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From vision to hole in the ground

 

When the De La Salle Brothers made the move to Kowloon in 1931 to establish what has become its highly respected La Salle College, they were already a well established group in Hong Kong, with St. Joseph’s College churning out highly competent and well versed graduates.

The first group of six brothers arrived in 1875, taking on West Point Reformatory and the English-speaking section of St. Saviour’s College, later renamed St. Joseph’s, almost the following day.

With the settlement of especially Portuguese families on the Kowloon peninsula increasing the demand for quality, English-language education, in 1917 the brothers began squinting across Victoria Harbour from their commitments on Hong Kong island.

This led to the establishment of an extension to St. Joseph’s in Chatham Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, in September of the same year, with an enrollment of 65.

The Chatham Road campus proved to be the forerunner to what is known today as La Salle College, which opened its doors on its current site off Prince Edward Road near the two developing population centres of Kowloon City and Kowloon Tong in 1931.

The proximity to the two centres created a potential market for students among the Chinese population and the presence of the Portuguese community centred in nearby Homantin, made the new site an ideal location for a school.

Well prior to this, demand had been outstripping the limited resources of the of the small school in Tsim Sha Tsui and pressure mounted for the establishment of a fully equipped college in Kowloon, as more and more students were finding themselves having to make the cross-harbour commute to find spaces in schools in Hong Kong.

As a result, the search for a suitable site was taken up seriously in 1924, mostly by Brother Aimar, who spent much of his spare time roaming the hills of Kowloon in the search for suitable land.

He settled eventually on the site where the school stands today in 1928 and then-British governor, Cecil Clementi, promised to help the brothers acquire it.

On April 23 of that year the seeds of La Salle College were sown with the purchase of 10 acres of land (almost half a million square feet) from the colonial authorities.

Planning involved the services of architects Little, Adams & Wood and was nine-months on the drawing board.

The laying of the foundation stone on 5 November 1930 by the then-governor, William Peel, also attracted the presence of the apostolic delegate from Beijing, Archbishop Celso Benigno Luigi Costantini, to bless the beginnings of the new college.

The chronicles of the college show that Brother Aimar made a long report on the progress of work to date, as well as thanking the many parties that had lent their assistance.

However, they note that he omitted any mention of the role he had played himself as a driving force behind the organisation and vision of what was to become one of the territory’s leading, if not the best, academic secondary school.