Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Leopoldville 1930 – Governor General Tilkens moves to Kalina

On July 1, 1923, the beginning of the Belgian fiscal year, Leopoldville was decreed the capital of the colony.  The town was to replace the current capital at Boma as soon as the requisite administrative and residential facilities could be constructed for the Governor General and his colonial civil servants. The chosen site was midway between Leopoldville and Kinshasa at Kalina Point.  Kalina was an officer in Henry Stanley’s employ who drowned when his launch capsized on a trip from Leopoldville to Kinshasa a few days before Christmas 1882.
A street in Kalina

An official residence for the Governor General was a first priority (See Sep. 12, 2011) and it was determined that the structure would occupy the triangle formed by the Point which juts into the River some 15 meters above the water, creating a strong current. In December 1925, Jean Colette, a colonial postal worker and amateur archeologist, began meticulous excavation of prehistoric sites identified on Kalina Point and in April 1927, organized an official excavation of the site employing the labor of six prisoners assigned to work with him by the provincial Vice-Governor.  His findings were published in 1933 and established his reputation as an archeologist.  He went on to head the Physical Anthropology department at the colonial museum at Tervuren in Belgium until his untimely death in 1936.
Colette at work on Kalina Point
Blueprint for housing in Kalina

Extensive plans for the development of Kalina were underway when Governor Tilkens moved the capital to Leopoldville in 1930. An architectural competition for the Governor General’s residence was held in 1928 and a monument to Leopold II was dedicated by King Albert in the square facing the future residence during his visit that year. 

Civil servant housing in Kalina
Sacre Coeur -- the Lycee

Queen Elisabeth also laid the cornerstone for a new day school run by the Sisters of Sacred Heart (Soeurs du Sacré Coeur).  An initial, non-denominational school for white children had opened in 1924 with 15 students.  Five Sacré Coeur sisters arrived in Leopoldville two years later to begin education work among the European community.  In June 1928, the Sisters were allocated a 5 hectare plot in Kalina where the Queen launched construction of the new school the following month.  A primary school for boys was opened by the Sisters in 1930.  

The Sisters' Residence at Sacre Coeur  
The Comité Urbain approved plans for Sacré Coeur church in 1932, prompting a complaint from former Secretary of the Congo Protestant Council Arthur Stonelake about government subsidies provided to religious institutions. 
Sacre Coeur Church and Sisters' Residence
 The slights and frustrations felt by the Protestant community were reinforced in October 1932 when plans were announced to build a “palace” for the first Papal envoy, Msgr. Dellepiane, adjacent to the Sacré Coeur complex.  The proposal came as Msgr. Dellepiane convened the first meeting of Ordinaries (Bishops) from the entire colony.
The Vatican Ambassador's Residence
Plans for the Clinique Reine Elisabeth complex

During King Albert and Queen Elizabeth’s visit in June 1928, as well, the Queen expressed concerns about the quality of health care facilities available to Europeans in the city (See Aug. 5, 2011). Colonial officials immediately began planning a new hospital to be located in the Kalina administrative district. Public Works architect Richard Lequy produced his art deco designs for the complex in March 1929.  By 1932 the first section of the new hospital, named Clinique Reine Elisabeth, was completed. The hospital opened officially in November 1933 under Dr. Bernard.  Srs.  However, the Provincial Bishop, Msgr. Georges Six expressed reservations about Dr. Bernard and he was replaced by Dr. Pauly in 1934. Dr. Pauly would continue to administer the hospital until the eve of Independence. A maternity ward was opened in 1935 and an Administrative bloc and the morgue were completed in 1936.
Clinique Reine Elisabeth shortly after completion
A contemporary view of the new hospital
In January 1933, Prince Leopold III and Princess Astrid visited the colony, passing through Leopoldville, where Gov. Tilkens organized a sumptuous reception in the Royal couple’s honor.  The popular Princess visited Sacré Coeur School as well as the African maternity ward and Catholic Schools for Congolese.
Shortly after the Prince’s visit, Governor General Tilkens introduced a range of administrative reforms, increasing the number of Provinces from 4 to 6, but effectively reducing the autonomy of provincial governors in favor of a stronger central authority in Leopoldville.  In October, Kasai Province was detached from Congo-Kasai Province, leaving Leopoldville to administer the capital city and contemporary Bas-Congo and Bandundu Provinces as Leopoldville Province.  Intended as a cost-saving measure during the Depression, the reforms were very unpopular within the Territorial Service.

King Albert was killed in a mountain-climbing accident in February 1934 and succeeded by his son Leopold.  In July, Governor Tilkens left the colony with little ceremony.  In September, the Council of Ministers proposed Pierre Ryckmans to the King as the new Governor General.  Ryckmans’ early career had been in the Mandated Territories of Ruanda-Urundi, but had recently served the Minister of Colonies as a trouble-shooter, investigating labor problems in Congo-Kasai.

In September 1935, two Jesuit priests, Joseph Mols and Jean Coméliau, arrived in Leopoldville and established themselves in a house on Ave. Lippens, the main street leading into Kalina from Kinshasa district.  Jesuit missionaries were established at Kisantu in Bas-Congo region and at Kimwenza, outside Leopoldville.  These priests, however, were delegated to develop a parochial school for European boys to complement Sacré Coeur.  Father Coméliau began teaching the boys at Sacré Coeur, while Father Mols focused on getting the new school off the ground.  In March 1937, the Society of Jesus approved the proposed College St. Albert.  The following May, the order obtained a 6-hectare parcel between Sacré Coeur and Ave. Valcke (Justice), the main road to Leopoldville.  To ensure the safety of the schoolchildren having to cross streets to access the school buildings, a change in the urbanization plan was required such that Ave. du Comité Urbain was terminated at Ave. Josephine Charlotte.
Kalina District as developed in the late 1950s
The new school opened October 4, 1937 in borrowed space provided by the Soeurs and at the priests’ residence on Ave. Lippens with 32 students in the first three primary grades, including Jean Pierre Ryckmans, the Governor’s son.  During the year College was renamed Albert 1er in honor of the late King.  The buildings of the new campus were designed by Public Works engineer, E. Popijn, who also designed buildings at the African hospital and the Medical Assistants (AMI) school (See Aug. 5, 2011).  In addition to the land grant and architectural services, the colonial government also contributed to the construction costs and provided subsidies for the salaries of the clerical faculty.
Architect's rendering of College Albert 1er
College Albert 1er as completed late 1950s
By 1939, there were 135 students from a population of 2,800 Europeans.  Insecurity in Europe prompted parents to bring their children back to the colony, so that when the new school year started in September, there were 200 enrolled. In October 1940, with war in Europe, the College was formally inaugurated.
College Albert 1er and Sacre Coeur (the street in background is Ave VanGele, now Justice)
The Jesuits had other plans for the city.  In 1936, they requested authorization to start a radio station.  There was no immediate response as colonial legislation only allowed for wireless telegraphy, which was the purview of the colonial government.  However, Radio Leo was launched in 1937 and in 1939 its capacity was increased to 250 watts.  In the same year, Radio Congolia was established by Jean Hourdebise to broadcast in the 4 African languages the Congolese population, since Radio Leo targeted the European population of the city.  During World War II, Radio Leo became Radio Congo Belge, the voice of occupied Belgium.  The US Office of War Information relayed the Voice of America to Central, North African and Europe via the transmitter at College Albert.
College Boboto in 2005
Entrance to the stadium on Ave. Justice, "Albert 1er" defaced in the 1970s when the College became Boboto
·      deMaret, Pierre, 1990. “Phases and Facies in the Archeology of Central Africa”, in: Peter Robertshaw, A History of African Archeology, pp.109-34.
·      Kinshasa: Architecture et paysage urbains, 2010. Images du Patrimoine.
·      Kolonga Molei, 1974, Kinshasa, ce Village de Hier,
·      Stonelake, Arthur, 1937, Congo: Past and Present, World Dominion Press.


  1. Hi there, great blog you have here. I'm actually compiling an online guide to Heart of Darkness for and was wondering if I could use some of your photos, particularly the one you have of the Roi des Belges steamboat? The photo would be fully attributed and a link provided back to this site.


    Gordon Knox

  2. Hi there, maybe you can help me out. I was born in Leopoldville in 1962, my father worked for the United Nations (a Frenchman) and my mother mentioned that the staff and nurses were nuns.Do you have any idea how I can locate the hospital in which I was born. I have no one to ask....

    I would really love to know where I was born, thanks