On March 19, 2000 a Canadian family suffered a horrifying
loss, when their 15 year-old daughter died suddenly from complications
resulting from a popular prescription drug.
Terence H. Young is currently a federal member of
parliament in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.He initiated what turned out to be a unrelenting battle against the
pharmaceutical industry which lasted 8 years.
Former CCVS graduate and resident of Cornwall,
writer Charles Wilkins is grateful that he saved a shoebox of notes
highlighting his summer job the foundation for his newly released memoir
entitled: “In the Land of Long Fingernails- A Gravedigger’s Memoir.”
It’s a rare occurrence when a high school has been around since 1806, so Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School has decided to pull out all the stops for its 200th birthday celebration. The record shows that CCVS is the longest serving educational institution in Ontario, and one of the few, perhaps the only high school in Canada which will publish a book to commemorate the occasion.
When the Steering Committee started the huge task of planning for the reunion over two years ago, the Upper Canada District School Board decided to make the celebration memorable. And to do that, they commissioned seasoned writer and former CCVS graduate Charles Wilkins to head the project. As it turns out he has done a compelling and fascinating job in depicting decades of life at the school.
Dubbed “CC200, A Memoir of Voices,” Wilkins has interviewed a cross section of former students and staff from the school. These people are the “voices” which tell their own CCVS story.
Understandably, the first century of history at CCVS, the 1800’s, is long past, so the book relies upon existing research from the early days until the beginning of the 20th century. It was Reverend John Strachan, a 21-year-old Scottish immigrant, who opened the school on Second Street in 1806 in Cornwall. What many people may not realize is that the original one-room school educated a handful of students who came to Cornwall from all over Ontario. In the early days education was only available to the elite who could afford to pay, and Cornwall was where their education started.
Local historian Denis Carter Edwards has provided much of the research for this era.
However, from the 1920’s until the present, we are treated with recollections from people still living, and at this juncture the book takes on a life of its own.
Mary Stewart, a former student and teacher at CCVS, and one of 35 people interviewed for the book, was a student in the 20’s and went on to become a teacher. She recalls the anguish that was felt by students and staff when, for example, in 1944 it was announced on the PA system that former CCVS students had lost their lives fighting overseas in WW2. The loss of life was a constant worry each day at the school.
Another former student in his 90's, Nick Kaneb, gives the reader a look at the life of students going to CCVS during the depression. Scarcity of just about everything caused students to pitch in and help one another, much like people do today when there’s an ice storm or they’re raising money for charity.
Ed Baker recalls the earthquake of 1944 and the closure of CCVS when he was a student, and the subsequent adventure of picking potatoes at Holland Marsh during that fall. One of his disappointments was that there were no pretty girls working in the fields alongside the boys. Classes at CC resumed in the fall after the earthquake damage was repaired.
The decades following the war brought peace of mind and a newfound affluence to western society. These changes reflected themselves in life at the school, and in a swelling student population that reached 1,800 students at CC by the early 60’s. The demand for new teachers was so great that former principals like the late Irwin Coulthart travelled overseas to hire them.
In the 80’s and 90’s CCVS continued to flourish by changing and adapting to the times. Under the helm of principal Bill Roddy, CCVS added innovative Arts programming and the school became the focus for drama, instrumental and vocal music, as well as food services programming and special education.
Throughout the book there are numerous anecdotes to be savoured: teenage antics at CC including the release of white rats during a student assembly, a student-teacher altercation, sports stories, cadet dance memories, a valedictorian’s address which questioned the educational system, and much, much more.
The book’s strengths lie in the honesty and sincerity of individual contributors, and their willingness to share their personal stories and memories, sharing the same emotions they would have felt decades ago. The reader is drawn into the book as one would be in a private conversation.
The long and short of things is that “CC200- Memoir of Voices” is a story as much about life in Cornwall as it is about CCVS. The school has always been a cornerstone of the community; until 1950 it was the ‘only’ high school in Cornwall, whereas today it has become a senior high school in UCDSB, and a microcosm of our multicultural mix in Canada.
The book is rich in period photographs and illustrations from the various decades. Local book designer Lesley Ellam has done a wonderful job in adding creative touches and making the book a pleasure to read.
“CC200- A Memoir of Voices” may be purchased at CCVS during Reunion Weekend at the cost of $25, taxes included. Copies may also be purchased on the CCVS Reunion website at http://www.ccvs200.ca/