The finishing touches are put on a welcome bench for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Benches will be installed at each school and the Catholic Education Centre. Photo courtesy TCDSB

Seats of welcome await at Toronto schools

  • August 27, 2023

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) is set to complete an 18-month labour of love early in the fall semester when it installs the final 20 of its welcome benches at each of the board’s school. 

All but 20 of the 180 welcome benches crafted by Grade 11 and 12 industrial design students have already been transferred to different schools in Canada’s largest Catholic school board over the past 18 months. The remaining creations are poised to be delivered at some point in September.

A few key TCDSB personnel proved instrumental in getting the district-wide Welcome Bench Project off the ground. Michael Caccamo, the superintendent of the Nurturing Our Catholic Community department, is credited as “the instigator” of this undertaking. Vicki McRae, a Kindergarten to Grade 12 arts resource teacher, steered the initative. Construction teacher Joe Farragher of St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School coordinated the building efforts of students and teachers from 10 high school shops.

McRae defined the purpose of the welcome benches — inspired by the popular “buddy bench” concept — as an effort to spark a sense of camaraderie that took a hit in schools with the prolonged COVID-19 shutdowns.

“We wanted to renew the community in schools after this huge disruption, and help students who were struggling socially,” said McRae. “The purpose is for them to be outside. They help students in the schoolyard who are struggling. A student has a place to go if they don’t have a friend to play with or something like that.”

A written information guide has been produced to provide each school guidance on how these benches can foster connection. Sealants have been applied to help each bench weather the outdoor elements.

Originally, the scope of this endeavour was considerably smaller. The intent was to design enough benches for an impressive artistic showcase at the Nuit Blanche nighttime contemporary arts festival. Fourteen benches, illustrated by students from 14 different schools, were assembled in spring 2022 in preparation for the October festival.

Many of the original 14 seats feature words or short messages of encouragement from students. The bench designed by St. Mary’s Catholic School students took a different tact by not including any words. The team created a natural landscape with a river, forest, plains and mountains.

“After the show, which went extremely well, we began phase two of this project,” said McRae. “Mr. Farragher began engaging with 10 other schools to begin the work of creating benches for all the other schools.”

All the benches have been completed. The only remaining step is for the board’s warehouse team to deliver the benches to their new, permanent homes.

A special bench will be installed once the others are all put in their new school homes. The welcome bench for the Catholic Education Centre is set for launch in October. The concept for this bench was designed by Anishinaabe professional artist Que Rock. The front is decorated with the phrase “All My Relations,” to “acknowledge that we are all interconnected and are sharing space.” The back dons “Biindigen” — the Anishnaabe-Mowin word for welcome. Student leaders helped Que Rock with the painting and “gained new understanding and appreciation for the Indigenous experience and the need for healing.”

Engaging Que Rock’s talents helped the Welcome Bench Project fulfill steps toward reconciliation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The project commits to building student aptitude for intercultural understanding, and engages Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in the reconciliation process.

“That one will kind of be the crowning of this entire process,” said McRae.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.