Does November 2nd, 1922 mean anything to you? Probably not unless you’re a Walkerville Collegiate alumnus. On that bright fall day celebrations were held to mark the school’s official opening. A luncheon, a dance, a swimming exhibition and a program of “moving pictures” delighted all who attended.
Designed by architects Pennington and Boyle in Collegiate Gothic (the traditional style of the 1920s), Walkerville Collegiate Instiute cost $600,000 to build (an astronomical sum then) when the town of Walkerville had a population of just 7500 people.
In that first year enrolment was 195 students. The staff included Principal Robert Meade and nine teachers. The original building contained 22 classrooms and other areas including: manual training for the boys, household science for the girls, a wood paneled library, a 48 by 80 foot gymnasium, an 800-seat auditorium with a 42-foot stage and a pool known as “the Plunge.”
Also during the first year, W. D. Lowe Vocational School used the second floor of W.C.I. until moving into their own building on Giles in 1923. Walkerville Collegiate also housed the offices of dentist Dr. Dean, Dr. Phelps, M.D. and school nurse Miss V. L. Leavette.
In 1923, lunch was served in what is now the Family Studies room and usually consisted of soup and crackers or hot dogs and beans for a whole nickel. The kitchen and cafeteria were completely renovated in 1990.
When the town of Walkerville amalgamated with the city of Windsor in 1935, enrolment grew; soon all the rooms at WCI were in use.
The students and staff of Walkerville developed a fierce pride in their school, which was renowned as one of the top schools in the province. The famous Cameron-kilted Cadet Corps, with its own bagpipe band, were the best in the province. Walkerville also had a reputation for consistently producing champion athletic teams.
As the school’s population grew (peaking in 1970 at 1287), new rooms were added: in 1955 a music room, rifle range and, quartermaster stores (later converted into an industrial arts facility and now a media arts facility including a dark room and computer lab, a new gym and cafeteria); in 1966 the main office was revamped, a new library was built, as well as more classrooms.
Today, the Walkerville student council is still known as the Agora, taken from the name of the public square in Athens built in 500 B. C. Agora evoked the spirit of democracy for it was in the Agora of ancient Athens that the assembly met in session and its officers were elected by the citizens.
Agora membership was voluntary in 1934 and required a fee of a whopping 15¢ to cover expenses. Today Agora members are elected by the students.
The Agora established the Honour Society in 1960, to recognize individual effort in academics, athletics, service and clubs. Honours included everything from medals to having one’s picture hung in the library — a supreme honour.
Currently, Walkerville is known for its excellent arts program — the Windsor Centre for the Creative Arts. Previously, the visual arts program was centered at W. D. Lowe until the principal at Lowe decided to convert the art room to a weight training room. Several years ago, Walkerville faced possible closure but the students and community rallied and the school was spared.
2012 will be the school’s 90th anniversary. (Already!) Plans are afoot for a major celebration. I remember going to the 75th one and it was a blast. You can find out more about the anniversary preparations on facebook here.
Info for this article came from a story former Walkerville student Sonia Sulamain wrote for our publication The Walkerville Times in 1999.
For more stories on Walkerville Collegiate and the town of Walkerville check out walkervilletimes.com. And if you want your own copy of our local award-winning history book, “Best of The Times”, which includes several stories about the school as well as a significant section on the town of Walkerville and its visionary founder and name sake, Hiram Walker (who just happened to start a distillery down the road), you should act fast. It’s almost sold out.
Please note! Best of the Times IS NOW SOLD OUT! But we do have plenty of copies of our latest book: “Windsor Then – a pictorial essay of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past”. It’s available on-line or at some local retail outlets including Juniper Books on Ottawa Street between Kildare & Argyle. More locations can be found on our website: walkerville.com.