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FOCUS ON EDUCATION (APRIL 2017): A little Oola, a lot of Boola

April 10th, 2017 · No Comments

Harbord Collegiate celebrates 125 years

PHOTO BY NEILAND BRISSENDEN: A handmade, felt-covered photo album from 1909 sits in the Harbord Collegiate Institute museum, the first of its kind in Canada. Titled The Brownies at Harbord by Simple Simon, it features a caption reading “The Greatest Truths are the Simplest/And so are the Greatest Men”.

By Annemarie Brissenden

There will be a little bit of Oola and a whole lot of Boola when Harbordites gather later this month to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Harbord Collegiate Institute. Opened in 1892, it’s the third oldest school in the Toronto District School Board, something alumni are quick to tell you should you ask about its history.

They’ll also tell you about three things: it was a haven of diversity long before multiculturalism was even a word, it faithfully honours its alumni who served in the First and Second World Wars, and Wayne and Shuster got their start there in the legendary Oola Boola Club.

“The school for me was an opportunity for the child of an immigrant to be educated in Canada. It’s a symbol of what Canada became. It started at Harbord Collegiate, with immigrant children from all over the world”—Murray Rubin (class of 1950)

The pair were part of the club, founded in 1932 by teacher Charles Girdler, who recruited students to perform sketch comedy and raise money to pay for stage curtains for the school’s new auditorium.

“To this day, the Oola Boola Club remains a legend among alumni,” writes India Anamanthadoo in the June 2013 issue of The Harbordite, a newsletter for those connected to the school. “Its hysterical, skillful, and even irrational antics left an imprint on the minds of students and staff alike.”

Frank Shuster had met Johnny Wayne two years earlier in a Grade 10 history class, when Wayne sat right behind Shuster. Syd Moscoe, in the December 2012 Harbordite, said, “I flinch when I think what life must have been like for the teacher.”

Such memories have been kept alive thanks to its dedicated alumni. The Harbord Club welcomes all staff, students, and former students connected to the school. It helps with the school museum — the first of its kind in Canada — and is organizing the anniversary celebration.

“The amazing thing about Harbord is its long-standing connection with alumni in the community,” says Vincent Meade, the school’s principal. “Long after graduating, they keep committing their time and resources to the school.”

“I have spent more years at Harbord than not,” laughs teacher Belinda Medeiros-Felix, who is also a Harbord Club director and a member of the class of 1981. The school was renovated during her time as a student, so she “entered a very old, old, building, and graduated out of a new building, which is now old.”

She says her teachers had a great impact on her life, so much so that some attended her wedding.

Recent graduate Nicolas Zuniga (class of 2011) agrees.

“I had a number of great teachers when I was there, and that made it a great experience.”

He’s less connected to the school’s history, but does recognize the importance of Remembrance Day at Harbord, noting “people did their sacrifices for what they believe in”.

“There were an enormous amount of men and at least two nurses that we know of who gave their lives,” says Daniel Leblanc, who volunteers in the museum and teaches a class on archives and local history.

Meade adds that alumni come in to speak about their experience on Remembrance Day, and the history department brings Grade 10 classes down to the archive room.

“After four years, students have a sense of the legacy and why that’s important.”

There are also the two monuments honouring Harbord students who perished in the First and Second World wars standing sentry outside the school. Alumni, led by Murray Rubin (class of 1950), paid to restore the first and install the second.

“It’s the only Second World War monument in Toronto at a school,” says Rubin. “We raised a lot of money from alumni, and now provide scholarships and bursaries for the students. It happens in private schools all the time, not as much in public schools.”

He says he loved his time at Harbord.

“The school for me was an opportunity for the child of an immigrant to be educated in Canada. It’s a symbol of what Canada became. It started at Harbord Collegiate, with immigrant children from all over the world.”

Rubin attended Harbord in what Leblanc says was the school’s heyday: the late 1940s.

“It was the Jewish push right after the Holocaust,” explains Leblanc. “So many students had lost extended family overseas. This became their family, and it shows in the love for their school.”

“You had a lot of first generation immigrants, a lot of Jewish students,” adds John Fulford, whose son goes to Harbord. “They came from similar backgrounds, lived in small homes. Their parents wanted to make sure they had better than they had.”

Rubin says his classmates did very well in school, and because he looked up to them, he knew he had to do so as well.

“The spirit in the school was pervasive. The teachers liked the school because kids did well and they worked hard.”

And now those kids have had kids who are enrolling in Harbord.

“We have generations of Harbordites,” says Meade, including the next Rubin generation.

“My daughter moved into the area, and my grandson is going to Harbord this year,” says Rubin. “That makes me feel so good.”

Harbord Collegiate Institute celebrates its 125th anniversary from April 28 to 30. .

Some notable Harbordites

  • Charles Best
  • Frank Gehry
  • Stanley Grizzle
  • Royson James
  • Stephen Lewis
  • Rosario Marchese
  • Joe Pantalone
  • Harry Rosen
  • Morley Safer
  • Sam Shopsowitz
  • Sam Sniderman
  • Garfield Weston


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Harbord C.I. connects with history (April 2017)

CHATTER: Decade rooms, formal gala, and talent shows to mark Harbord Collegiate’s 125th anniversary (March 2017)

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: A long history of activism (February 2017)

NEWS: Celebrating pink at Harbord Collegiate Institute (May 2016)

Reflections on 32 years of service (August 2014)

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