Where Are They Now?

Alan Tonks

Alan Tonks

I graduated from York Memorial in 1965 and after Teacher’s College volunteered to teach in Jamaica with the Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO). Upon my return from Jamaica, I had an interview with York but because I did not have a university degree, I was not successful in getting a position. I went home very disappointed but got a call from Scarborough who wanted me to show up the next day to interview for a position. They seemed to like my experience in Jamaica because of the influx of Jamaican kids into Scarborough and felt I would be an excellent fit. I started the next day. I stayed with Scarborough taking leaves of absence during my political career. In fact, while I was the Mayor of York, I took courses and graduated with my M.A. and M.Ed because I now had a real interest in taking advanced courses to better prepare me as an educator.

My first experience in politics was to run for Councillor in the City of York against Lloyd Sainsbury a fixture at that time, and a war veteran, who lived in the community for many years. I lost, but it was a learning experience. The next time I ran for municipal election was when Jim Trimbee, who was a Controller in York passed away, and I was elected. Later in my political career I was elected Mayor of the City of York, remained in that position for six years, then became Metropolitan Toronto Chairman, and after nearly ten years in that position, oversaw the transition for the amalgamated city. For two years I then chaired the Greater Toronto Services Board, ultimately running for Member of Parliament, in which position I have served for ten years.

Let me reflect on some memories of Memo. I did not start at YMCI but spent the first couple of years of high school at Upper Canada College. I lived in the area, always wanted to go to Memo and actually hung around with guys who went to the school so when I decided to make the switch, it seemed a natural transition. However, it was not so easy. My first day at the school, I arrived at the main office and was ushered into the Principal’s Office to meet with Principal Rutherford and Vice-Principal Barbour. They looked me up and down and the grilling started. "So you want to come to York?" (In retrospect, it didn’t occur to me that I lived in the school district and had the right to attend but in those days you didn’t challenge authority). "What makes you think that York is ready to take you?" (I was so taken with that discussion that I remember it to this day). I think they had a perception of this private school kid thinking that this would be easy and blessing the school with his presence! Of course, in those days authority and law and order were how things worked in schools. Doug Barbour took me down to Mrs. Scott’s English Homeroom in Room 105—and that was the beginning.

I always remember an incident in Mrs. Scott’s English class. The teacher had not yet arrived and the class was a little disruptive. Mr Rutherford was walking down the corridor and one of the students, Rick, made a loud derogatory comment about him. Mr. Rutherford put down his briefcase, came into the room and Rick immediately began leaping over desks, up on the radiator, and out the window! At that time there was a high iron picket fence around the school and with Mr Rutherford running down the backstairs, Rick was up and over that fence, [ as I recall with some assistance] and headed up the middle of Eglinton Avenue as fast as he could run! Mr. Rutherford came back into the class, who by this time had witnessed the entire event and was very subdued. After a moment, he simply announced, "that from this day forward that student is expelled." I don’t believe that Rick ever came back to the school again.

I remember the 1962 T.D.I.A.A. Football Championship team that I played on. This was one of the last times when the championship was really a city wide event. Funny what you remember. It was probably the regional game that was most memorable. We were losing and on the last play of the game, our quarterback Gary Bedel, threw a ‘Hail Mary’ to Dave Bince who made a great catch for a touchdown that got us into the final.

The structure of the school has changed a lot with the new addition added after I left. The main hall and second floor are really much the same. I remember ‘Bugsy’ Arnold’s biology room, Mr Kennedy’s history room, Mr Brubacher’s Latin room, and Mr Dunbar’s room where he taught accounting- at that time teachers pretty much had their own rooms and didn’t move from room to room. I remember being in ‘Danny’ Tompson’s chemistry class when he was writing furiously on the board with the Bunsen burner going full tilt nearby. He always wore that white smock and of course his sleeve caught on fire with Danny being oblivious to it all- until we set up enough of a commotion to bring it to his attention!

The basement has changed dramatically. We never went into the girls’ locker area and vice versa or entered the school through the doors, nor in fact did any students enter through the front doors of the school, the cafeteria was in the middle, with doors opening up into the two gyms that had balconies around them. The old pool is gone. We use to swim in the buff, dive off the windows until a teacher arrived-it was always cold. I remember when Ivars and Barry threw Fred Hall into the pool one day. For some reason I was marched up to the office with both of them to see Doug Barbour who was then the Principal. He was prepared to expel all of us but if we apologized he would look for another punishment which I did ‘for the group’ [since the others would have none of it!]. We received about 2 months of detentions!

When I was here, I was part of a band- actually there were three rock and roll bands at the time. We used to play at the dances in the gymnasium. At one of the Spirit Week assemblies we got dressed up as women- of course with all of the exaggerations you can imagine-to perform. Afterwards two of the teachers-Miss Bennett and Miss Adams- went to Doug Barbour to voice their displeasure at how we had ‘demeaned females’ etc. That never entered our minds and it was all in good fun. Doug Barbour took the position that we had not really intended to offend and didn’t think "we were at the point where we can censor under reasonable grounds". Mr. Barbour was tough but fair and always seemed to be able to see both sides of a story. When I look at ‘Principals’ Row’ today, it is interesting in the first 40 years there were only 3 Principals at the school. In those days, people were hired and seemed to stay in one school their entire careers.

The rotunda at this school continually humbles me. It is like the Parliament Buildings. The pictures of the service men who gave their lives, the stain glass windows- this is really a living memorial dedicated to the contribution of those who came before us and gave so much for this country.

For me, York Memorial has always been a cornerstone school- a bedrock school. Everyone in the community wanted to come here. It was always consistently relevant in terms of its curriculum and pedagogy in the midst of new initiatives and specialized schools built around the area. The enrollment has always been steady. Generation after generation have come through this school. People are always looking for stability in education and they continue to opt to come to York Memorial for that reason. I had a wonderful experience here that I will never forget, cherishing the memories, the teachers and students that helped to shape my character and values.