If attendance is a barometer of success, then the last open house at Alberni District Secondary School was a resounding success.
More than 1,000 former students attended the Old School Celebration on Saturday at the high school.
“I’m not surprised, not surprised at all that this many people showed up for this,” event organizer Brian Laviolette said.
The event was between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and offered a chance for the public to tour the school one last time, see some displays and reminisce.
The foot traffic in the school was steady all day but was heaviest after 11 a.m., Laviolette said.
The year book display spanning five decades in ‘Eyeball Alley’ was the most popular attraction, he said. “The hallway became a bottleneck and was tough to manoeuvre through sometimes.”
Whether you went to the school in 1952 or 2002, people still displayed strong ties to the school. “Generally people were emotional to some extent, especially when they saw classmates they hadn’t seen since they graduated,” Laviolette said.
In the main hallway, Ramona Gus (Taylor), and Ed Bayne, 79, moved gingerly about the school’s hallways, each using a walker.
Gus, 83, and Bayne are members of the school’s first graduating class from 1952, a year after ADSS opened at its Burde Street location.
“They couldn’t really talk to each other because they’re both hard of hearing now,” Gus’ daughter Pam said.
Tseshaht by descent, Gus remembers two other aboriginal graduates from that period of time: Hugh Alton Watts and James Gallic.
Bayne moved slowly with his walker but memories quickly came to mind as he trundled the halls.
“The old place still looks in pretty good shape to me so I don’t know why they’d consider tearing it down,” he said.
The school was brand new when Bayne and other high school students moved from the army camp by what is now Bob Dailey Stadium to the “new” ADSS on Burde Street.
“The inside was new and nice, and the place was like a castle when I first walked inside,” Bayne said.
The interior was nice but the exterior left something to be desired, he said. “We never had any kind of grounds yet or a field for sports,” he said.
Every kid has a group of friends they hang out with in high school and Bayne rattled the names of his group off: Herb Battoru, Ron Gray, Claude Schick, Dave Williams, and Jane Miller.
“I remember them all just like it was yesterday,” Bayne said. “I’m ready to cry.”
After graduation, Bayne went on to serve in the Canadian Airforce for 15 years. Afterward, he worked as a commissionaire then operated a small business before retiring in the Fraser Valley after he started to lose his hearing. He came back to Port Alberni after his brother passed away and has remained.
“I only saw a couple of people I went to school with today; I wish I saw more,” Bayne said.
June Pedersen (Andrews) graduated with the class of 1955. She dressed in her school jacket and pinned on her original student card.
“I remember playing basketball, that was my favourite thing, and that I made my own grad dress in home economics class,” she said.
“Today was like one big class reunion.”
Old friendships renewed were a common theme throughout the day. But some friendships remained unbroken, even across decades.
Maurice Jones, Marilyn Erickson (Blake), Joan Dyson (Rakes), Liz Geiger (Crozier), Nancy Lyon (Robinson), and Carol Jones (Squires) are members of the ADSS class of 1956.
All came to Port Alberni specifically for the Old School Celebration.
The group went to school at the army camp then moved to Burde Street where kids had already been going for a couple of years.
“There were no middle schools then so the school was Grade 8-12,” Geiger said. “We were the first group of Grade 8’s.”
The group walked about ADSS together on Saturday, spending the last few minutes in the quiet of the auditorium beneath the red glow of the ceiling lights.
“It’s sad that the theatre may have to go because it’s a very special place, there’s so many memories there,” Geiger said.
The school wasn’t just part of the community, but instead was a community unto itself, former students recalled.
Graduation ceremonies were held in the ADSS auditorium then, something the ladies remembered in particular.
“I remember graduation in the school’s auditorium, walking down the aisle trying not to trip while wearing high heels,” Dyson said.
The group spread out after graduation, going to school, working, marrying and having families. However, they’ve remained close over the years.
They’ve had 10, 30, 40, 45, 50, and 56th reunions, and they try to have lunch together in the spring and fall. “We’ll even have lunch in Chemainus and have a pyjama party afterward,” Geiger said.
After graduation, Maurice Jones moved to Vancouver where he worked for MacMillan Bloedel. He earned an accountancy designation, a profession he worked at until he retired.
Today, he lives in North Vancouver but makes it to Port Alberni from time to time.
“Our group remained friends for a long time and we are very close,” Jones said. “There’s four others who live in Vancouver who I’m friends with that I’m having lunch with tomorrow.”
The next school celebration will be when the new school opens on Roger Street, Brian Laviolette said.