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Central High School reunion marks a century of memories

Four days of festivities planned for Baldwin Street school's 100th anniversary this June

An iconic local high school will be celebrating its 100th year in style this summer with four days of events for past staff and students in June.

Burlington Central High School has occupied its Baldwin Street location for over a century and many generations of proud Burlingtonians have roamed its halls.

Opened in 1922, it was the first high school in Burlington, built on land bought by the town council in 1920 for $8,000.

First known as Burlington High School, it later changed its name to Burlington Central, and is home to the Trojans sports teams.

Among its notable graduates are CFL player Tony Gabriel, TV personality and sports broadcaster Jim Tatti, actor Adam Harrington, TV host Jack Hourigan and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist in sprint canoe Mark Oldershaw.

Heading up the steering committee for the centenary celebration are two former students who went on to teach at the school as adults — former principal Terry Ruf (Class of '71) and retired teacher Todd Ford (Class of '85).

The events were originally slated for June 2-5 of 2022 but organizers decided to postpone due to ongoing COVID uncertainty; the celebration will take place this year from June 1-4.

The steering committee have drawn on the experience of the organizers of a very successful 75th reunion which was held in 1997, and Ford said a number of those organizers are also working on this year's festivities.

Social media to the rescue

Tracking down 10 decades of former staff and students was a big job, but social media made the task a bit easier.

"We took advantage of technology and created an online Google form that could be sent out and shared through email, websites and other social media platforms," Ford said. "Over the past four years, we have gathered the contact information of nearly 3,000 alumni and former staff (with many more still out there). This database has allowed us to stay in constant contact (through regular newsletter mailings) to those in our list."

Ruf said that contact information has been submitted by former students and staff from countries around the world, including Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Latvia and Barbados. 

In addition, the organizers promoted the event with large posters in city bus shelters and reached out to retirement homes and churches asking for the event to be included in their newsletters.

The events — which include a family fun fair, school open house, brunch and evening decade events for the '40s/'50s, '60s/'70s, '80s/'90s and 2000s and much more — offer something for everyone and a wide range of attendees are expected. The oldest alumna to have submitted contact info to date attended in 1946 but the organizers are aware of a woman living in Burlington who attended in the 1930s, who will turn 102 in May.

"It would be wonderful to get her out," Ruf said. "Two former staff members who have submitted their contact information are well into their 90s. Ward Russell taught and coached at Central from the '50s to the '80s. He was also the long-time Head of Guidance. Ian Downie was both a teacher and vice-principal at Burlington Central. He is also a familiar face to many Canadians because of his work as an actor on television and in commercials."

Multi-generational Central families

They are also expecting a number of multi-generational Central families, where at least three generations attended the schools, and have been contacted by eight families which include four generations of graduates.

Interest in the celebration is high and the organizers are expecting thousands of attendees. "Knowing how well-attended the 75th reunion was, we do expect many of our events to be sell-outs," Ford said, noting that many of the venues have capacity limits. "Some of the decade evening events could see as many as 1,000 attend each of the venues and we expect over 4,000 people to pass through the school over the course of the weekend."

There will also be plenty of sporting activities for former Trojans with a golf tournament, football, basketball, hockey and pickleball all offering a chance to shown off lingering athletic skills.

Ties to the past

Former principal Ruf said there are many factors which made Central a special place including maintaining meaningful ties to the past with a cenotaph board and portraits in the school honouring those who served in the Second World War.

"All schools serve a community but not all schools have a community school feel," Ruf said. "I worked in six Halton schools as a teacher or administrator. They were all excellent schools doing great things for their students but I would say that three of them have what I consider to be a community school feel. And Burlington Central was definitely one of those three."

Ruf said the school's longevity has meant it played a key role for entire families and ,given the location of Central Public school next door, some people would have have stayed in the area for their entirety of their schooling.

Burlington Central was also important to many new families to Canada as it became a designated English as a Second Language school and also welcomed refugees from conflicts including the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Afghanistan and more recently from the war in Ukraine.

Ruf said the school had a remarkable "lack of cliquishness" and strong athletic and arts traditions. "I was impressed when I was principal at Central in the early 2000s how the various interest groups supported each other in their activities and events," he said.

Ruf and Ford were not the only ones who returned to Central to teach as adults either. Ruf said 10 staff members over his term as principal had also attended as students.

The school has a "committed and generous alumni community," he added, which showed in the enthusiasm around the 75th anniversry and the upcoming reunion.

"The anniversary logo for the 75th Reunion had the slogan that said Central always has been much 'more than tradition,'" said Ford. "Our 100th logo says '100 Years of Community' and even though Burlington has continued to change, evolve and grow over the last 100 years, tradition and community are still both core strengths and characteristics that make this school so special. There are lots of community schools in Burlington... but Burlington Central is truly a school community... and anyone that has spent time at Central understands that subtle difference."

The steering committee plans to launch online registration for the events on February 6.

For more information on the Central 100th Celebration, visit

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Tania Theriault

About the Author: Tania Theriault

Tania is a print and broadcast journalist with over 15 years experience who has recently returned to Canada and is keen to learn all there is to know about Burlington and its welcoming people
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