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.

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