Out of the ashes, we emerge

By: Charles Lee

North Toronto has become divided into 2 factions Old Building vs. New Building. With recent and not so recent graduates firmly ensconced in the Old camp, grade 9’s in the New camp, and the rest of us split between. But we don’t need to be divided. It is not an all or nothing proposition. Many people are feeling ambivalent, happy to be in the New Building while sad about the old building. Those feelings are understandable but unnecessary. We are not abandoning the Old NT. Instead we are transitioning and like the phoenix from the flames, NT is rising.

Mr. Gorenkoff, I don’t know if you remember, but you said something inspiring when I first stepped into NT. My memory is still vividly alive. It was an unusually cloudless, serene winter day on January 15, 2008. Walking down the hallway with light flickering on and off above my head, I was reminded of one of the NT graduates’ description of NT – the haunted house that is about to collapse. During the open house, Mr. Gorenkoff said that my grade would be the luckiest grade out of all the grades as “incoming Grade 9 (as of 2008) students will enjoy the heritage of our old building as well as the benefits of a modern, state-of-the-art facility,” and on top of that the year of our graduation will mark the 100th year of NT.

This left me wondering what he meant by enjoying the heritage. What enjoyment is to be found in ceiling tiles falling down, classrooms filled with garbage and insects, a pool replete with chlorine, and pet mice? He spoke of traditions but it sounded like nonsense to me (At that time, I was only grade 8).

NT is old; 98 years now, it is one of the oldest schools in Toronto. It is no wonder none of the facilities are properly working. With bricks taken away for building the courtyard, old NT can’t look any worse. It’s grey, rusty, Name tiles have fallen down (it now says ORTH O NT COLLEGITE NSTITUTE). I wouldn’t be surprised to see a passerby who doesn’t live in this area wondering what on Earth the building is for. Andy Georgiades, who graduated in 1992, states that “the place was a dump even when I was there. Pieces would fall off the wall.” It’s hard to believe that we survived.

But the unique features of the NT environment are what made it home for many of us over the past few years. “When music students shared broken stands, when sports teams practiced on patches of grass… there was real pride the accomplishments that emerged,” said Madeleine Cummings, a graduate of 2009. “In my opinion, the worst thing about the old school was that, in the last few years, it was neglected. Because people knew the building was going to be torn down, there wasn’t a lot of money thrown into its upkeep and predictably it really deteriorated.” The school was merely a shell that housed our classes. We all knew the idiosyncrasies of the old school and loved them as we knew that the end was near. It was an experience unlike any found at any other school in Toronto. The end has come and it is time to leave.

From the ashes of this old school a new school is rising. Not a different school, but the same school reborn with new shiny feathers. The lamentations about the “real” school being gone are inapt because the original school was located at 25 Broadway, a 5 room schoolhouse located on the land that the new school now inhabits. Only repeated additions and renovations landed the school at 70 Roehampton. Now the school has just moved back.

The new school has not destroyed the memories or the spirit of the school. In fact, the new home for The Norsemen has become an incubator for improved spirit. A concerted effort has been made to maintain allegiance to North Toronto and because now we have state of the art facilities school spirit and pride has never been stronger. “Being in the new school hasn’t changed our attitude towards school spirit,” commented Lyndon Kirkley.  Now we have even more to be proud of as our location reflects our abilities.

During the grand opening many dignitaries mentioned how the facilities are now appropriate to the high caliber of students that attend. Before the strings ensemble had to practice in the hallway, the athletes were crowded into 2 small gyms, the library didn’t have enough computers, and science labs were designed to accommodate only half the class. But now, we have dedicated music rooms and a high tech auditorium, 3 large gymnasiums, a new library with a view, comfortable study space and enough computers for an entire class, and newly designed science classrooms with space for everyone to do quality experiments.

For all the flaws of the old building those of us who experienced it will miss it and I expect there will be some wet eyes on demolition day. But we shouldn’t think of that day as the end of our school but as a new beginning. Many feel, even though the old building is being dismantled, that the memories are being carried over to the new school. Mr. O’Connell expresses this feeling, “I will remember the relationships developed with students at the old school, but I don’t regret leaving. The positive relationships have been carried to the new school.”

Martha Coates, a graduate of NT, stated unequivocally, “Old school is only what matters to me. I won’t step into the new school. The new school is not my school.” But I disagree. It is not the building but the students and staff that make North Toronto our school. The memories of your best friends, your favorite (or not so favorite) teachers, and the firm yet friendly office staff are what you will recall in the future, not peeling paint, crumbling chairs and moldy ceilings.

The transition marks a new chapter in NT history, but it is only a new chapter, not a new book. As we write this new chapter it is important to honour the old while we embrace the new. Each one of us is part of this story. The staff and students are the soul of NT, true, ever faithful, in Red and Grey.