My old high school was built around a swimming pool in the middle of a public park in St. Catharines, Ontario. This year, it will go back to seed as its doors close after 40 years.
Takes me back. I was part of the second year of West Park, a tough little school with a bad reputation.
The school was located on Western Hill, a pretty rough part of town. On the other side of the tracks were high schools like Denis Morris and Sir Winston Churchill which graduated famous folks like supermodel Linda Evangelista and CTV's Roger Smith. On our side of the tracks, kids got shipped off to the military. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
The rumors were rife in town that girls had to carry switchblades in their purses to fend off hoods. I, myself, carried lip gloss, a comb and a wallet. To my knowledge, no one was ever gutted and found floating in the canal where our crews famously rowed on the Henley Regatta course. All I ever saw in those waters were Port Dalhousie whitefish (another story entirely).
While West Park did attract an assortment of characters, including one guy who grew his nails two feet long, it was just like any other high school. Its halls were filled with a mixture of city kids who grew up in a rough neighborhood and country bumpkins like myself who had to be bussed in every day. Think the American south, and we were the black kids.
Because it was a new school, most of our teachers weren't much older than we were. As a result, there were lots of affairs and a couple of marriages. Nobody thought anything about this at West Park, but then nobody thought much about the drama teacher who overdosed on pills and fell down the stairs. Or the gym teacher who dressed like a wooly mammoth.
We didn't have a band but we did have an audio-visual club run by Dennis Tuff who was solely responsible for getting the heads out of the asses of a number of boys, all of whom went on to make something of themselves. Dennis was a legend at West Park having barely survived a car accident when he tried to avoid hitting a dog. The dog was fine but Mr. T. spent months on the mend.
At West Park, we did things differently. Instead of having a glossy yearbook, we put out a shitty one with ghostly photos and weird typeface. That is because the students made the yearbook from scratch, including doing their own printing. That's why it was so awful but that was also why it was so cool. Mr. Graham Smith was responsible for giving kids the chance to try and fail. And they failed spectacularly.
Like most schools in our day, we had great dances. There were no deejays or rappas back then. Just heavy metallers like Crowbar and folkies like Valdy schlepping themselves around trying to make a buck. Our student body was a bipolar collective with half the kids dropping acid while the rest of us made homemade halter dresses.
Because many of our teachers were weirdos, we learned a lot of stuff that wasn't on the curriculum. I'll never forget Mr. Eising who threw away the staid old history books and taught us about the plight of Canada's aboriginals from a sociological perspective. Ralph was such a great guy. I babysat for he and Nellie until they went off to live on a commune. I'd heard Ralph took his life many years ago. What a waste of a good mind.
I loved my school and had several mentors including Vaughan Osgan who is now my Facebook friend and who will, no doubt, be reading this. He still gives me shit on a regular basis about my pinko views and rails against political waste and corruption. Mr. O encouraged me to start a school newspaper he called The Daily Rag which was a combination of Madd magazine and Vanity Fair's Proust questionnaire.
Strange, I know, but you can imagine what a weird duck I was in high school. While other kids were off humping behind the gymnasium, I was rushing home to watch Dick Cavett.
I was one of the geeks, a kid who joined every club, who served coffee in the teacher's lounge, a brown noser to the enth degree. I wouldn't have had any friends at all if it weren't for the AV club where geek met freak and magic happened.
I can't say I miss high school, not one little bit, but I am disturbed that my school is being mothballed. Such a waste of an incredible space, swimming pool and all. I heard the school finally had a reunion on Saturday, to which I was not invited.
Still, the closing of a school is like having your house burn down. There is no place to go to visit your memories.
Oh well, RIP West Park, you old sod.
Kids will have to take drugs someplace else.