By Jessica Lovell
Backstage of Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute’s auditorium sits a rather large, but rather unremarkable bell. Looks can be deceiving.
The bell is one of the high school’s older relics – dating from 1879, when it would have resided in a belfry, says GCVI Alumni Association president Bob Hohenadel. He wants to see the bell have a place of prominence again on the school grounds, where it could be safely kept but could be viewed every day. “On commencement and special occasions, you could open it up and ring it,” he says.
The school bell restoration project is just one of a number of projects on the Alumni Association’s wish list, but it will take money to tackle the project.
Money is at least part of the reason the association is hosting a 160th anniversary celebration for the school. “We’re trying to come up with ways to have a social, raise some money and have fun,” says Hohenadel.
The festivities, which take place on May 23 and 24, will also be a celebration of the school’s rich history.A graduate of the school in the 1970s, Hohenadel considers himself an amateur historian when it comes to Guelph CVI.
He knows, for example, that it was once known as Guelph Collegiate Institute, and that the older portion of the building was never part of the original school that opened on the site in 1854.
The current “old” building was completed in 1926.
“There are 90-year-old grooves in the stairways,” says Hohenadel, musing on the countless feet that have tread those stairs over the decades.
The “old” building and the “new” addition that was added in the 1960s replaced an 1879 stone building. Stones from the archway of the older building were buried in the courtyard, but were unearthed by students in the ’80s. They were reconstructed to create a ceremonial entrance to the auditorium.
Some other interesting aspects of the old building: The spot where the library now sits was once a pool. But an underground stream that flows under the school caused the pool to crack.
“They filled it in and turned it into a rifle range,” says Hohenadel. “They used to go down in the basement and shoot. I can’t imagine it, really.”
But it’s not just the building that is interesting. The school also boasts a long line of famous alumni, including John McCrae, George Sleeman, tenor Edward Johnson and children’s author Jean Little.
Their stories, and a long list of others, make up the Wall of Fame, an Alumni Association-sponsored project that lines one of the old hallways.
Other projects that the association has been involved in are the restoration of old trophies, maintaining old scholarship bursaries and historic plaques.
“We’re trying to raise funds for Alumni Association projects which are permanent additions to the school,” Hohenadel says.
If the football team needs new uniforms, the Alumni Association cannot help, but it wants to support lasting school projects, such as the current historic stone and wrought iron arch.
The arch is currently under construction outside of the school. It is meant to commemorate the 160th anniversary. The hope is that alumni who attend the upcoming anniversary celebrations will also want to contribute to the projects.
The Alumni Association is also looking for other contributions – things like school sweaters, old yearbooks and photos – that can become a part of the school’s archives and can be used for the celebrations.
The event will feature a golf tournament on May 23 at the Ariss Golf and Country Club, followed by a ’40s and ’50s Decade Dinner.
Those who attended the school in those decades seem to be the most active alumni, says Hohenadel.
On Saturday May 24, celebrations continue with an open house event at the school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It will feature “decade rooms” highlighting some of the local history and pop culture of the times. It will also be a chance to share some memories, says Hohenadel. More memories will be shared that evening at a 7 p.m. social at the Ariss Valley Golf and Country Club.
Hohenadel hopes to see some of the older alumni there to hear their stories before they are gone.
“Soon they’ll be gone and those memories will be gone, too,” he says.
Part of the reason for holding this type of reunion event is not just to celebrate the school, but to hold onto important pieces from its past, he says. “Preserving the ideals and traditions of the school – that’s what this is about,” he says.
At 160 years on the same site, GC, as it’s often called, is one of the oldest schools in Ontario and is the oldest school in Wellington County, says Hohenadel.