The Cult That Raised Me


The first time I saw Grenville Christian College, I was 11 years old. It was an Anglican boarding school a few hundred metres from the St. Lawrence River, just east of Brockville. At its centre was an impressive four-storey stone building, originally built as a junior Catholic seminary in 1918. There was a large chapel on the west end of the building and some new additions on the east, with several trailer homes behind the school, hidden from view. It was summer 1980, and I was living with my parents in rural Ontario, in a small town near the Quebec border. My mother told me we were just visiting—that we were going to see the headmaster, Charles Farnsworth, who would provide me with what she called “child guidance and correction.”

We met with Farnsworth in the school cafeteria. He was a short, angry, small man, with greasy black hair and a pronounced Georgia drawl. He wasn’t particularly articulate; I remember, even at my young age, being surprised that this person could be a headmaster at such an impressive school. My mother told Farnsworth I needed correction because I’d asked for a pair of jeans and to wear my hair longer than a crew cut. All I wanted was to fit in with other kids. When I requested these things, my mother said they were “the way of the world,” which was sinful.

Farnsworth responded by proudly telling us about his experience beating children. He spoke of it with a sense of delight, explaining how he whipped his own sons with a belt, and how good it was for them. He boasted about how he would frequently paddle students at the school. He sounded like a sports fan describing a game, going over the plays, the outs, the runs. About children, he said, “You have to break their spirit.” He was terrifying.

When we drove away from Grenville that day, I never expected I would return. My parents were too poor for me to attend the school, so I figured I was safe. A number of months after our visit, my mother excitedly announced that I was going to be a boarding student at Grenville, and that she would be teaching English and remedial reading there. What I didn’t understand at the time was that this expensive, impressive school, marketed as a respectable Anglican institution where wealthy Torontonians could send their children, was nothing of the sort. It was a cult.