On September 26, 2014, a small group of former students and staff met at Westgate to mark an important historical milestone. Fifty years ago Westgate Mennonite Collegiate opened its doors at 86 West Gate with a new name, and a record enrollment of 103 students and 5 teachers. This event also marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life – six years of high school. I was a grade 7 student, probably the youngest in the entire school, and in a combined class of grade sevens and eights. I remember the excitement of starting a new school year in an impressive building located in a beautiful neighbourhood. The stately mansion with its striking woodwork and fireplace, and the spacious grounds with the huge trees, made quite an impression on me. Other alumni, who gathered to mark this 50th anniversary, shared those first impressions too. Those who had also attended the MEI commented on the huge improvement the new facility offered over the old church building on Edison Avenue in North Kildonan, that had housed the school from 1959 – 1960.
Students enjoyed the new location. The classrooms were much bigger and brighter, and the large yard made it possible for students to play football, soccer and volleyball, even though the ball would occasionally end up in the river. No doubt this still happens today. The new site also allowed for a girls’ dormitory which was something new. Seven girls from several rural communities were part of that first group, and according to all accounts they had a great time. A favourite memory of one male alumnus, as shared with current grade 11 students who interviewed several of us, involved dressing up as Santa Claus, climbing onto the school roof one morning, and dropping in on the girls as they were getting ready for another school day. As one might expect, when Santa was caught, there were consequences. As a result of his regular visits, the aforementioned Santa also remembered how impressive the principal’s office in the old mansion was. The old mansion, which housed not only the principal’s office, but also the staffroom, the library and the dormitory, was torn down in 1989, and replaced with new classrooms, labs, lounges and a multi-purpose room. The school facilities have changed a great deal over the last 50 years. Even the original centre building, which was already there in 1964, was hard to recognize for those alumni who had not been back for many years. As we toured this part of the school, people commented on all the changes – the old chapel has been converted into classrooms, the lunch room in the basement is now part of student services, and the science lab is used as office and music rehearsal space.
The important memories, however, that we talked about that morning, had less to do with the building and more to do with the people whom we got to know while we were students at Westgate. Favourite memories focused on the friendships that were formed and the experiences that we shared – participating in the dramas, musicals and choirs, or playing on the football team and curling in the school league, attending the annual Christmas Social and the tobogganing outings to Lockport, just to name a few. Of course, the fact that we were well-prepared for our future studies and careers was also talked about. The classes in religious studies, as well as in Anabaptist and church history, also helped shape us, and prepared us for active involvement in our home congregations and beyond. We are grateful for the excellent teachers we had, teachers who not only had high expectations of us, but who also encouraged and supported us, and set great examples for us.
As we talked with a number of the current students, we realized that they too are creating their own memories of experiences that include close friendships and awesome teachers. The school building at 86 West Gate has changed a lot over the last 50 years, and hopefully, there will be a few more significant and necessary changes happening in the very near future with the campus redevelopment project, but it’s great to see that the fundamentals have not changed. The mission remains the same – to provide a well-rounded education, which will inspire and empower students to live as people of God. May this remain Westgate Mennonite Collegiate’s focus as the journey continues into the future, and may those of us who have benefited from this experience continue to support the school.
Walter Kampen (‘70)