|Northern Secondary School History
That first year….Northern Vocational School opens
From NOVOC Yearbook of 1931
A way back when most of the students of the school were watching the clock, so that they could remind mother when it was time for the next issue from the bottle, this school was a reality in the mind of the far-seeing Director of Technical Education, Dr. A. C. McKay. Yes, even before some of the staff were bornwe refer, of course, to some of the lady membersDr. McKay was planning the educational opportunities of a generation yet to come.
Last year, these plans came to fruition in the erection of this fine building, which we have the privilege to attend, and which is considered one of the finest of its kind on the North American Continent.
To briefly summarize the school: The property comprises nearly six acres. Drawings and specifications were prepared by the architectural department of the Board of Education, under the guidance of Mr. C. E. Dyson, the architect-in-chief. The first sod was turned January 20, 1930, by Mrs. H. P. Plumptre and his Worship Mayor Wemp. The corner stone was well and truly laid on February 21, 1930, by the Hon. G. Howard Ferguson, now the High Commissioner for Canada in Great Britain.
In the erection of the building, what seemed to be impossibility was accomplished, and it was opened to the students in this district on September 2, 1930.
The actual floor area of the building is 121,317 square feet; it contains one hundred and fifteen rooms, eighty nine of which are teaching rooms. It is of fire proof construction throughout, and will accommodate about 2,500 students. The equipment, machines and furnishings are of the most modern type, and much of this equipment has been specially designed to meet the requirements of this school.
Every facility was given the Board of Education in bringing this school to completion. The City Council, the Department of Education and the contractors worked in complete harmony and with a great spirit of co-operation.
On the 22nd of August, 1930, an official, visiting the building, said that it would be impossible to have it ready for the opening day of school. In fact, he said that he didn’t see how it could be ready before Christmas. Scaffolding was all love the place; hundreds of men were at work plumbers, electricians, steamfitters, carpenters, stonemasons, and ironworkers. On that date, Mr. Saunders and Mr. Temple sat in the Principal’s office on bags of plaster, planning time tables for the opening of school, and yet, two weeks later, all equipment, furniture and machinery were in place, and the doors of the school were opened on September 2nd, to receive all the students who could come---the impossible had been achieved.
The school was formally opened on the 21st of November 1930, when a very interesting ceremony took place. The contractors handed to the architect of the board, the keys of the building. He in turn, presented them to Mr. J. E. Corcoran, who accepted the building on behalf of the Board of Education. The school was then dedicated to the youth of Toronto by Canon H. P. Plumptre in a simple invocation.
In the erection, furnishing and equipping of this school, many records were established, and it is the earnest hope of the Principal and Staff that, in the life and conduct of this school, many more records will be established---records of educational attainment, and records of young men and young women who, in this institution, learned the fundamental things of life, one of the greatest of which is, “to be a lady or a gentleman.”
On September 2, 1930, Northern Vocational School flung wide its doors to 1100 students, 52 teachers, 8 directors, and Principal W. R. Saunders. The 60 classrooms, 8 shops, 2 gymnasia, swimming pool, cafeteria, and generous auditorium were the last word in educational architecture at a cost of $1,250,000, with a bonus of $1,000 a day for eight days to the contractor for beating the opening deadline.
Mr. Saunders was a crusading spirit with a simple view about running a school: “Every boy a gentleman, every girl a lady” was his motto and only rule. An oddly enough it worked! As for the staff, he chose young open minded personnelready to try anything and wiling to devote many overtime hours to educational goals. Their efforts soon brought trophies, prizes, and awards in all areas of achievement and Northern became a school which students actually loved to attend.
From the very first day the school was more than merely “vocational”; its composite program included academic, arts, commercial, home economics, and technical courses. Thus students were always exposed to a broad educational horizon. At the time, of the twenty-fifth anniversary, the name was changed to Northern Technical-Commercial which last for three years until the present name, Northern Secondary School, came into use because a definite district had been assigned for matriculation students.
Northern has been a school of many firsts the first Ontario school to have a student council, the first to take part in an international student organization (The Translake Club), the first to have a language laboratory, the first to institute a program for the hard of hearing. Many evening school courses which later became generally popular were pioneered at Northern world affairs, geography through travel, real estate, retirement, bridge are some examples. Even the building itself chalked up firsts with completion ahead of schedule, of an underground parking garage, and an underground resource centre (library).
Student enrolment has been subject to great swings, with a figure of 1100 in 1930 swelling to 2500 in the mid-thirties, then dropping to 1100 in 1942 and gradually coming back to 2400 in 1968 before reaching its current level of around 2000.
Over the years, evening classes have been of major interest in the community with nearly a hundred different courses available to an average 4500 registrants. Northern, it might be noted, has the second largest facility of this nature in the province. At its peak, during one year in which no fees were charged, registration reached 6500.
But cold statistics can never capture the pulsing life and variety of Northern. There were extracurricular activities and clubs for every interest: athletic competitions and trophies spanning the school year; the annual community chest drive with its weird and wonderful projects; the platform march pat at the graduation ceremonies; the staff Christmas dinner with parade of the turkey carvers; the annual Exhibition and the Open House, its successor; the plays and musicals, the Translake exchanges, the eagerly awaited arrival of the Norvoc and Enesses, son of Norvoc; the Graduation Ball, and the selection of Miss Sweetheart; the crowning moments of the school year when winners of the Henders Cup, the Pearl Kennedy Cup, the Saunders Cup and the Bud Bishop Trophy were chosen. For both students and staff, old Northern moved along each year at a hectic place, always with another climax just around the corner. And somewhere, in between all this, were sandwiched three sets of examinations.
In the field of sport, Northern has been outstanding, with Senior Football Championships in 1935, 1942, 1955, 1967, 1978 and beyond. The 1942 win was unique since it accomplished with two students as coaches. In 1935, Northern brought home a proud pennant as Junior B hockey champions of all Ontario. A good number of city championships have highlighted the years in Junior Football, in hockey, and in Basketball, with the Girls’ team doing especially well in the latter. From 1968 - 1970, Northern Girls captured city championships in both Senior and Junior Basketball. Girls’ Gymnastics brought Northern another five city Championships between 1965 and 1972, with synchronized and speed swimming accounting for two more city titles in 1967 and 1976.
In the entertainment arts, Northern has been prominent, with the Norvoc players drawing big houses for a wide ranging dramatic diet. A busload of students even came from Sault Ste. Marie to view the Shakespeare’s King Lear at on time! And in music, many stimulating evenings have been provided by the Glee Club and Orchestra. Gilbert and Sullivan nights, productions of Northern’s home brewed musical, “Ice Pool”, and Kiwanis victories are only a sampling of achievements in this field.
No retrospect would be complete without a look at the war years. World War II found Northern people ready and eager to serve their country, with five hundred joining the forces. One hundred and fifty, "laid the world aside" recorded by the stone memorial tablet in the main entrance hall. And a vigorous war effort program was conducted by those at home.
Northern graduates have “reached for the top” and made it in many fields of endeavor, from poetry-producing nurserymen, to federal cabinet ministers, from electronics experts to company presidents, from manufacturers of quality chocolates to actors and actresses of Hollywood fame and to homemakers who have nudged their children and grandchildren back to the old alma mater.
And Northern teachers have done well too! The school has supplied an unusual number of department heads, vice-principals, principals, co-coordinators, and superintendents for Toronto and Ontario. Northern teachers have taken many responsible positions of leadership in their professional organizations and have authored textbooks in subjects both academic and vocational. Perhaps we should add here, too, the thought that Northern teachers not only looked after what people think of as the average student body but also had a missionary zeal for salvaging young people who had difficulty fitting the educational mould. Many a student has come to Northern as a school of last resort, and been helped there to find a place in life.
The principal, for better or worse, puts his or her stamp on the character of a school and Northern has been fortunate in her principals. Northern's principals have made their own unique contribution to the school’s wellbeing.They have given us a happy mixture of inspiration, organization, and the sort of firmness which is rooted in kindness and understanding.
Many schools have excellent school spirit. Northern certainly has had that kind of spirit and a little more too. If you were at Northern, whether as staff or student, you were part of the Northern Family. Families disagree among themselves, but they rejoice in each other’s successes, help each other in trouble, and show a united front to the rest of the world. That’s the special Northern Spirit.
Yes, there have been mistakes and failures; but the Northern story in general has been one of such impressive success that one can only express tremendous appreciation to those many unnamed people who have contributed , sometimes devoting their lives, to making Northern the wonderful place of learning that it is.
So, “Hail dear Old Northern”, as you meet the challenge of the years and beyond…May your desire to serve, your enthusiasm in the face of problems, and your will to win never face. Sic continuit gloria!
And - the verse nobody seems to be able to remember:
And when we leave thee, though we journey far