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School’s out forever in Maryhill

The anything-but-normal school year wrapped up for students in the region, but perhaps most poignantly for those who attend St. Boniface School in Maryhill, which this week closed its doors for good.

Come September, students will be at the new St. Boniface in Breslau.

That students and their families couldn’t give the school a proper send-off was somewhat disappointing, says principal Marylin Dawson.

“It’s certainly not the ending to the school year that we had envisioned and the ending to our school building,” she said. “That’s mostly because the school is, of course, a school, but it kind of belongs to the community in a way – they’re very close with the school. They’ve had a lot of memories and significance with the school, so moving locations, especially this way, I think it’s a little bit of a disappointment for lots of the people in and around Maryhill.”

Dawson notes that multiple generations of family members have gone to school at St. Boniface, making it an important part of community life.

“I think we’ve got some families here that are like six generations. Grandpa tells stories about shovelling coal when he got to be in Grade 7 – they’d go downstairs in Grade 7 to shovel coal to actually keep heat on in the school. How bizarre is that?”

Those historical ties are part of the planned move to a new Breslau location come September. Some of the artifacts are being relocated. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board has been in contact with the Maryhill Historical Society about preserving items from the school, as well.

Preserving heritage items is a priority for the historical society says member Diane Strickler, who has personal ties to the school where she was the secretary for 35 years before her retirement in 2016.

“We have asked that anything they will not be taking to the new school we would like to preserve,” she said, noting that privacy laws mean items such as student records will go to the school board archives rather than being kept in Maryhill.

“Right now we will be receiving a marble monument of one of our former students that had passed away while she was in our school. This monument was in our school flowerbed as a remembrance to her,” said Strickler.

“I understand we will also be receiving the former school plaques – history (which we always gave out), math, etc.  I believe that will include the Optimist award.”

Students pose on a staircase on the day of their graduation from St Boniface School in Maryhill, Ontario. [ALEX FILIPE]

Fixtures such as the school bell will remain in Maryhill or with the building, a portion of which has heritage designation.

“There is a school bell next door at the Maryhill Historical Society that previously hung from a tower on the school.  This bell will stay in Maryhill, but we are hoping to have a replica school bell made and placed on the new school site as a reminder of the school’s history and legacy,” said WCDSB chief financial officer Shesh Maharaj in an email.

Some of the furniture from the school will make the move, but most of it doesn’t have much heritage value to St. Boniface and will likely be dispersed throughout the board, said Dawson.

“We do have some archives, like old yearbooks and things like that, that we’ve shared with the historical centre over the years, and then we have some records that are going into the school board as well.  We’re bringing what we can, so as many things as we can bring from here to kind of grow in the new school, we’re certainly doing that as well. We’ve got some sculptures, we’ve got some prayer centre materials that are really important. We’ve got a couple key items that we would like to preserve,” she said. We’re kind of looking at how the new school is going to be rooted in tradition, rooted in the addition of this [new] building.”

The new structure in Breslau is more expansive, providing space for more than 250 students, up from some 150 in the current school, which dates back more than 120 years. The old yellow brick building constructed in 1898 was the third iteration since a school was first built in the village in 1834. It was augmented with additions in 1965 and 1968.

The fate of the current building remains up in the air, with the board now looking at whether or not it has any use for the site. If the property is deemed surplus to the board’s needs, it will go through the disposition process, which involves first offering it to the municipality or other local agencies before putting it on the open market, said Maharaj.

“If the property gets to the open market, the portion of the existing building that has been classified as heritage will remain intact and maintained as per the township’s requirements. The rest may also be left as is depending on disposal options at the time,” he explained.

“The soonest this property could be available for sale to the public would be spring of 2022, and that is subject to a trustee decision to sell, and assuming no specified public agency submits an offer to purchase during their priority period.”

Though the pandemic conspired against an event to mark the end of an era in Maryhill, the board will be doing something to recognize the handoff, said Dawson.

“Had the world remained in typical place, we probably would have had an open house where people could come and see the school for the for the last time. But we’re trying to put together a video – we’re doing a little goodbye video, and we’ve invited some key players, community members or community partners, and we have some students and former students just to say goodbye in a video format.”

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