As soon as he saw Bob Mann’s name flash on the call display, Harry Williamson knew why his old friend was calling. Williamson had already heard the news on the radio. Queen Elizabeth High, the venerable, rambling red-brick-and-mortar schoolhouse on the south edge of the Halifax Common that, over the course of a 65-year history that stretches all the way from the depths of World War II to the launch of the iPhone, has played silent witness to the coming-of-age rituals of 50,000 Halifax teenagers—including Mann (class of ’68) and Williamson (’64)—was about to close its doors forever.
“If it’s just you and me in a phone booth on Robie Street,” Williamson told Mann as soon as he picked up the phone, “I’ll be there.”
That’s unlikely. When this weekend’s “Last Chance Reunion” kicks off at the Halifax Forum Friday evening, Mann and Williamson—co-chairs of this final goodbye reunion, as well as an earlier 1984 reunion of '60s alumni—will welcome close to 800 disparate members of what Mann likes to call the “QEH family.”
That family gathering spans the generations from 99-year-old Len Hannon, a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1943 who served as QEH’s fearsome principal for nearly 20 years and will be the reunion’s guest of honour, to Scott Noddin, a fresh-faced Class of 2006 alum and current Saint Mary’s University Commerce student. Though they won’t all be there, the QE family also includes such luminaries as singer Sarah McLauchlin (’86), author George Elliot Clark (’78), Olympic athlete Nancy Garapick (’79), developer Jim Spatz (’67), diplomat Michael Leir (’67), comedian Ron James (’76) and former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough (’61).
“People are coming from Turkey, Australia, Mexico, the UK, the United States…” Mann rhymes off some of the countries of origin into the telephone. “We put out the word, and that was all it took. People want to come back and see—Sorry,” he says suddenly. “There’s someone at the door to register. Can I call you back?”
He does, a few minutes later. “That was Peter Quackenbush . Remember him? He says hi.” He pauses. “My friends from high school are still my friends today. I see them when I go to movies, to restaurants. QEH was an important part of our past, so people want to come back and be part of it one last time.”
QE was definitely important for Mann. He met his wife, Marsha (Hamm), in grade 11. “We had one of those two-week romances,” he jokes, “you know, passing notes in class, all that stuff. That was it. And then we went our separate ways.” Marsha eventually married someone else, but it didn’t work out. She and Mann met again in 1976, and have been together ever since.
“Three kids. A grandson.” None went to QE. “French immersion,” he explains simply. “When Marsha and I start talking about QE, they just roll their eyes.”
Though “I wasn’t an academic, and I wasn’t an athlete,” Mann says he “loved” high school.” What does he remember? “Miss Blois"—vice-principal during the '50s and '60s— "patrolling the halls, checking the hemlines of the girls’ skirts. And that ungodly collection of ties Len Hannon kept in his office. All the boys had to wear ties back then and, if they caught you not wearing one, you had to wear one of the ones from his office." Mann mentions Hi-Y and Twixteen, the youth clubs and Friday night dances held at the nearby YMCA: "People just lived for them.” He pauses again. “I sometimes think our kids don’t have the fun we did.”
Ironically, most of this weekend’s fun is taking place not at the old school, but at the Halifax Forum, where QE’s hockey team once played. That’s because the Halifax school board turned down requests to hold the final reunion at the school, citing safety concerns and the still in-progress work of packing and moving the school’s furniture and equipment down the street to the new Citadel High School, where former rival QE and St. Patrick’s students will mould an entirely new identity beginning in September.
After much negotiation, board officials finally agreed to allow the reunion’s official opening to take place in the school auditorium on Saturday afternoon, but there will be no tours of the rest of the building, which could soon be turned into a parking lot.
“I don’t even want to talk about that,” Mann says, obviously frustrated, but quickly recovers his optimism. “The reunion is definitely not going to be in a phone booth,” he jokes. “And it’s going to be a great party.”
Bullet: QEH reunion, July 27-29, at various locations, registration open until July 26, www.qeh.ednet.ns.ca/reunion/