A Century of North Toronto

Former North Toronto Collegiate Institute students Claude Chiasson, Frances Capon Irvin, and Nancy Cloff Mahan. Photos by Omar Mosleh.

For North Toronto Collegiate Institute alumna Nancy Cloff Mahan, it was worth the five-and-a-half-hour flight from California to attend the school’s 100th anniversary.

“I heard about it last year, and I knew it wasn’t going to be like 30 people, but more like 1,000 or 2,000 people,” she said. “And I really loved high school, so I thought, I haven’t seen people in 30 years…. And when you get my age, you feel nostalgic.”

The class of ’72 grad has lived in California for about 25 years and got a chance to reminisce at the anniversary with her old friend Frances Capon Irvin, who had driven six hours from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The two once sang together in the choir and both were on North Toronto’s swim team.

“We’ve stayed friends since graduation,” Mahan said. “We had our 21st birthdays together in Quebec, and then our 50th birthdays together in Las Vegas, and now we’re here for the reunion.”

While it’s been more than 30 years since Mahan attended North Toronto, she says the school’s spirit is still intact.

“You should have heard people singing the school song last night in the concert, everyone was so passionate about our school,” she said. “I even bought the shirt online before I came, so I would have it.”

Irvin said the anniversary’s strong showing was proof of how close North Toronto is to people’s hearts. “When I compare it to schools my kids go to now, there really was a strong school spirit,” she said. “And my sense is the spirit still goes on … people feel a very strong allegiance to the school.”

North Toronto alumna Martha Doherty reminisces on her years at the school with her brother Gord.

That allegiance was evident as the halls of North Toronto Collegiate Institute’s halls buzzed with activity during the school’s open house on May 12.

Surveying the brand new artificial turf football field, Don Hamilton recalled the field in 1942 being a little bit smaller, though that hadn’t held anyone back from attending the games.

“When we had a football game, the turnout was fantastic,” he recalled.

Standing with former teacher Robert Lightfoot, Hamilton recalls North Toronto as a school with a strong tradition of athletics, a popular music program and teachers that cared.

But one of his most fond memories is when the school was run by military man Lt. Col. F.H. Wood.

“Back in ’42, Colonel Wood was the principal, and he used to have the boiler room, which was this funny little enclave that he had and he would invite us down periodically,” Hamilton said. “It was his little den, I guess.”

“I remember we had a pool table in there,” Lightfoot interjects, followed by a chuckle.

North Toronto grads were treated to tours of the new building and surrounding property. Some, like Mahan, missed their old stomping grounds.

“I’m kind of sad about the old building,” she said. “Brick buildings have such a nice feel to them, but times move on.”
Irvin was not as sentimental.

“The school is ultimately about the teachers and students, so as long as the space is conducive to that, the school will strive and go on,” she said.

Noting a trend of high schools being consolidated, Mahan was relieved to learn North Toronto Collegiate Institute will remain part of midtown Toronto forever.

“I’m excited they didn’t get rid of the school. It could be worse,” Mahan said. “So at least there’s something here, so we can always say ‘We went to North Toronto’.”

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