1867 – 1951
An educator and clergyman with uncommon vision and energy, Woollcombe founded Ashbury College and directed it for its first 42 years. Ashbury today is recognized as one of the finest private schools in Canada.
During his years in Ottawa, Woollcombe lived at two addresses in Sandy Hill: at 371 Daly Ave. (Philomene Terrace) in 1893 and ‘94; and, around the corner, at 194 Cobourg St between 1937 and 1951.
The son and grandson of Anglican clergymen, Woollcombe was born in England, educated at Oxford but worked most of his life in Ottawa. After having taught at Bishop’s College School (Lennoxville) and Trinity College School (Port Hope), he was recruited by rich Ottawa businessmen to start a private school for boys in the capital. In 1891, he opened a one-room school with 17 boys in a building across from Parliament Hill. As the school grew, he rented more rooms, then a house, bought a larger house on Argyle St. (across from where the Canadian Museum of Nature now stands) and eventually moved to a purpose-built facility at its current location in Rockcliffe in 1910.
In Ashbury’s early years, Woollcombe did everything: he taught, recruited students and teachers, supervised them, set the curriculum, fund-raised,
enforced discipline and made sure his boarding students were housed and fed properly — always ably supported by his wife. Modeled on an English public school, Ashbury instilled the values of hard work, discipline, respect for authority, athletic excellence, the fear of God and honour for the King.
While the College’s educational reputation grew steadily, its Board made no financial provisions for the future and, when Woollcombe retired in 1933 after 42 years of service, it offered him only a meager pension. Insult was added to injury in 1936 when the College cut Woollcombe’s pension in half due to declining enrollment during the Depression.
Woollcombe needed additional income and he went back to England to work as a minister for four years. That situation did not live up to expectations so he returned to Ottawa in 1937 and served as assistant rector at All Saints Sandy Hill where he had already served between 1908 and 1913.
Woollcombe remained deeply attached to his roots in England during his entire life, making 89 crossings of the Atlantic to visit family and friends. On September 2 1939, the day after Germany invaded Poland, triggering the start of World War 2, he sailed home from Liverpool on board the Athenia. The next day, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine, killing 118. Woollcombe, along with most of the ship’s complement, was rescued and made his way back to Canada on an American ship. The sinking of an unarmed passenger vessel was widely condemned at the time and contributed to public support for Canada’s own declaration of war against Germany a week later.
He is buried in Beechwood cemetery.