BRIDGETOWN - In a country in which an iconic business like Sears Canada can disappear so quickly, it is refreshing to report that an iconic building in Bridgetown like Bridgetown Regional High School, despite its retirement as a useful structure, will continue to inspire new generations of students and citizens.
This fact was made clear at the glittering annual induction ceremony of the Bridgetown Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF) held in the Legion auditorium on Nov. 18. Despite no individual athletes, coaches or teams being honoured, a capacity crowd came together to honour the great sports heritage that BRHS has given the community of Bridgetown.
In his opening remarks, BASHOF chairperson Dick Campbell noted the depth of support given over the years by coaches and volunteers, the number of graduates who have returned to teach and coach, the number of other activities in which BRHS played a dominant role.
A clear indication of this legacy continuing was the presence at the ceremony of the 2017 senior boys’ soccer team, which has just won for Bridgetown Regional Community School its first provincial championship.
Zoe Brennan, NSSAF (Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation) special track and field gold medalist, led the singing of Oh Canada; a moment of silence in honour of the late Ed Gillis, an inductee in 2012 and 2015, was observed. In his remarks, Warden Tim Habinski hailed the shared narrative of the school and community in building pride and celebrating a legacy of achievement.
Through the Decades
A fascinating video of interviews with BRHS graduates “through the decades,” which was recorded by Jim Verran and Ian Swinimer, was shown to the audience: the video gave an overview of the gratitude expressed by alumni for their BRHS experience.
The first of five speakers was Alan Beattie, a 2013 inductee, who spoke in a letter from Calgary of the earliest BRHS days. He noted that Bridgetown has punched above its weight in the achievements of its citizens: four Rhodes scholars, two premiers, one lieutenant governor, a university president. Henry Hicks, as Nova Scotia’s first minister of education, would have overseen the construction of BRHS in 1951. He made mention of the number of male teachers recruited who were hockey players, part of the Bridgetown Hawks hockey team which won the 1954 provincial championship. In 1956, the school crest, designed by Jim Bent was introduced with the accompanying motto: “Palma Non Sine Pulvere – No Victory Without a Struggle.”
The second speaker, Sheila Clements, a 2015 inductee, expressed the pride of herself and her family members as each in turn grew to appreciate what BRHS had to offer. For Sheila, she recounted her soccer years, beginning with her start on an intermediate team, becoming provincial champs as a member of the senior team in 1959. The two most respected teachers for her were Agnes Beeler and Brad Finigan, in providing an excellent grounding for the future. Sheila referenced the new school subjects such as French and Music as well as the many military band and symphony concerts enjoyed during BRHS assemblies.
Duff Montgomerie, the third speaker, a 2012 inductee, displayed a range of opportunities he has enjoyed from being a student athlete, teacher coach, and finally the first executive director of the NSSAF in 1973. Duff introduced a common theme in the evening, the contribution of Jack Walker, the first physical education teacher at BRHS, who would later become principal and superintendent. A record number of championships were won at this time by BRHS, a feat worth remembering in that as a small school BRHS bested the bigger schools in the province under the Headmasters regime then in place. Jack was “a true leader” who never personalized, instilled confidence in his athletes to learn and get better, encouraging them to never underestimate their own potential. Duff lauded teachers who added lustre to BRHS in extra-curricular activities: Hilda Fitzrandolph, Donalda Fraser and Mary Montgomerie. In his visits to all schools as NSSAF director, he would always feel the spirit and experience of BRHS.
Stephen McNeil, the fourth speaker, another 2012 inductee, appeared in a previously recorded video presentation as he was in France on government business. He introduced another common theme in the evening, the level of comfort and closeness of a big family which BRHS provided. Many athletic contests became community events and celebrations. In such a way, Bridgetown’s sports legacy is unmatched. He mentioned, as did others, the immense achievement of the late Howie Jackson, a 2010 inductee who set the triple jump record at the 1964 Nova Scotia Headmasters High School championships, which has never been broken. The legacy of BRHS “lives on in us… in the foundation which we have received.”
The last speaker, Allen Hume, a 2014 inductee, the only one of the five speakers not to have been brought up in Bridgetown, expressed his satisfaction that tradition and expectations have been maintained. As a coach, vice principal, and principal, he saw the deep bench strength in both the students and staff. Students’ commitment to their studies was a common perception for him. He commended secretaries such as Debbie Foster, janitors such as Marven Taylor, and drivers like Jack Pearl. During his time, students from the Lawrencetown area were brought to BRHS to provide an interesting mix. Many students, such as the three Saunders boys, would become valued friends.
The climax of the evening came with the presentation of a citation to Bill Hirtle, a 2010 inductee, by Bronson Rafuse, a 2014 inductee. Bronson had collected an amazing set of statistics: in its 66 years, BRHS has produced one building, eight principals, 1,624 teachers, 26,154 students, 3,346 graduates, 1,591 coaches, 333 managers, 1,175 athletic teams, 16,180 athletes, 810 athletic titles, 497 Congress banners, 216 Regional banners, and 97 provincial championships, more championships than any other school in Nova Scotia.
In his remarks, Bill Hirtle, a teacher, vice principal and principal, in his usual self-effacing way, was able to recollect his early days in BRHS. An earlier speaker commended Bill for using his summers to train the top BRHS track and field athletes. He commented that Jeannette LeBrun, first students’ council president in 1951, was the equivalent vibrancy of Hailey Saunders as 2017 president: a favourite secretary was Cal Jefferson. He enjoyed his experience with adult students like Theresa McNeil in his Business Education courses. His final words showed his dissatisfaction with two elements: school board decisions are now made in Berwick not Bridgetown, and most BRHS teachers do not live in Bridgetown.
Bridgetown is no longer a town but is a community. We no longer have BRHS, but we do have BRCS. Such is the ebb and flow of events in the 21st century. As evidenced by the speakers and attendees at this year’s induction of BRHS into the Bridgetown Area Sport Hall of Fame, “the legacy continues.”
John A. Montgomerie, Bridgetown, is a former educator, writer, and musician. He writes periodically for The Spectator.