Park Street Collegiate Institute a hero of a school
I recently learned about the coming demise of Park Street Collegiate Institute at the end of the school year. I was a student at Park and was moved by the news to write a short piece.
Park Street: our alma mater, the hero of our high-school days.
Well, Park Street certainly was my hero when I took my first tentative steps into its hallowed halls Sept. 4, 1973. I arrived wide-eyed and fresh from the country, like so many other farm kids. Park was less than affectionately known as “Pig Street” by the kids at Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute due to our high number of rural students. Of course, we had our own honorific for them, but I wouldn’t learn about that for a few weeks. There were just two things on my mind when school started that day: How could I possibly remember a six-day schedule and just who was I going to be in this brave, new world?
Unlike a lot of us, I had a great time in high school. I was the seventh of eight young Hares to attend Park Street and I’d heard a lot about it. I was enthralled by the idea of moving from room to room for various subjects, each class introducing me to new faces. I signed up for student council. I participated in assemblies (a highlight being my role as Sonny to my pal Roberta’s Cher and being carried offstage by her and our “daughter,” Chastity, played by another friend, Anne). I joined the theatre arts club and was in the chorus of Oliver (alongside future theatre stars Ray Storey and Hume Baugh).
For me, Park Street was a whole new beginning, a chance to reinvent myself. And that’s a lesson that stayed with me.
Park Street was my hero. I arrived there a pimply 15-year-old with lousy self-esteem and left five years later a slightly less pimply 19-year-old with a good start to understanding myself as a young man. My career as an artist was inspired by Jose Salas, a brilliant teacher and one of my earliest mentors. After graduating, I returned to the school at the end of each of my three years at Sheridan College to show his students my work. I had many wonderful teachers, met friends who are part of my life today and made memories that will stay with me forever.
The bricks and mortar that are Park Street Collegiate Institute will soon be gone. But the stories, the memories and the life lessons that are Park Street, our alma mater, will live on for generations.