Two events occurred in the school year of 1972-73 that were of particular importance, one in the fall of ’72, which interested millions of Canadians and one in the winter of ’73, which interested only a few thousand East York and North York residents. Canada defeated the Soviet Union in the greatest hockey series of all time and 250 excited high school students ceremoniously marched across Overlea Boulevard to continue their high school education at what was then a brand new school – Overlea Secondary. A third high school in East York was born and who would have guessed that those humble beginnings would launch such a rich tradition in spirit and accomplishment?
The fall of ’73 was the first year of operation. A student population of 400 and 42 staff worked and played in a totally new environment. Spirit was very high. Who could forget a grueling bike-a-thon to Bruce’s Mill Conservation area-20 miles against a brisk northwest wind in which teachers and students biked together, lunched together and shared sore muscles together. That year 20 students were the very first to use Sheldon Valley on a weekend to view a less than spectacular comet. Sports teams (football, basketball, volleyball, badminton) started right away – our track and table tennis teams were especially dominant in the early years. And did you know we even had a hockey team back then?
In ’74 the House System was organized to fuel school spirit. The school population was divided into four houses (based on mythical characters) – Pegasus, Perseus, Centaurus and Orion. Competition between the houses was fierce – both academically and athletically. With our present population we would have to expand our house system into a hotel system! On November 1, our first Commencement was held. Those few graduates would mark the beginning of a long list of successful careers. Graduates have excelled in all fields and continue to do so.
By 1975, Overlea had grown into a dynamic, accomplished school. International Night was in full swing. Athletic teams flourished (wrestling appeared briefly) and Theatre Arts began a short series of theatrical productions. The golden years were upon us. We even managed to book Casa Loma for our first prom.
An exchange of principals, a growing student population, successes academically, socially and athletically – the times were good at Overlea Secondary School during the late seventies. The Biology Club emerged as a popular club, taking students to exotic places such as Algonquin and Rondeau Provincial Parks. Our concert band was big and good: dramatic plays continued thrilling audiences; sports teams thrived (the 4X100 boys relay team were city champs in ’76 and the senior girls basketball team were city finalists in 1979) and the house system continued to breathe spirit and enthusiasm into the Overlea experience. We even had a student radio station (CKOS) in the cafetorium back then. Our students dominated math competitions during those years. (Our junior math team placed third in all of Canada in 1977.) Dances were enjoyed by everyone. “O Days” pitted house against house in such arduous competitions as hoola-hoop (remember them) twirling. Intramural sports were popular then – who can forget bruising floor hockey games in the upper gym – now a weight trainer’s sanctuary. We were Overlea Educated!
In the early eighties, a new principal, Mr. Hendershot, arrived and liked it so much he stayed. The house system was abandoned, but our clubs flourished. Multicultural leadership groups emerged. A tenth year reunion occurred at the Ontario Science Center. Athletic success (the table tennis team were Ontario Champions in 1987) equaled academic success. By 1986, the winds of change started to blow. The Red Apple Daycare Center opened and rumors persisted that Overlea Secondary School would undergo a drastic transformation.
On October 16 1987, the school was reborn as Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute! A new enrichment program, TOPS, was created to challenge students interested in pursuing careers in mathematics, science, computers, communications and technology. To support the new curriculum, a school advisory board of key leaders in business and industry was established. Such partnerships developed many unique opportunities for students and staff. For example: links to the Canadian Space Agency and Dr. Marc Garneau have led to the creation of the first Space Resource Center in Canada at MGCI. Students have visited many NASA sites to learn more about space and conducted space micro gravity experiments on NASA’s Space Shuttle and KC-135 aircrafts. With SPAR Aerospace and Discovery Channel, students developed a model of the Canadian robot, the SSRMS.
The traditions of excellence continued at MGCI with its students and staff winning several prestigious awards including the first Province of Ontario Science and Technology Award (Roberta Bondar Award), the Exemplary Practice in Integration Award for Special Education, The Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence and several academic achievements highlighted by a first-place finish in Canada for mathematics by one of our grade nine students. As a well-rounded school we excelled in many areas with notable achievements in drama (Sears Festival), International Marketing (DECA), athletics (championship teams) and technology (animation and design awards).
Since the 25th anniversary reunion, the school has seen good and bad times. Labour disputes resulted in two strikes resulting in extracurricular activities being shut down for many months. Despite this upheaval, the Garneau spirit survived and academic excellence flourished. In the past five years seven national scholarships were awarded to students from our school. DECA conferences, winter camping and Algonquin field trips are some of the highlights in a busier than ever school environment. The school population has grown to more than 1800 students – and yes, portables are back.
But even after all these changes the words of our first valedictorian seem prophetic, “We are like a big family … this is a very personal school.” The school has undergone many changes since that first walk in 1973, but over the many years, the thousands of students who have passed through its doors will remember the education, friends and the wonderful experiences that were part of the Overlea/Marc Garneau tradition. Here’s to the next 40 years! See you at the reunion!