastes elevated and refined, would be a desirable acquisition to any community.
    – An institution open to the sons and daughters of our citizens without distinction of race and creed, whose teachings and curriculum of studies are free from sectarian tenet and dogma… is virtually a public institution which should meet with the hearty approbation and willing aid of all good citizens.

    In an effort to gather material for this history, dozens of graduates where contacted at home and abroad.

    – Girls from West Indies and South America remembered the first Snowfall of their lives
    – **But especially they remembered the greater breadth of understanding and tolerance they gained from living with girls from different countries and cultures. They remembered the moral values Alma tried to foster**
    – Canadian Students and Staff may become impatient and intolerant through misunderstanding of other cultures. Patience and imagination will be required of all the Alma Family if an atmosphere of mutual acceptance and trust is to be created. The challenges are great for students and faculty, but the rewards are even greater.

  4. Part lV of The Ontario Heritage Act gives the Minister of Culture, Hon. M. Aileen Carroll the power to place a stop work order on the property and to ensure its ongoing protection through the enactment of provincial heritage designation.
    Alma College amply satisfies the criteria set out in Ontario Regulation 10/06 for determining cultural heritage value and provincial significance, including its representation of the theme of education in Ontario’s history and its rare reflection of the province’s cultural heritage.
    Urge the Minister of Culture to save this historic and iconic property.
    The Hon. M. Aileen Carroll
    Minister of Culture
    Ministry of Culture
    900 Bay Street, 5th Floor, Mowat Block
    Toronto, Ontario
    M7A 1L2
    The destruction of Ontario’s built heritage must stop with Alma College.

  5. Kelly,
    You have some great ideas.You have really done your research.Every suggestion you have made is a good one.The college could be restored with donated help & the theme rooms is an excellent idea.I urge you to send all these suggestions to the Zubick family once again.They need to be reminded of the excellent ideas you have put forward.Reading your list,gave me new hope for Alma..You truly are an inspiration.

  6. Hello,
    I sent a lengthy e-mail to Mr.George Zubick (current owner) regarding the state of Alma College.He responded today,telling me he is very interested in selling Alma.He said they have invested heavily in the project,with very little assistance from anyone.In his letter it seemed that he is more interested in selling Alma,than demolishing it.We need to find a buyer,once that is complete,we need to help this person(s) raise funds to restore Alma..Alma College had many people pass through its doors,and Im sure many of them have become succesful,so this is where we start..We start the fundraising with former students,then branch out from there.We can surely raise the money to save Alma.What we need now is action.When she is fully restored,we can all stand back & be proud that we had a little part in bringing her back to life..Keep up the fight!!

  7. Kelly,
    Please excuse the tardiness of my response. I echo Bob Foster’s observation – your ideas are great.
    I know we’re all keeping our fingers crossed for Alma College.
    Kelly, I would love to see all of your work on Alma College – the pictures you took, the letters you sent. Your efforts sound exemplary and need to be documented.
    Dawn and Bob, we would similarly benefit from more visibility of your own attempts to preserve Alma College.
    I’m willing to host as many of them on my blog as my wordpress allows, but updating them on Facebook would also work well and be easy.
    Kelly, I hope you have a chance to read this comment and respond.


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