These institutions have long been numerous in Quebec and have exerted considerable influence on Quebec society. Most of them gave optional courses in music. The first in North America was the Jesuit college founded in Quebec City in 1635 under Samuel de Champlain. Martin Boutet taught mathematics and music there, and Louis Jolliet and Charles-Amador Martin were probably among his pupils. The Petit Séminaire de Québec was founded in 1668; Ernest, Gustave, and Henri Gagnon, Célestin Lavigueur and Philéas Roy all taught there at different periods. The Petit Séminaire or Collège de Montréal was set up in 1767; its distinguished teachers have included L.-Arsène Barbarin, Alexis Contant, J.-J. Gagnier, J.-B. Labelle, Alphonse Lavallée-Smith, Joseph-Julien Perrault, and Benoît Poirier. Most of the founders of classical colleges strongly recommended the study of music, even in the early 19th century. They equipped their institutions with large music rooms, auditoriums for plays and concerts, and chapels where liturgical music was provided almost daily. Considerable sums of money also were invested in the purchase of pianos, organs, and orchestral and band instruments. Even when music was not incorporated into the academic program, it held a prime place among extracurricular activities. Depending on the availability of trained teachers, these schools made honest efforts to offer introductory courses in music and courses in solfège during regular class periods. Provision also was made for sectional rehearsals and for ensemble drill for choirs and concert bands, which occurred during study periods, recreation, or free periods. In addition, the students could work at their instruments individually for at least two 30-minute periods a day. Since most colleges were also boarding schools, there was ample opportunity for group rehearsals, individual instruction, sessions of listening to records, and educational concerts. Religious festivals, birthday celebrations, student theatre performances, and lectures or visits from well-known guests were all occasions for students' musical performances. The auditoriums or school halls of these establishments, with the balconies reserved for the pupils, were often the only concert halls in the region for such cultural activities as those of the JMC, the Community Concerts, and the Société des Amis du collège.
This encouragement to study music occasionally produced musicians of professional calibre such as Paul Dufault and Alphonse Lavallée-Smith, who were students at the Séminaire de Nicolet (founded 1803), Calixa Lavallée and L.J. Oscar Fontaine at St-Hyacinthe (1811), Charles Marchand at the Collège de L'Assomption (1832), Clément Morin and Ernest Gagnon at Joliette (1846), Arthur and Édouard Dumouchel at the Collège Bourget in Rigaud (1850), and Alphonse Tardif and J.-Alexandre Gilbert at Lévis (1853). To guide the young musicians, two categories of teachers were required. In the first were members of the institution's teaching staff who were asked to conduct the choir, orchestra, or concert band while continuing to teach academic subjects; a priest occasionally would go to one of the major music schools to study so that he then could teach all the instruments and conduct the concert band and the choir. In the second category were lay professional musicians who were engaged to teach piano and violin classes. These teachers spent one or two days a week giving private lessons and assisting the resident conductors. Professional musicians, after graduation or on their return from European studies, found in the classical colleges a means of practising their art while obtaining additional income. The complete list of these teachers is too long to enumerate here, but notable besides those already mentioned are Octave, Édouard, and Robert Chatillon at Nicolet; Abbé Charles-Joseph Ducharme, founder of the Collège de Ste-Thérèse (1825); Pierre Martel, grandfather of Oscar Martel, at L'Assomption; Guillaume Dupuis at the Collèges St-Laurent (1847) and Notre-Dame (1869) in Montreal; Hervé Cloutier, J.-B. Labelle, Charles-Hughes Lefebvre, Paul and Arthur Letondal, and Paul Wiallard at the Collège Ste-Marie (1848) in Montreal; Joseph-Antoine Charlebois, Lucien Jolicoeur, Roméo Larivière, and Agostino Salvetti at Rigaud; Father Joseph-Gers Turcotte at Trois-Rivières (1860); Armand Renaud at Loyola College (1898) in Montreal; Jean Goulet at the Collèges de Montréal and Notre-Dame; and Jean Papineau-Couture at Jean-de-Brébeuf College (1928) in Montreal.
Following the reform of Quebec's educational system in 1967, the colleges and seminaries were succeeded by the Cegeps.
Author Rolland Brunelle