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Clash over location of North Dundas District High School all but forgotten

Tom Van Dusen
Publishing date:
Jun 15, 2013

WINCHESTER – With 50th anniversary celebrations fast approaching, generations of students and parents have learned to co-mingle in relative harmony at North Dundas District High School.

But that wasn’t always the case. Siting the school in no-man’s land along Hwy. 43 with two graveyards as immediate neighbours riled a lot of competitive folks in Winchester and rival community to the east, Chesterville.

But by the time he passed through NDDHS and graduated in 2005, school location wars of the early 1960s were distant memories, said North Dundas Twp. Mayor Eric Duncan, 25, who’s co-chairing the 50th reunion committee.

Duncan’s role in the reunion makes perfect sense. Not only has he barely left the corridors of NDDHS, he’s a past student council prime minister… a role that everyone who knows him believes he’d like to occupy some day in the corridors of power.

Twenty years before Duncan’s time when reunion co-chair and current teacher Patti Hall graduated from NDDHS, she said there was still talk from some students influenced by their parents about the decision as to where to put the school.

Locating it at what’s known as Maple Ridge was a bitterly contested compromise. It was the dawn of regional boards of education when small schools scattered on back concessions and in rural villages were being consolidated into central houses of learning.

Independent corporations, Winchester and Chesterville – like so many other villages a few farm fields apart – were intense competitors in sports, jobs, physical assets, agricultural proficiency… and education. Each proudly boasted elementary and secondary schools and wanted to keep things that way.

After many motions and amendments without a decision, the North Dundas High School Board was forced to take action in the winter of ’62 after a fire at the high school in Winchester.

A motion was finally passed – it required a tie-breaking vote from the chairman - to build a large central school on Bert Fulton’s farm on the ridge between the villages with enough capacity for existing student populations and for decades to come.

The final vote didn’t come before a last-ditch amendment was presented by Winchester representatives on the board. It called for the Department of Education to send an arbitrator to settle the school site issue.

“A visible shudder quivered the board members at this,” wrote the Chesterville Record reporter of the day. After passionate pleas from other members as to the urgency of the situation, the amendment was defeated… and the rest is history that’ll be celebrated June 28-29 with a cocktail party, tours and displays at the school, a roast beef dinner and dance at the Winchester Arena.

Whoops! Why not the Chesterville Arena? Duncan, a Winchester resident, has that delicate matter covered: Because the Chesterville Arena is under renovation. Besides, Hall pointed out, the Winchester Arena is larger.

Whoa! Don’t say that too loud, cautioned a visiting reporter with some understanding of inter-community rivalries, having experienced them first-hand between Russell Village and Embrun, with the language factor thrown in just to liven things up.

Duncan insisted that feelings aren’t as sensitive any more, partly due to provincially ordered amalgamation that merged Winchester and Chesterville 15 years ago into a single municipality with one council, North Dundas, that tries to treat both main population centres equally.

Fifty years later, NDDHS is in good physical shape and has an honourable record of accomplishment and success stories, many of which will be on display at the reunion. Even the Fabulous Edsels, a 50s band composed of past teachers and students, will reunite for the occasion.

The co-chairs expect at least 500 alumni from as far away as the United Kingdon, several U.S. states, and most provinces.

One worrisome issue is declining enrolment, down to 620 students from a peak of 800. A few years ago, the elementary school across Hwy. 43 closed and Grades 7-8 were absorbed by NDDHS.

However, Hall said, there’s never any talk about closing the compromise high school on the ridge that, 50 years ago, a lot of people just didn’t want.

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