Community bids farewell to Vaughan Road Academy
Once home to Toronto’s Drake, school is closing doors after nine decades
Hundreds of current and former high schoolers wandered the halls of Vaughan Road Academy on Saturday to say goodbye to the institution that will be closing next month after nine decades.
Some talked about meeting the loves of their lives in those halls. Others shrieked in excitement, as they recognized their former classmates. One former student remembered the horrid blue rompers she had to wear during gym class. Another felt anxious as she recalled how divided between programs the place seemed to her when she was there.
Last December, Toronto District School Board trustees voted to close the school at 529 Vaughan Rd. (that was previously known as Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute) — perhaps best known as the school Drake once went to — citing decades of dropping enrolment. At the time that decision was made, the high school was at 20 per cent of its capacity with just over 200 students.
Since news of the school’s impending closure was made official, a group of volunteers have been busy making sure it wasn’t going to go out without a party. Saturday’s gathering saw classrooms around the school designated for each generation (featuring decade-appropriate music and photos to match) of the school’s near century-long existence.
The day also served as a chance for the school to welcome a handful of new alumni into its already stacked Hall of Fame. Among them were swimmer Michelle Williams (who won a bronze medal for team Canada last summer at the Olympics in Rio) and Toronto Maple Leafs scout and former head coach Tom Watt.
Ursula and Vic Collins met while teaching at the school in the ’60s — she taught business and he taught math. They got married in 1970 (and invited the school’s entire staff to their wedding) and continued to teach together there for decades.
When the now-retired couple came back to school Saturday, Ursula brought a purse filled with letters sent to her from her former students. Before she had even made it up the stairs, she bumped into one of the students who had sent them. “There were so many fond memories here,” she said, noting that the school felt like a second home to her. “You got involved.”
Vic noted that when he started teaching there, the place had so many students enrolled that it needed several portables to accommodate all of them. Cynthia Zwicker-Reston is the last principal Vaughan Road Academy will ever have.
“There were so many fond memories here.” URSULA COLLINS FORMER TEACHER
She said her students are resilient and that she’s aware attending a high school that closes halfway through a student’s education isn’t easy or ideal. Zwicker-Reston said the school’s current students will get to choose which Toronto District School Board school they will attend next fall.
Vaughan Road Academy’s Interact program (the one alumni Drake and Ellen Page took, which lets students customize their curriculum to focus on extracurricular activities such as music, acting or sports) and its staff will be moving to Oakwood Collegiate Institute. The school’s International Baccalaureate program will relocate to Weston Collegiate, she said. As for the open house on Saturday, Zwicker-Reston hoped it served as a chance to celebrate everything thing the institution once was.
“It’s a tribute,” she said. “To all of the people, all of the students, all of the teachers and community members who have really appreciated this place as an institution and all of the people who have studied and worked here over the years.”
The school’s last day is June 30.