Last evening, the halls of E.T. Carmichael Public School were filled with generations of alumni, all gathered for one more stroll down memory lane. With the school set to close its doors forever following this semester, the neighbourhood came out to celebrate the many memories created within those hallowed halls.
“There’s a whole lot of emotions going on,” said Shirley Scalise, the school’s secretary. From her small office near the front entrance, she’s kept an eye on everything for 18 years, and she’s seen many of the neighbourhood kids pass through those doors.
“It’s a special school, it really is.” She summed up what the hundreds of visitors were thinking – cars lined Chapais Street at least to Aberdeen – and for most, it was a bittersweet occasion. It’s sad to lose your elementary school, but most were looking forward to the opening of the new Maple View Public School.
Still, some worried the spirit of the school wouldn’t be the same as what they came to know of E.T. Carmichael.
It was a big evening of remembrance. School administrators went all out with a barbeque, live music, and the gym was packed with memories – photos crossing the decades, school trips, Halloweens, the big wins on the courts and fields, the Christmas spirit of all those years gone by.
There were jerseys and framed photos of every principal, a time capsule revealed, and old articles preserving highlights of the school’s achievements. Much of the collection was prepared for the school’s 50th anniversary, and a lot of that came from Scalise’s private collection.
She joked that once retired, she’s either going to become an archivist or a private investigator – keeping track of all those kids has taught her a trick or two.
“It you talk to parents, old and new, you’ll hear that there’s an aura about this place that stays year after year,” she said. “It really is special.”
Emma McQuarrie is one of those parents, a new one, her little girl Rosie is still a baby, so she won’t have the chance to attend like her mom. “I loved my time here,” she said, “and all my siblings went here. It’s nice to come back for all the memories and nostalgia, and I can show my husband who didn’t grow up here that this is where I went.”
The halls and classrooms were filled with similar people with similar stories, all taking another look at the old school hall.
Principal Jamey Byers was having a busy night talking with the guests. Although he’s only been at the school for two years, he felt right at home, and fortunate to become a part of the tradition. “It’s been a privilege.”
“It’s been such a community school, and seeing the people that are here, the generations of people that are here, is not surprising to me. It’s always been known as a very warm school with a wonderful staff.”
Tanya McCubbin agreed, sifting through a pile of photos in the gym she came upon one of herself, from a field trip to have a sleigh ride at Dr. Thorne’s place at Thibeault Hill. She also found a photo of her kids, also school alumni.
Her son came in from Ottawa for the reunion, and she mentioned her mom lived nearby, and she used to volunteer a lot with the school. “There was a lot of community spirit here,” she said. “A lot of the kids were from the neighbourhood, and we’d all walk to school together and play together outside of school.”
Lots of good memories? “Absolutely. It’s a wonderful little school. You can tell by all the people who are here.”
Mike Gauthier has taught at the school for over 20 years – good years – “and it’s sad to close down.” Also difficult was long-time colleague John Gould is retiring this year as well. Gauthier was grateful for the evening, because he got to reunite with many former students and their families. “One gentleman I met went here in the ‘60s, others from the ‘70s and ‘80s,” and he appreciated hearing the stories of the school’s history first-hand.
“It’s been nice to see all of their reactions to the old memorabilia,” including, of course, the mighty Cats logo emblazoned on the old jerseys. Gauthier himself helped design the last iteration of that symbol, and he hopes much of the memorabilia will find a spot in the new gym at Maple View – “bring a bit of the past with us as we start anew.”
“It’s important to have that history there,” he said, “it helps to build a new culture and atmosphere by remembering the past.”
Go Cats go, and a lot of those banners were won under Gauthier’s tutelage, “so I want to make sure they come with us” he joked.
“Schools are pieces of our community that are hard to replace,” said Principal Byers, “but time goes on, and there’s a brand-new school that’s been built for students here – Maple View Public School – and it’s going to be a great place as well.”
The night provided a welcome reunion for all and offered a look back at those halcyon days of elementary school. Although the loss of E.T. Carmichael is a difficult reality for some, Principal Byers offered some consoling words – “it’s the people in the building that make it what it is.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.