Westdale high gave Hamilton some of its greats, now they're headed for the hall of fame
Teenage Head, Diana Panton, Harrison Kennedy and more are going on the school's wall of distinction
It's Oct. 17, 1975, and Teenage Head bassist Stephen Mahon is sitting in machine shop at Westdale High School, practically giddy with anticipation.
The months of basement rehearsals were finally about to pay off. The band — not yet close to the punk rock institution it would later become — was about to play its first show that night, on top of a makeshift stage of wobbly cafeteria tables at the school.
"I just remember thinking, 'Wow, we're finally getting that first gig,' Mahon said. "We couldn't lose with that crowd."
Now, over four decades later, the band is about to come full circle.
Teenage Head will be inducted into Westdale's hall of distinction next month, joining a who's who of Hamilton stars who have attended the school, like Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Russ Jackson and fellow 2018 inductees Harrison Kennedy and Diana Panton.
They're all part of a remarkable list of talent to come of age at one school, taking advantage of a wide array of programs and opportunities that makes its hall of fame seem more like a national honour, not a high school one.
And for Mahon, this award means just a little bit more. He never actually graduated.
"I had to go back for a victory lap because I failed so many subjects," he said. But even with that last go around, he was still shy one credit.
When Westdale principal Michelle Visca found out, she knew that had to be rectified. This was a guy with multiple gold records, who helped shape punk rock in Canada with hits like Let's Shake and Picture my Face.
So before the induction ceremony on June 8, Mahon will be presented with an honourary high school diploma.
"I'm going to finally get my grade 12," he said.
A long and storied history
Westdale's history is a long one. The school was built in 1931, and the likes of NHL great Harry Howell and politician John Munro have walked through its halls.
The school has churned out many Hamiltonians who have gone on to do great things, but Visca told CBC News she thinks that's more a reflection of the spirit of the city than anything else.
"So many people in the city have gone on to do amazing things," she said.
Still, this year's list of inductees to Westdale's hall of fame is no doubt a special one. In addition to Teenage Head, it includes:
- Juno-winning jazz artist Diana Panton
- Juno-winning blues legend Harrison Kennedy
- Urban affairs specialist and political scientist Robert Muggah
- Broadway actress Caissie Levy
- Writer, actor and musician Charly Chiarelli
- Former Pan Am Games and Olympic athlete, and chair of the department of ophthalmology at Queen's University Dr. Martin ten Hove
- Mohawk College's dean of the faculty of interdisciplinary studies Jim Vanderveken
Panton says the school's knack for fostering creative graduates is largely linked to the sheer amount of opportunities present there. If sports are your thing, there are loads of teams to join. If it's the arts, a stage is right there waiting.
"There were just a ton of opportunities … it's an open-mindedness. There's all these doors open to you," she said. "It's where you can find out who you are and really develop who you are."
'It was great, man'
Though it wasn't always quite that way for everyone. Kennedy, who is undoubtedly one of Hamilton's best-loved musicians, couldn't take music classes at the school when he was a student in the early 1960s.
At the time, students needed to have their own instruments to participate. "My family wasn't rich. We couldn't afford it," he said.
But he did thrive on the football field, winning junior and senior championships. The school also tasked him with setting up its first intermural soccer and baseball leagues.
"It was great, man," he said.
Westdale will celebrate its history and hall of fame inductees on June 8, with performances at the school by Teenage Head and Chiarelli. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets are on sale in advance at the school, at This Ain't Hollywood, and Picks and Sticks.
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