Changing of the guard as old Montague Regional High School is torn down
MONTAGUE — Norsemen have been going out in a blaze of glory since the days of Thor, but an old Viking here took a lot longer to fall.
For well over a month, the fortifications of the walled city have been attacked by a horde of yellow mechanical beasts that scaled the ramparts and left the fortress of education in ruin.
It was once the beat in the heart of the town, but now, the old regional high school, which opened in 1961 and graduated in the vicinity of almost 10,000 students, is but a heap of rubble.
It was officially closed in 2010 and replaced by a brand new $20 million regional facility on the outskirts of town.
“I know it’s just a building but as I drove by this week all I could see were the smiling faces from another time in my life,’’ said radio personality Kerri Wynne MacLeod. “It’s an important part of your life.”
Like thousands of others, MacLeod is a graduate of Montague High and honed her thespian skills while playing Diana in Anne of Green Gables in the theatre arts program so long ago. Countless others went on to excel in science, sports and business.
At one time, the “Home of the Vikings” was the largest school in the entire province with over 1,000 students and 55 teachers. Those kinds of numbers kept former guidance counsellor John Yeo busy.
“I can remember one student telling me her goal was to marry and have eight children and another one who planned a career in physics,’’ recalled Yeo. “When I met them years later, they both had accomplished their goals.”
When Montague Regional opened in 1961, rural electrification was still snaking its way through to regional farms and villages, indoor plumbing was still a new invention and riding in the big yellow bus was sweet. Competition between towns and villages was fierce and while town teams were named Norsemen, school teams were, and still are, dubbed Vikings.
“My fondest memory was being the 140-pound quarterback of the league’s most anemic offence possible,” recalls former student Doug MacLean of his early 1970s gridiron glory.
“The highlight of my career was being carried off the football field on the shoulders of my teammates during a season ending loss in Summerside after scoring our only touchdown for the entire six game schedule.”
Former vice principal Lyman Douglas spent 42 years at the old school where a new wing was added in the late 1960s and a vocational extension was built in the early 1980s.
“My greatest memories are of all the kids,’’ he said. “They were fantastic, we had a lot of fun and I just loved going to work.”
Like teachers who echoed similar sentiments, so did a litany of former students who took everything from art and science to shop and auto repair. The general consensus was English teacher, the late Evelyn MacLure, was not only great, but tough.
“Kids just loved to pass in sex-related questions at family studies class and wait for Ms. MacCannell to answer,’’ recalled former student Janice MacBeth.
“And there was nothing more threatening than Mr. (Alan) Hubley’s (principal) voice calling your name over the PA to come to the office.”
“I can remember one student telling me her goal was to marry and have eight children and another one who planned a career in physics. When I met them years later, they both had accomplished their goals.” John Yeo, former guidance counsellor for Montague Regional High School
Musician Norman Stewart says attending a dance to hear Sam Moon and Matt Minglewood was a highlight.
“But if you missed the school bus in the River in the '70s, you stuck out your thumb.”
Former teacher Hugh MacDonald, a poet laureate of P.E.I., said musical theatre was huge at the school and attracted hundreds of young people who, like Chuckie Arsenault (Barachois), Kerri Wynne MacLeod, Nancy Beck and Roy Fraser, carried on such endeavours.
“There are hundreds of us who still carry brilliant memories of those days and many whose lives were positively affected by them.”
Former student Jayne Ings lived right next to the school, so it was part of her neighbourhood.
“It was part of the community ... all those concerts, banquets, political rallies, festivals, and dances. The school was a venue for so many events for everyone,” she said. “I wish more things like shelves and desks hadn’t ended up as scrap ... heck, my name was likely carved into a few!”
The cost of the demolition permit from the town to take the old building down over the past month was $35,000.
“It was a great school that just got worn out and dated,’’ said Mayor Richard Collins, a former student and school board trustee, whose two children are graduates. “Once cleaned up we’ll have a 16-acre piece of prime property in down town Montague with a bright future ahead.”