Justin Bieber may be a big musical attraction in Canada, but Alvin Curling reigns supreme in Scarborough’s north end.
The singer/songwriter’s name was among 22 submissions made for a new school in the Rougeville community. The naming committee, however, chose Curling’s name to be attached to the Toronto District School Board’s newest school that was officially unveiled last week.
“It’s an honour to be recognized in this manner,” said Curling, who represented the riding for 20 years in the provincial parliament. “This is an exciting and joyful day.”
Nestled in the scenic Rouge Valley, a ravine runs along the edge of the school and the Toronto Zoo is in close proximity.
“It’s quite unusual for a school to be located in the heart of Canada’s premier urban wilderness where there is a long history of human habitation, century-old trees, peaceful meadows and lush wetland,” said Curling. “Embracing the boundary is the zoo and hopefully the students will become ambassadors for Canada’s premier zoo.”
Shortly after he was elected the Scarborough Rouge-River school trustee in 2006, Shaun Chen learned there wasn’t a school in the subdivision which has about 1,200 homes and 500 children. The students were transported by bus to Highcastle and Chief Dan George Public Schools.
In 2008, he moved a motion for the TDSB to approve the project as the top capital project in the system.
With a $12.3 million Ministry of Education grant and $15.2 million from the TDSB, construction started four years ago.
Several factors, including labour unrest and poor weather conditions at a critical time contributed to the delay in completion of the project at 50 Upper Rouge Trail in the Meadowvale Rd. & Sheppard Ave. E. area.
“This school has been a test of patience and a labour of love,” said Chen. “I can think of no better person to represent the values of our school community than Alvin Curling. He’s someone whose boundless energy and commitment to children continue to create a culture of positive change in our schools.”
Prior to becoming a politician, Curling – who was presented with the Order of Ontario last January – was Seneca College’s student services director for 14 years and president of World Literacy Canada.
“Alvin’s knowledge and dedication to youth achievement is why we stand here today in his honour,” said Gen Ling Chang, the TDSB’s associate director of education. “Student and youth excellence have always been at the forefront of his accomplishments and for that we are grateful that a TDSB school bears his name and reflects his legacy.”
The school has state-of-the-art technology that provides its kindergarten to Grade Eight students with the best possible learning environment.
“Each classroom has access to interactive whiteboard technology, data projectors and mobile computing capabilities that are part of the experience that take learning here way beyond the brick and mortar of this building into the global world,” said Chang. “The boys and girls here have access to cutting-edge learning and tools that will enable them to become successful global citizens and leaders. Student achievement and excellence have always been at the forefront of what we do at the TDSB.”
Curling’s wife, Hyacinth Sulph-Curling; daughters Nicole and Deone; Jamaica’s Consul General, George Ramocan; former legislative assembly of Ontario House speaker, David Warner; retired politician, Gerry Phillips; Jamaican Canadian Association president, Audrey Campbell; city councillor, Raymond Cho; superintendent of education, Nadira Persaud and MPP’s Michael Coteau, Tracy MacCharles and Bas Balkissoon attended the opening ceremony.
“This school is a treasure because it’s ideally located overlooking the Rouge River,” said Balkissoon who replaced Curling as the Scarborough-Rouge River provincial representative in November 2005. “The students are so lucky to come to an institution that has so many modern resources for learning and teaching and is named after an icon in our community.”
The diverse student population actively participated in the opening ceremony through drumming, song and dance.
Curling joins Barbadian-born Harold Brathwaite as the only Canadians of Caribbean descent with schools in the Greater Toronto Area bearing their names. Harold Brathwaite Secondary School was opened in Brampton in 2003. Brathwaite was Canada’s first Black director of education.
Entering politics in 1984, Curling lost the nomination for York-Scarborough in the federal elections by just five votes to former Toronto Mayor June Rowlands, the personal choice of then Liberal leader, John Turner. She lost the election.
Despite being a political neophyte, Curling displayed extraordinary savvy and gained the trust of Scarborough’s provincial Liberals and those in other areas by publicly supporting the candidate who had defeated him in the federal riding nomination.
The support paid dividends with Curling securing a landslide win in May 1985 in what was then Canada’s largest riding. He received 31,842 votes, which was some 8,000 more than the Progressive Conservative party candidate, Carole Noble. The victory was significant in that it ended a 22-year Conservative reign in the riding.
As a member of the provincial Liberal government between 1985 and 1990, Curling served as Minister of Housing and Minister of Skills Development with special responsibility for literacy, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and parliamentary assistant to then Premier David Peterson.
In opposition, he served in various critic roles and was an active voice in the Liberal caucus.
Nearly two decades ago, Curling engaged in a much-publicized 18-hour filibuster-like protest against the Mike Harris government’s Omnibus Bill 26, claiming a lack of public consultation. A group of fellow Liberals and New Democratic Party opposition members formed a cordon around him to prevent his removal after he was ordered expelled from the legislature for using what was judged to be “un-parliamentary language”.
The Bill, which sought to change 47 existing pieces of legislation at the same time that would have affected a wide variety of government departments and ministries, was eventually passed on January 30, 1996 following amendments that the government had not planned to make.
Since retiring from politics, Curling teamed up with former Ontario chief justice and attorney general Roy McMurtry to author a youth violence report and, two years ago, he was appointed strategic adviser on youth opportunities to the province’s Minister of Children & Youth Services.
He has also used his extensive political knowledge to help Jamaican-born Mary Anne Chambers, Margarett Best and Mitzie Hunter win provincial elections in Scarborough-Guildwood.