Mary Allan points to some friends in the pages of a 1976 yearbook while reminiscing with (from left) Sheena Bates, Beth Tobiasz and Patty Daly. Photo by Jean Ko Din

‘Once a St. Joe’s girl …’

  • May 22, 2019

Mary Allan ran her hand along the peach-coloured lockers and suddenly she was in Grade 9 again. 

Walking down the halls of St. Joseph Morrow Park Catholic Secondary School felt like going through a time machine to 1971. The hallways still looked the same. The windows showed the same views of the courtyard. The students were dressed in that familiar hunter green. 

“Right when I saw our Grade 9 lockers, it immediately took me back to Grade 9,” said Allan, who now works as a social worker in Toronto. “Walking around brought back so many memories. It still doesn’t feel that long ago.” 

Last month, Allan was e-mailing with some of her fellow alumni of the Class of ’76 — Sheena Bates, Beth Tobiasz and Patty Daly — when they decided to get together and visit Morrow Park. With the school moving to a new building in September 2020, this was an opportunity to have a last look at their old high school. 

The reunion itself was a spur of the moment thing. Allan said they have all kept in touch throughout the years. Every year without fail, she would send Christmas cards and birthday cards to the same high school friends. 

St. Joseph Morrow Park is an all-girls Catholic high school on Bayview Avenue near the northern border of Toronto, built on the property of the previous motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto. The school was established in 1960 and welcomed 147 students to its day school and boarding school. 

In 2006, the sisters announced that Morrow Park was sold for $40 million to Tyndale University College and Seminary, a Christian college in the evangelical tradition. Part of the sale proceeds were used to help the sisters move into a new residence and a long-term care facility in 2013. 

Daly couldn’t help but laugh at the memory of their Grade 11 and 12 religion class with Mr. Lewis. She remembered sitting in the back of the first-floor classroom with Allan. When the weather was particularly lovely outside, they would sneak out through the windows into the courtyard without their teacher noticing. 

“We were a bit rebellious back then,” said Daly, who works for an insurance company in Toronto. 

“He’d be writing on the blackboard and people would hop out the window. Then we would wait till he turned around again so we could hop back in. Everyone used to do that.”

Many things about the school still feel the same, like the lockers, the school gym and the courtyard. Daly said she’s glad to see that the uniforms are the same wool blazers and wool skirts they used to wear. The women also marvelled at the new technology that the students get to work with.

“Once a St. Joe’s girl, always a St. Joe’s girl,” said St. Joe’s principal Patricia Coburn. “I was really excited to welcome the ladies to see the building one last time because I feel like I can really relate. I graduated St. Joseph College School myself.”

Coburn said the students and staff had been talking about the alumni visit for about a month before they arrived. She organized a school tour for the four women with Grade 12 student Krystalyn Fernandes as their guide. 

The women visited classrooms throughout the school, meeting students and sharing stories along the way. 

There used to be a bowling alley in the school’s basement where the student cafeteria is now. 

Daly said they were usually the only people who hung out there. The small space only fit two bowling lanes. At least two people would have to stand at the end of the lanes to reset the pins by hand while the others bowled. 

“That was so much fun but people would forget that it was there,” said Daly. “And then, you had to lift the balls up and put them on this thing so it could go back up for the next person.”

A new home for St. Joe’s and its 500 students has taken several years to get off the ground. The original plan was to move the school into the current building for Blessed Trinity Catholic Elementary School, about a block away. But in 2012, the Toronto Catholic board announced that it extended its lease with Tyndale in order to acquire a property across from the high school where a new $28-million, 100,000 square-foot facility is being built. 

Coburn said the school is poised to open for the 2020-2021 school year. 

During the alumni visit, Coburn showed the four women floor plans of the new building which includes larger classrooms, an updated library and a brand new chapel. 

Relics of the old school building will be installed in places of honour in the new building, like the St. Joseph the Worker statue and mural relief that was once at the entrance of the old motherhouse.

One thing the school won’t be able to bring with them is the green space that surrounds Morrow Park. 

Tobiasz said she didn’t appreciate the green space when she was a student about 43 years ago. Tobiasz is a recently retired high school teacher from Calgary. 

She said the courtyard holds some of her most favourite memories of seeing deer drink from the river early in the morning and in the afternoon, eating lunch with her friends under the trees in the courtyard. 

“If you look at our yearbook, all our class pictures were taken outside,” she said. “This school is very unique to have space like this. It feels like an escape from the city.”

They were all nature-lovers, said Bates. In fact, they first bonded as friends through Geography Club. They would go hiking along the Bruce Trail and even organized a club camping trip to Presqu’ile Point in Brighton, Ont. 

Bates said she never really thought about coming back to visit the high school until Allan suggested it. Since graduating, Bates has moved to Calgary where she works as an urban planner and environmental scientist. 

“It has been a treat to come back and it makes kind of sad that these kids won’t get the same kind of experience,” she said. 

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