By Robyn Gillam

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a man working on a site near my house. After asking me how long I had been in the neighbourhood, he shared that he had spent part of his childhood in the North End. With a smile and a sparkle in his eye, he told me he went to “Centennial.” I must have looked really blank. “What?” he said. “Where?” I replied. “I’ve never heard of it.” “What…” he cried in disbelief, “it’s gone?”

Indeed it has. Centennial Junior Elementary school (JK-5) existed in the North End between 1966 and the early 2000’s. It grew out of the original Picton Street Public School, founded in 1889, which was renamed after Headmistress Susan Bennetto after her death in 1919. After the original Bennetto School on Picton Street burnt down in 1965, the land on which it stood was purchased by the Catholic diocese and became the site of the current St. Lawrence School. Bennetto was divided into a Junior and senior elementary school, located at either end of the recently cleared block between John and Hughson. Bennetto, the senior school, was located to the north, near Wood Street. It was connected with a recreation centre. The new junior school on Simcoe, which was officially opened on May 24 1967, was named for the upcoming Canadian centennial. The Centennial School building still exists as part of the patchwork of structures that makes up the “new” Bennetto most clearly seen on the north western corner of Simcoe Street. Old photographs show the facade of the school on John Street with the legend “Centennial School,” on the portico.

Centennial’s colours were red and white and its own logo or mascot, was a cardinal, that gave its name to its sports teams, encouraged not only by students, but official cheerleaders. The opening verse and chorus of the school song goes:

Where can you go each morning?

            Where can you go each day?

            Where can you go to make new friends?

            And learn new words to say?

Centennial, Centennial,

Yes, that’s the place to be,

Centennial, Centennial,

That’s the school for me.

It suggests a happy place, like that remembered by the gentleman who first told me about the school.

Alumni and staff of Centennial celebrated its 25th anniversary with a commemorative mug featuring the bold cardinal, but ten years later it was gone. The school closed in 2002 and became part of the ‘New Bennetto,’ a merger of Bennetto Middle School (Gr 6-8), Centennial and Robert Land School (JK-5), formerly on Wentworth.

It does not take long for the awareness of community landmarks to fade. Although physical traces of Centennial school are still there, they have been obscured by the “New” Bennetto. It now only exists in the memories of those who attended it over a relatively brief time span and some documents in the school board archive.  The North End is full of places like the Ferrie Street Bridge, The Genesee Tavern (later Clarkey’s), Vic and Norm’s corner store at James and Burlington or Canadian Cottons between James and McNab. The human landscape consists of natural environments, buildings and communities. They are all bound together by memory. Telling their stories means that they remain a part of our world and our neighbourhood.

The author would like to thank Sheri Selway and Benjamin Dymant of the Archives of the Hamilton and Wentworth District School board.