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Celebration for schools
Plans being put in place for Inuvik schools' last hurrah

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012

School will soon be out forever at Inuvik's two main schoolhouses.

NNSL photo/graphic

Ruby St. Amand, school community counsellor at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, left, and Angela Young, English teacher for Grades 10 to 12 at Samuel Hearne Secondary School, sit amongst a pile of past yearbooks at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

With the new super school on track to be open and in use by the beginning of the fall term, the days of Inuvik's existing educational institutions are numbered.

"Instead of both schools working on independent school closing (celebrations) we decided to come together and make sure it was a community thing," said Angela Young, English teacher for Grades 10 to 12 at Samuel Hearne Secondary School (SHSS), who is helping organize the schools' closing celebrations.

The purpose of these closing celebrations, to be held over the weekend of June 15 and 16, is to pay homage to two buildings that have housed learning in the community for so long. Both SHSS and Sir Alexander Mackenzie School (SAMS) will have their last day of school this spring. Plans to demolish school facilities are set for when construction is finished at the new school.

"From 1959 to 2012, that's who we're celebrating all of our students," said Ruby St. Amand, school community counsellor at SAMS who is also helping put the event together.

A Facebook group called "SAMS and SHSS Inuvik: the Closing Celebration" was created on April 24 and had gathered 565 members on Tuesday. Many group members have taken to posting photos, sharing memories of years gone by, and voicing hopes to see long-lost schoolmates at the closing.

"People, I think, are getting excited," said Young. "They're starting to ask when to travel and put pictures up."

Among those expected to attend the festivities is Connie Miller, Inuvik's first teacher, who started teaching in 1956, said Young.

Also, at least one graduate from the first class ever to graduate Grade 12 at either of the schools is likely to be in attendance. Noah Carpenter, one of nine who graduated in the first class of 1962, has expressed plans to return to Inuvik for the event. Carpenter, a Sachs Harbour boy, went on to become a medical surgeon and works in Brandon, Man., said St. Amand.

SAMS, as it stands now, opened its doors to students for the first time in 1959. Students were flown in from outside Northern communities, said St. Amand, some as part of the residential school program and others who were sent to take advantage of a larger school then their home community could provide. At its peak enrolment, it housed about 1,200 students and 57 staff, said St. Amand.

St. Amand started her ongoing relationship with SAMS as a Grade 1 student in 1961.

Within 10 years from SAMS' opening, construction was completed on the new Samuel Hearne Secondary School, and older students moved down the block into that building. Jean Chretien, then federal minister of northern affairs, travelled to Inuvik for the high school's grand opening in October of 1967.

When plans for the school closure celebrations first started, the best-kept record of happenings in these schools were in the minds of those who had been there. In an effort to fill in the gaps of less-than-complete school yearbooks, the pair reached out for help.

The community responded. People came forward with their yearbooks, including one resident who had quite a few of them in his personal archive, said St. Amand. However, there are still a few yearbooks missing, like the one from 1964. "That must have been a really good year," she said.

"The focus is on good memories and the fact that we're saying goodbye, but also honouring the experiences everyone has had here," said Young.

"We can't just close the doors one day," said St. Amand. "We have to do something."

Canadian North is offering a special discounted fare for those travelling to Inuvik for the schools' closing celebrations, said St. Amand. This discount can be found in the events tab on the airline's website.

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