But the main message was to grab hold of the spirit that was developed and nurtured in that space over the past 66 years and take it with them to the new school.
The school’s most famous student was among the many speakers on hand at the farewell celebration in the gymnasium, and five principals shared their memories with the large crowd gathered.
“It really is a bittersweet day for all of us who had the good fortune of having this building as part of our journey,” said Annapolis MLA and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. He praised it academically and socially and said quite often the answers to the challenges of life were found in that building.
“We relied on the teachers who were standing in front of us, or friends who became lifelong friends, to help us through that journey,” McNeil said. He spoke of the school’s four Rhodes Scholars and Howie Jackson’s track records among other things.
“My hope is, as we begin this journey of closing this building we remember we are actually only closing the bricks and mortar,” he said. “Our collective experiences need to be taken from this building and in my view become the foundation of the new facility.”
“You are tangled up in each other’s lives something awful. And something beautiful,” said Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski, noting a lot of it comes back to Bridgetown Regional High School.
“You walk the same halls, you touched the same lockers, you freaked out over tests in the same classrooms. You made some of the most important lasting friendships of you lives here,” he said. “This place was important. It was important because it connected you in a bunch of amazing ways.”
Habinski was worried when he heard there was a chance the school would disappear.
“It was too precious a thing to lose, and I’m so grateful to the people in this community who spoke with a strong united voice and said ‘no, we have to keep it,’” Habinski said. “I’m grateful for the support we had from our Premier who said ‘this is going to be a priority, if it’s possible to keep this intact it needs to be done.’ I’m grateful because my children are going here. That beautiful entanglement that you share, they’re going to participate in.”
The school’s third principal was also one of the first teachers at the school back in 1951.
“You know it’s been 66 years ago that I walked into this school with 14 others,” said an emotional William Hirtle. “A brand new school. No tradition, but great facilities. It’s hard for me to get in words what I feel, but those 15 teachers were the backbone of getting this school off to a good start.” He said seven of those teachers had never been in a classroom before other than their teacher training.
Hirtle was the last of the original staff to retire – in 1985.
He said use of school was open to the public, it was the hub of the community, and an enthusiastic staff all lived in town, and helped make the school the strongest place.
They pushed extracurricular activities.
“You really get to know the kids when you do extracurricular work,” he said. “And we had a staff that was willing to take part in all those extracurricular activities that made for a better school.
Marshall recalled the closing of the Lawrencetown high school which he said secured enrolment for BRHS and boosted academics and sports. And he said today’s Lawrencetown Education Centre was a product of that closure with the idea of creating a school for students who were unable to learn in the existing structure.
School board member Sue Ritchie spoke, along with former principals Allen Hume and Meredith Burton. Current principal Bill Reid was master of ceremonies, recounting his career-long soccer encounters with BRHS Rhodes Scholar Charlie Hunter, ending finally in Reid being principal of Hunter’s old school.
In the end, Reid and Marvin Taylor retired the BRHS Crest which was given to Taylor. When it came to singing the old school fight song, former student, basketball player, and current school board member Peter Cromwell raised his fist and belted it out with the whole gym joining in.
The school was proclaimed officially closed by town crier Peter Davies.
When the talking was over, those in attendance made their way through the halls to explore old classrooms, run their hands over old trophies and plaques, and finally to the cafeteria downstairs to have punch and cake, and to talk and look through thousands of photos and hundreds of newspaper clippings.
Some important things were learned that day. The school colours will remain blue and white. The team name will be the Hawks. All of the championship banners in the gym will be on the walls at the new Bridgetown Regional Community School just a few hundred metres away, along with all the Headmasters Championship plaques and graduation class photos.
J.R McIsaac 1951 to 1963
J.D. Walker 1963 to 1980
William Hirtle 1980 to 1985
Arthur Marshall 1985 to 1996
Allen Hume 1996 to 2003
Orris Orlando 2003 to 2006
Stephen Walker 2006 to 2013
Bill Reid 2013 to Present
Meredith Burton 2013 to 2014
Darlene Thomas 2016 to 2017