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I was in high school 30 years ago. Yes, I don’t mind admitting that… thirty years ago right now I would have been preparing for my grade 13 graduation. Now CW Jefferys (then Secondary School, now Collegiate Institute) was named after Charles William Jefferys, a Canadian artist and historical illustrator. A couple of weeks ago I was driving by the school and noted they were having a bit of an “Open House”. I put it in my calendar and when it popped up decided to go.

Interestingly, it was a music and arts night… much like we used to have in the 80s. The art department is MUCH smaller now. Back then all of the grade 9 students who went to Jefferys did so because of the Arts program. I only took Photography, but I had a number of friends go on to the Ontario College of Arts, and later I took classes in metal art at Penn State. Some of the young artists’ work was on display at the Open House.

When I was in grade 13, one of the projects was a production of “The Fantasticks“. The night of the Open House I re-met one of the women who starred in the production (as Luisa): Jacquie Egan. I was one of the “technical” guys back then, so I was “Spotlight 1”… and it happens I broke my femur the night before the show opened (typical drama queen). It was a minor bump for the production, a bit more major for me. But I did become known that year for being the non-actor who really did “break a leg”.

So I saw Jacquie and her husband, and two children. Her daughter is now in Grade 11 herself, and was one of the featured artists of the evening (I got some pictures of her work). Only a few of the departments were represented… English was one (they still do King Lear) but I did not see any reference to Classics. There were 12 departments represented, though I only got to visit about four. They were very responsive to my questions, although I did notice at one point that even though I’m probably older than several of the teachers I talked to, I still responded to a certain “authority” they maintained as instructors. Could be my generation… or just me.

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When I first posted on Facebook, some classmates from the time asked a couple of questions. The ones I haven’t already answered:

Does it still look the same? Physically, what I saw of the building (just the caf and office and front area) looked the same… but they seemed much smaller. I suppose it’s my memory. The stage was TINY, and the backstage area seemed impossibly small (how did we get anything done in that space?) They had pictures of all the graduating classes up on the walls in the classes… starting with 1984… which was REALLY faded. (Some of the students helped me look for ’82, but no luck.) The students sounded the same (they did a series of skits and music and dance), but the demographics are quite different.

What impressed me?

  • I talked to the history teacher (who was also covering geography: “Canadian and World Studies”) and offered to assist (my last job was in education at a company that does geographic software, and most schools use it). They seemed quite interested.
  • And they had the chess club represented!!!! (Man I sound like a geek. Victor would be proud.)
  • And… this was my favourite part… the Gay-Straight alliance (GSA) had a “pavilion”. At Jefferys!!! (In fact, I seem to remember searching for GSAs in northwest Toronto, and Jefferys had one of the few in northwest Toronto.) I can’t imagine Jefferys with a GSA, nor how my life could have been different if we’d had one. There were a whole bunch of posters about bullying in the front lobby area.

So… I’m well aware that my old High School has its share of “bad history”. Besides being in the infamous Jane-Finch Corridor, in 2007 it became one of the few Canadian schools where a student was killed on its property. But it looks like there have been, and are being, changes made to the school. I remember it as a vibrant, energetic place to grow up and reach adulthood. I believe that through community support and involvement, we can help it continue to be exactly that. But without us, all our schools and institutions will slowly slide into oblivion.

There are pictures on my Flickr site.

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