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Central Tech celebrates 100 years

July 31st, 2015 · 1 Comment

Once the largest school of its kind in the British Empire

Central Technical School has been known for its unique training programs throughout its history. Above, students in 1948 take a watchmaking class, the only one of its kind in Canada. Photo courtesy CTSAA

Central Technical School has been known for its unique training programs throughout its history. Above, students in 1948 take a watchmaking class, the only one of its kind in Canada.
Photo courtesy CTSAA

By Annemarie Brissenden

Central Technical School, or “Tech” as it is known to staff, students, and alumni, has always played a unique role in Toronto’s public education system. When then-prime minister Robert Borden laid its cornerstone on Sept. 3, 1913, Tech was well on its way to becoming the largest technical educational institution in the British Empire.

Paid for solely by the citizens of Toronto, whose elected officials recognized that a modern city in an industrial age needed skilled labour to be successful, the school has prepared generations of students for careers in everything from visual arts to sports to skilled trades.

Now, a little over a century later, Tech’s alumni are not only preparing to celebrate that legacy, but are also raising money to ensure that it lasts well into the future.

“It is not just meeting someone you haven’t seen in 25 years, it is about getting in touch with school spirit and pride,” said Christine Ecclestone-McCurray, president of the Central Technical School Alumni Association (CTSAA). “It’s about bringing the graduates back so we can pay it forward.”

As George Homatidis, chair of the CTSAA’s 100th anniversary committee, explained, “the aim is for the alumni to start doing something for the school after the event: set up scholarships, bursaries.”

Homatidis, who graduated in 1966, was a student at the school during its 50th anniversary, and has fond memories of his time there. He also speaks highly of the education he received.

“I went to engineering at [the University of Toronto], and some of the equipment we had in our chem lab [at Tech] was comparable to or better than [what we had] at U of T,” he said.

Ecclestone-McCurray, who was a student at the school from 1987 to 1989, said that “graphic design and the things I learned [at Tech] helped with the discipline and art of design that you need in interior design”, her current profession.

The school’s connection to the art world goes back decades. Lawren Harris, a member of the Group of Seven, attended the school, and even came back to teach there. Ecclestone-McCurray’s grandmother was one of his lucky students, and was also taught by Arthur Lismer.

“Central Tech has a fantastic art program that is equivalent to an [Ontario College of Art and Design] experience,” explained the CTSAA president.

She described the school as a “respectful space”, where students always exhibited a “very helpful spirit”, something that, to her mind, remains the same.

“We were like that when I was there, and it is nice to see that that has not changed,” Ecclestone-McCurray said.

“You have a great support system at the school,” explained Helen Zhou, former student council president, who completed Grade 12 in June. “You never have to be afraid of crashing and burning.”

“It was just such a wonderfully supportive place,” said retired teacher Ellen Michelson. She taught a variety of subjects during her nearly 15-year tenure at the school, but for her, a critical part of the curriculum was helping students realize that they had the capacity to achieve great things.

“The first step was to lure them into showing up,” she said. “Some of these students have a history of failure; I had to show them that they could succeed.”

Michelson, who “loved teaching at Tech”, developed a rapport with her students.

“I had a bunch of skateboarders and would yell out the window when it was time for them to come in for English class,” she remembered fondly. “The kids were such an interesting bunch, and most were wonderfully motivated, because they had made the choice to be there.”

“Being at Tech allowed us to craft our own experience,” said Zhou. “With so many courses…at a school like this you choose your own path.”

Such diversity becomes apparent when one makes a cursory review of notable alumni: there are the expected football players and athletes like Olympic decathlete Michael Smith and boxer George Chuvalo, as well as artists Doris McCarthy, Lawren Harris, and Bruno Bobak, but there are also physicist Leon Katz, producer Sidney Newman, and political cartoonist Terry Mosher.

“One hundred is a big number,” noted Zhou. “A school like Tech being 100 is really a testament to how diverse and great the school is.”

Ecclestone-McCurray hopes the community will reconnect with that spirit during the festivities. She wants to remind people of “the fantastic education their children can get at Tech. The level of education gives these kids a chance to be very good professionals.”

After all, said Homatidis, “the school itself is really an institution.”

Central Technical School will celebrate its 100th anniversary with an open house and several events over the Oct. 16 weekend. For further information, or to make a donation, please visit www.ctsalumni.com.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Leo Darmitz // Aug 12, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Fantastic school!! The education I received there opened every door I knocked on after graduating in 1960.