Alumni bid fond farewell to 90-year-old Vaughan Road Academy

Vaughan Road Academy held one final reunion, across generations, as the school plans to close at the end of June.

Illustrious high school, former home of well-known Torontonians, to close by June 30

Maria Gabriela Bluestein, Franca Tropea and Carm Cucunato make one last visit to their high school after graduating in 1981. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

As ninety years of history come to a close at Vaughan Road Academy, decades of alumni joined together to bid a final farewell to the high school on Saturday.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) deemed the school "underused" after student enrollment numbers dwindled over the past decade. In September 2016, just over 200 students were enrolled in the school, which can handle a capacity of over 1,000. 

But rather than mourning the closing of Vaughan Road Academy, its alumni - from the 1940s up to the 2016 class - celebrated and walked down the narrow hallways one last time.

The school which has stood near Oakwood Avenue and Eglinton Avenue West has been called a fixture in the community and is set to close on June 30. 

Donning his football letterman jacket from the class of 1980 (which he proudly said still fits), Robert Tmej looked through trophy cases.

"This feels more like a reunion rather than a farewell," he said. "We're going to hold those memories forever."

Robert Tmej, graduate of the Class of '80, showed off his football letterman jacket. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

Three friends from the class of 1981 - Franca Tropea, Marie-Gabriela Bluestein and Cam Cucunato - hadn't seen each other in years before the reunion.

Despite the years and the lives they've created since their high school graduation, they all said it felt like little time had passed. 

"It's as if time stood still," said Tropea, as she mingled with her former classmates. 

"I recognize people from 30 years ago and they're still the same. It's just a great day," Cucunato added. 

Drake, an alumnus of Vaughan Road Academy, proudly showed off his allegiance to the school in a 2016 Nike advertisement. (Jordan Brand)

Before Toronto's very own superstar, Drake, became one of the world's most popular artists, he went by the name of Aubrey Graham, when he attended Vaughn Road Academy — a point of pride he showed off while donning the school's official sweatshirt in a Nike advertisement. 

Drake didn't make the trip back for a final visit but Lenny Solomon, a professional violinist and graduate in the Class of '71 paid tribute to the rap star by playing "Hotline Bling" at the school's closing ceremony. 

Lenny Solomon, a professional violinist, played in his old high school auditorium one last time. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

"Wherever it is, whether it's the tiniest club or in someone's basement or at my high school reunion; I'm always trying to do the best job I can," Solomon said. 

Former school's future

While Vaughan Road Academy will cease to host the next crop of high school students, the building will survive. TDSB voted unanimously in February against selling the school land to developers. 

Instead, the school board will keep the building for future use based on growth in the neighbourhood, with a community centre being floated as a possible idea by former students. 

Vaughan Road Academy will close its doors on June 30. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

Members of the graduating class of 2016 said they knew time was ticking on their beloved school; a reflection on the small enrollment numbers at the school. 

"It was pretty clear, over the years, the hallways became absolutely empty. Especially on days where there was an event and a lot of people didn't show up," said Saad Jameel, a 2016 graduate. 

But Jameel and his friends said they will miss the school and hope it can have a second life for the community it has long held an important place. 

"The one good thing of having a small school was that everyone knew everyone. And for that, it felt like a nice community," Jameel added. 

"To lose that would be harming to the surrounding area."