York Memorial students speak out against potential 3rd move since fire destroyed school

·4 min read
Students of York Memorial C.I. staged a protest outside the offices of the TDSB in 2019. (Submitted by Laura Vu - image credit)
Students of York Memorial C.I. staged a protest outside the offices of the TDSB in 2019. (Submitted by Laura Vu - image credit)

Lillian Ong says she has had enough.

In the two years since her school — York Memorial Collegiate Institute at Eglinton Avenue West and Trethewey Drive — was destroyed by fire, she and her schoolmates have moved twice, and have also had to deal with the upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The student body was forced to merge with that of George Harvey Collegiate for a time before moving into their own temporary building at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy.

"We've settled enough at Scarlett Heights. We like it there. We want to stay there," Ong told CBC Toronto.

But now the students say they have learned that the Toronto District School Board is considering moving them back to George Harvey Collegiate in the fall of 2022.

"Imagine going from school to school and they want to bring us back," Ong told CBC Toronto.

"At the expense of what? They want to save money, but at the expense of our mental health? she asked. "We do not need to go anywhere else until the new building is built in 2026."

Students of York Memorial C.I. say they have learned that the Toronto District School Board is considering moving them back to George Harvey Collegiate in the fall of 2022.
Students of York Memorial C.I. say they have learned that the Toronto District School Board is considering moving them back to George Harvey Collegiate in the fall of 2022.(Submitted by Laura Vu)

The Grade 11 student said one move was traumatic enough. She and other students are calling for stability for their classmates.

"When we first went to George Harvey it was an experience at the least ... like the time constraints, how fast it was," Ong said.

"We literally just watched our school burn down and then all of a sudden we're back at the textbooks, we have to do work and we're just in an entirely different building at our rivaling school," she added.

"And then when we went back to Scarlett Heights we were then told that they want to bring us back to George Harvey."

'My science classroom was in a closet'

Ong said while she is grateful that George Harvey provided a place for them back in 2019, the experience there was not great.

"My science classroom was in a closet. When we were able to go back to Scarlett Heights we established our second home. We had our own rooms, we could call this school York Memorial," she said.

"Even after the devastating fire we're able to get that school spirit, we're able to settle ourselves. But then when we're told again that they want to bring us back to George Harvey, back into that traumatic experience, that's just unbelievable." .

The York Memorial C.I. student body was forced to merge with George Harvey Collegiate for a time, before moving into their own temporary building at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy.
The York Memorial C.I. student body was forced to merge with George Harvey Collegiate for a time, before moving into their own temporary building at Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy.(Submitted by Laura Vu)

The fire, which happened at York Memorial Collegiate on the afternoon of May 6, 2019, irreparably damaged the heritage building.

'It just didn't feel like we belong'

For Grade 12 student Emily Huynh it was like "seeing your second home go into flames."

She also said "it was really, really hard transitioning everywhere."

"When we went to Harvey, it always felt like you were a guest there, like it wasn't our own," Huynh told CBC News.

"Before, we could go talk to our teachers and stay after school. We couldn't even do any extra curricular activities there and it just didn't feel like we belong.

"And then when we went to Scarlett Heights we felt like we had more of our own school, we got to do extra curriculars again, things were finally going back to normal."

Just the environment there in general, it just didn't feel right, like we didn't belong there at all. - Emily Huynh, York Memorial C.I. student

Huynh said having already transitioned two times, students were settling down at Scarlett Heights.

"Then to say that we have to go back, personally I couldn't even believe it," she said.

Meanwhile, Laura Vu said their time at George Harvey "was extremely uncomfortable."

She said the impact of having to move there was "draining mentally" and it also had "an effect on our education as well."

"Just the environment there in general, it just didn't feel right, like we didn't belong there at all," Vu told CBC news.

"We fought so hard to move to the empty Scarlett Heights building … We get to have our own school building, we have our own gym, we have our own community together here."

No final decision to move

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said York Memorial CI will continue at its current location — the former Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy — for the 2021-2022 school year.

"After next year, no final decision has been made as both York Memorial CI and George Harvey CI are currently part of an ongoing pupil accommodation review," Bird wrote in an email to CBC News.

According to the TDSB website, the purpose of the review is to develop a student accommodation plan for the two schools to address under-utilization at George Harvey CI, identify the best location for the schools, and determine the long-term future of the York Memorial CI site.

The board said community consultations are taking place to get feedback on the proposed scenarios.