History & Alumni

York Memorial's Heritage

"The 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour we will remember them."

1929 - 2018 

Nearly 90 years of Academic Excellence


In 1929 the Council of the Township of York decided to build an institution of higher learning in memory of their youth killed in the First World War. It is that Pride in Heritage that we will share together in this tour.

Charles Wellington Smith designed that building, grand in concept. It is constructed of Don Valley Brick, laid in stretcher coursing, combined with smooth faded stone. Sir William Mulock laid the cornerstone May 6, 1929 and officially opened and dedicated the building on January 30, 1930. We will look together at some of the memorial aspects of the school including the Eglinton façade with its imposing central entrance, the foyer, and the auditorium.

You will note the terraced steps are interrupted by a broad landing. Then we have 11 steps symbolizing the 11th hour of the 11th day of the11th month when peace was declared. These steps are flanked by cut stone balustrades with smooth stone caps. If you look up from the stair landing you will see the two imposing towers on either side of the main entrance, which have a rather military appearance. The four entrance doors are of solid oak with plate glass, with uprights of modelled stone and topped by a semi-elliptical head in which the school name is craved. As well as the Old English script, note the torches of remembrance, and shields of honour, all underscored by symbolic carvings of grapes, acorn and oak leaves, pine cones and ferns. Surmounting the crenellated balcony above the entrance are tall carved torches enclosing a large shield of honour, all beautifully shown off in the varying tones of brick and faded stone.

Inside we find a vestibule paved with light terrazzo and another set of four oak frame doors opening into the foyer. Notice the plate glass, and solid brass handles. At the auditorium entrance we pause for a closer look at the mural painted by John Hall and dedicated on February 27, 1949 as a Second World War memorial. The large centre panel represents family and community life, and those ordinary events in which are found beauty, love, and freedom for which our young people fought and died. The panel on the left depicts the sciences, through which we control the forces of nature, understand and utilize our nature resources, and become aware of a sense or order in the universe.

On the right, the artist portrays the various arts which enrich our lives, help us to understand ourselves and the world about us, and shape our individual world within a code of moral and spiritual values. Under it and between the doors are two oak panels. On them are inscribed the names of the forty-five who give their lives. This is York Memorial’s own Roll of Honour. Their names are read aloud at our Remembrance Day services. Each is recalled by his photograph, framed with a cross in the centre of the facing walls.

York Memorial has always been prominent in sports and athletics. You will see some trophies and banners in the cases, with some recent student art work below. After we have visited the auditorium we will look at some pictures of school teams of former years and a section dedicated to the memory of the architect, Charles Wellington Smith. Before we leave the foyer, look at the beautiful ceiling, with its interesting shaped plaster beams, with craved plain shields at either end, and on the surface, the book of remembrance on a bed of maple leaves. The intersections are marked with moulded roses.We are standing on a terrazzo floor inlaid with yellow diamond shapes radiating from green squares to form a flower design, all enclosed in an attractive border.

Inside the auditorium we turn to see the second floor balcony enclosed by its wood railing. Beneath it is a Lake Superior scene by Fred Brigden. The two plaster casts are by the noted Toronto sculptor, Frances Wyle. The front of the auditorium is dominated by the stage. Note the york roses and open books on the two supporting plaster columns. Above the stage are moulded plaster crests of the original nine provinces alternating with roses of sacrifice. Each of the two side walls is highlighted by three tryptych stained glasses windows designed by Will Meike and fabricated and installed by Robert McCausland Glassworks. They are set in squared frames of smooth finished stone with cast bronze lamps at either side, with opalescent shades in the Tiffany style. Four of the windows celebrate our industrial heritage; farming, lumbering, mining and fishing. The side panels portray various mottoes, name the Virtues, and depict the Provincial Coat of Arms. The two centre windows recall two famous battles, the Battle of Ypres where thousands of Canadians gave theirs lives, flanked by the maple leaf fleur de lis and a central inscription “For God and country” opposite it, the death of Wolfe in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, 1759. Under the fleur de lis is Quebec’s motto “Je me souviens.”

George Harvey's Heritage

The school opened in 1952 as the first vocational school in the former City of York for students who want to pursue skilled trades. It became a composite secondary school focused on technology and offered a STEPS to University program, as well as a program called Game Design. George Harvey was also the first TDSB school to provide netbooks to students. 

The vocational school was constructed in 1951 and opened in 1952. Designed by architect John B. Parkin, the original building had 12 classrooms, 3 commercial rooms, 3 typing rooms, two science labs, a double gymnasium, a 500-seated auditorium, library, an auto shop, an electrical shop, a machine shop, a wood shop and a large trades-room. It was the first technical secondary school serving the former City of York before it evolved into a composite school.

In May 2019, the school hosted 900 students from the displaced nearby York Memorial Collegiate Institute, which had caught in a five-alarm fire. As the school has a population of 535 students, the building can hold up to 1,435 pupils.

After the pupil accommodation review in 2021, the school and its name ceased to exist by June 30, 2022, and its student body was consolidated and has operated as York Memorial Collegiate Institute since September 2022. The newly-merged school will continue to operate at the George Harvey building until 2026.

The Fire and Merger

On May 6, 2019, just after the school marked its 90th anniversary, flames broke out in the auditorium towards the end of the school day. Firefighters battled the flames for about four hours before the fire was finally put out.  The following morning, the blaze reignited and quickly escalated to a six alarm fire. Toronto Firefighters were unable to put out the flames and it destroyed much of the building. After investigation, the Ontario Fire Marshalls were unable to determine what caused the fire and deemed it accidental. York Memorial students finished off the 2018-2019 school year at George Harvey.

From 2019 to 2022, York Memorial operated inside of the old Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy building at 15 Treehorne Drive.  In 2022, it was decided that York Memorial and George Harvey would merge as one school under the name York Memorial. York Memorial and George Harvey students came together as one at the start of the school year on September 2022. They will remain at this building until 2026 when the newly rebuilt York Memorial is set to be completed. See more information about the rebuilding here.

York Memorial Remembers

"I was a young kid when I started at Memo, 23 years old, I was so excited entering such a vibrant and exciting school that was to be my home for the next almost 30 years. Sometimes I really can’t believe all that time passed, I walked through those halls, and taught in almost every single room in one course or another. There are so many memories for me, too many to count, it really was my home, there were good times and some challenging ones, and I was always happy to go to school each day,

The day it burnt down, I could not stop crying, I had never experienced such a feeling of loss, other than when my my Dad passed away, it was like watching your home, your memories, a place you cherished and was always there for you, gone.

I find solace in the saying don’t be sad it’s over be happy it happened and I am so very happy, that I grew up in a wonderful school and that I am a part of the Memo history, and hopefully carry the honour of Memo into the future."

Julie Fortuna

York Memorial was my first full time teaching position. I will never forget walking into her gorgeous auditorium that would become my classroom for many years. I had never seen anything quite like it especially in a high school. My mentor Doug Norris, introduced me to this room and referred to it as “The heart of Memo” and it certainly was! The countless plays, dance shows, ceremonies, and events I would partake in on that very stage was incredible. She really was my second home and her beauty was never lost on me. I still can’t believe a fire would take her but nothing can extinguish my memory of the magic that was created there, and the wonderful people I encountered during that time. In the words of Doctor Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!”

Renata Arquilla

One of my favourite things about coaching is the fact that students from all grades, academic ability, and backgrounds can come together with one common interest. When you choose to spend dozens, if not hundreds of hours a year working together on something you are passionate about, these teammates become more than just fellow students, they become family. After the fire, decades of cheerleaders shared their pictures, videos and memories of how sport and their experiences inside 2690 changed their life for the better. This is not just the story of cheer....this is the story of sport in general, music, drama, yearbook, you name the extra-curricular. This is what makes school fun and what makes students see their teachers as fellow humans. What they don't realize is that they had just as much of a positive influence on our lives, as we may have had on theirs.

With pleasure,

Christina Ostermann

York Memorial Alumni

York Memorial has a very strong and proud alumni community. 

Please join us at the alumni Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2216715205/