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I.E. Weldon at 50

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One of the most famous stories in human history involves the people of ancient Israel crossing the River Jordan and entering the Promised Land (in today’s Middle East). Originally recorded in the Hebrew Bible, this story was alluded to by the writer of “The New Jerusalem” — an address given at Lindsay Collegiate & Vocational Institute on June 8, 1971.

This address (which resides today in the collection of the Victoria County Historical Society), likens students at overcrowded LCVI to the ancient Israelites crossing a river and entering the promised land, the New Jerusalem, “a city set on a hill” — that is, the newly completed I.E. Weldon Secondary School, which in 2021 marks its 50th anniversary.

The imagery invoked in that address was apt, for conditions at LCVI were not ideal by the late 1960s, when the student population outgrew the aged Victorian structure and had many decision makers looking at the feasibility of constructing a second high school elsewhere in Lindsay.

As anyone who attended LCVI during that time can attest, the rhythm of school life was unusual to say the least. “When I first went to LCVI to teach in 1968, we were running three shifts,” recalls Doug Brenner, who went on to teach mathematics at Weldon.

A rotation of four classes for part of the student population occurred from 8:10 a.m. through 2:30 p.m.; another four were in session from 11:15 a.m. through 5:25 p.m. Upper-year students were kept to regular hours. Logistical challenges involved in busing out-of-town students meant that those who were saddled with the later timetable lived in Lindsay proper, and sometimes got home after dark. (“Two kind teachers, Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Jung, stayed behind and coached us in sports,” remembers one of my aunts, who was enrolled at LCVI during those hectic years.)

Described by the astutely observant reporter Ford Moynes as “modernistic almost to the extreme,” and officially opened on Nov. 30, 1971, the new building was named in honour of Isaac Ernest Weldon (1873-1962), a philanthropically-minded Lindsay lawyer who believed strongly in the value of public education. The student population in 1971-72 consisted of some 740 students, with a staff of just under 50 — a far cry from the ratio of 1,800 students to 100-plus staff at LCVI only a few years before. “It was a real relief when the new school opened,” Brenner observes.

For Barb Abercrombie, née Gill, who spent Grade 12 at Weldon in that first year, moving to a new school was a very liberating experience. “We felt very free,” she says of the fresh start that erstwhile LCVI students had in Weldon’s spacious new corridors, classrooms and cafeteria. “I got to know a whole new group of kids.” By the time Abercrombie was in Grade 13, she and her fellow students had — like their counterparts at LCVI — exclusive access to a common room. Here, in addition to socializing over games of euchre, they followed the progress of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union with rapt attention.

Jack Staples, Weldon’s mild-mannered principal from 1971 through 1975, wrote in his inaugural yearbook address that “A new school begins without traditions. Some of the things we shall do this year will become traditional in the I.E. Weldon School.” One of those traditions, which immediately set Weldon apart from LCVI, involved the graduation ceremony.

“Graduation was always held in June, [unlike LCVI’s October ceremony] right from the beginning,” says Brenner. In some years, the ceremony was held in the cooler environs of the Ops Township Community Centre. “We moved chairs and tables out to Ops and stacked them in the arena,” Brenner recalls.

Another tradition that got underway in that opening school year was Antics. Featuring music from Anne of Green Gables, comedic routines and gymnastics demonstrations, the 1972 production set the stage for a much-loved tradition. Originally staged in February, Antics has for the past several years taken place in April — a month this proud LCVI graduate will forever associate with Weldon.

Why?

Four and five years ago this month, respectively, I had the wonderful opportunity to work as a historical consultant with Weldon’s talented dramatic arts and creative writing students on a series of theatrical productions staged during the centenary of the First World War, and the sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation. Many pleasant hours were spent in rehearsal with these brilliant young people and their teachers as we collaborated to bring local history to life.

Said the editorial team of the school’s yearbook in 1972, “I.E. Weldon has started a tradition whereby school becomes not just a building down the road where you learn, but where action and participation are linked with spirit to make it a place to enjoy.” Such was the feeling I got in my brief encounters with Weldon’s indomitable spirit in 2016 and ’17 — a spirit that has sustained it for half a century and will surely carry it forward for another 50 years.

Ian McKechnie is a graduate of Trent University and a lifelong resident of Lindsay. He presently works as a freelance writer and researcher, undertaking projects both for the museum in Lindsay and other organizations. Ian writes regularly on issues of cultural and historical significance.

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