They're tearing down my old high school in Sault Ste. Marie. I've been following the process in bits and pieces over the last while, through news coverage shared by hometown friends and family members on social media. First, there was an auctioning off of the building's inside contents, then a poignant aerial video of the empty building set to Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me (sniff, sniff), and finally, this week, a photograph of the south wing of the school, its heart now exposed to the elements through the force of heavy machinery. Watching the building near its end has been an emotional sucker punch for me, and apparently also for the many other former students who have left nostalgic comments under the news posts. I found my inner self frantically yelling, "Wait!" when I realized that the demolition process had already begun, and there was no way of going back.
I transferred to Sir James Dunn C&VS at the beginning of my grade eleven year. It took a lot of effort and some really sound arguments for me to convince my parents to allow me to switch from the all girls Catholic school I had attended in grades nine and ten; they wanted to be sure I wasn't transferring schools just because many of my closest friends were doing so. They held me to my initial decision to attend "the Dunn" even after all of my friends changed their minds last minute and transferred to the co-ed Catholic school instead. I arrived there knowing only a few fellow students, and feeling as though I had something important to prove.
At the Dunn, bolstered by a new-found confidence necessary for my situation, I stepped out of the shadows and flourished. My memories of the three years I spent there are rich ones, filled with warmth and positivity. There was the locker I shared with my aunt Christina, and the way we liked to surprise our teachers with our unusual family story when we ended up in classes together. A quirky French teacher who was so enthusiastic about his subject he liked to jump on desks sometimes, and an English teacher who tried jovially all semester to stump me by finding a word I couldn't spell. (He couldn't.) Hours spent happily engaged with other enthusiastic students to plan and deliver a leadership conference for teens in our region. Parking my Dad's trusty silver truck along the school's back lane when he kindly let me borrow it on cold or rainy days. Lunch breaks spent sitting in the sunny catwalk, talking and laughing with friends, and cheerful spares passed doing Calculus homework in the library in a small, close-knit group. Most affecting of all, mourning the sudden loss of a smart, vibrant, wonderful friend who died after an accident in our OAC year, and the very moving honour of being presented with an award in her memory by her father (my Chemistry teacher) at graduation. (I still keep in touch with him today.)
We all have our carefully kept stories from the days we spent in high school, our challenging and triumphant moments that were key to who and what we became during important growing up years. It should be irrelevant whether the building -- a simple collection of metal, concrete, wood, glass -- still stands or not if our memories remain. And yet, a physical building gives a comforting weight to those memories; it anchors our fleeting past to our present. A building is a place we can go back to for reassurance that what we remember from all those years ago was real. A building testifies, like the letters carved into a high school desk, that at a moment in time, we were here.
I wish that I had known my old school was going to be demolished the last time I was home. I would have gone to peer in its windows one last time, to see if its rooms would have revealed any forgotten memories that I could have then tucked away more safely. I know I won't be alone in feeling a real sense of loss when that lot soon stands empty.