St. Vincent's High School auditorium seats snapped up by nostalgic alumnae

They're old, some have gum stuck to them, and a few tell the story of who once sat in them. Now the seats in St. Vincent's High School's auditorium can be purchased as souvenirs.

Saint John school tour brings back memories including young love and a marriage proposal

The former school's 100-year-old auditorium seats are available for purchase. On the weekend, the non-profit group decorated a pair to celebrate alumnae who got engaged in a classroom. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

They're old, some have gum stuck to them, and a few tell the story of who once sat in them.

Now the seats in St. Vincent's High School's auditorium can be purchased as souvenirs.  

The school, which opened in 1919, has been closed for the past 15 years.

A non-profit group, St. Vincent's Apartments Inc., has ambitious plans to transform the Cliff Street building into apartments and a daycare.

But while the group works to secure funding, volunteers have been dismantling parts of the school infrastructure on the weekends. On Sundays, they offer tours to the public that includes an option to buy the old auditorium theatre-style seats.

The sale is a big hit with St. Vincent's alumnae like Karen Doucette, Anne-Marie Simpson and Patricia Robison who all graduated in 1983.

Karen Doucette, Patricia Robison and Anne-Marie Simpson all graduated from St. Vincent's High School in 1983. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"I think that it's great that they allow us to come back in and take a look," said Doucette. She said one of her favourite memories of the school was sitting in the back row during morning assemblies.

They're not the most comfortable seats and some still have the original gum still attached. So what exactly is the appeal of an old chair? "The memories and the nostalgia," said Patricia Robison. "It's [more than] just a piece of the building, it's a piece of our past." Robison's kids bought three of the chairs for her as a Christmas present.

St. Vincent's closed 15 years ago, but now former students are walking through its halls on Sunday tours. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Local historian Harold Wright volunteers with the non-profit group and said the response to the tours has been impressive.

Since they began in the past couple of weeks, he said about 500 people have been through the old school. Wright said the seat sale has allowed students to reconnect with the school.

"We actually had people come in and say 'well, see that theatre seat over there, you see on the back it says, "Becky was here?" I'm Becky! Can I get that seat?'"

Former students on the Sunday tours are able to look for the chairs on which they sat and sometimes scribbled. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Over the weekend, the tour marked a special occasion after a former student phoned Wright with a tale of young love. It turned out one of the classrooms was where Trudy Barriault Debow's husband proposed to her, in Grade 11.

On Sunday, Barriault Debow surprised her husband Darren with a visit back to that classroom where he popped the question in 1993. "He had a single red rose and he bent down on one knee and gave me my ring" she recalled.

Trudy Barriault Debow writes down the story of how her husband Darren proposed to her in the former classroom in which she was standing. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The volunteers with St. Vincent's Apartments Inc. decided to make the tour extra special for the couple. Flower petals were scattered leading up to auditorium chairs with bows on them.

When Barriault Debow walked into the room with her kids, she said she was flooded with emotions.

Barriault Debow bought those seats which, she said, will play a big part in her family in the future.

"Things get lost in history. I wanted something so that we could sit there together and have that piece of history."

The free tours will continue in the building on Sundays between 2-4 p.m. until the end of November. Prices of the seats are $25 for a seat in original condition and $50 for a restored one.

Saint John school tour brings back memories including young love and a marriage proposal. 0:57

About the Author

Matthew Bingley


Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.