School pals and faculty members reunite after decades apart
In a crowded cafeteria, Roland Saumur met the smiling eyes of an unfamiliar face. Saumur wore a look of confusion, as he did not recognize the person standing in front of him. He reached forward and flipped over the person’s nametag, revealing: “Claude Laurin.”
Suddenly, Saumur’s eyes widened as the memories of a long-lost former student and work colleague came rushing back. They embraced. Saumur had coached Laurin on the basketball team at Collège Sacré-Coeur before the two taught math together at École secondaire catholique Thériault.
They reunited after decades apart, which was a common occurrence at Thériault’s 50th anniversary this weekend. The event brought old friends back to a familiar place – to reminisce about a time when everything felt simpler.
“It’s very, very pleasant,” Saumur said.
Former Thériault Flammes and their teachers flocked to the school for a three-day celebration that included sporting events, trivia games, live entertainment, a beer tent and Sunday mass. In the spirit of the high school experience, there was something for everyone.
And everyone, it seemed, came to participate. They came from Montreal and British Columbia and South Carolina and Hong Kong (of course, some still live in town, too). Those who didn’t make it expressed regret in the event’s various Facebook groups, saying things like, “My heart is with you (but) my body remains in Windsor” and “I sure missed the Big One.”
A reunion of this magnitude may never happen again for most of the 1,200-plus alumni in attendance. That fact is as unfortunate as it is true. But while the moments from the weekend won’t last, the memories certainly will.
Some memories were unearthed in the form of a Jeopardy game themed to Thériault in the ’70s, with clues about former teachers, students and life in Timmins at that time. Other memories were made anew as former student athletes returned to the basketball and volleyball courts to test their skills (there were fewer points scored in basketball and fewer rallies in volleyball than in the old days, but no one seemed to mind).
Perhaps the most powerful memories were the ones recreated in the classrooms that were outfitted with music, yearbooks, knick-knacks and clothing from each decade. The 60s/70s room had long-sleeved football jerseys and an original box from Don’s Pizzeria (founded in 1966). Across the hall was the 80s room, with a stereo cassette player and an Alf poster. The 90s room had beanbag chairs and photos of the Timmins Jr. A Bears, while the 2000s room had selfie sticks and iPhones.
Then there was a special retro room, out of the way from the others, with a sloped ceiling on one side. This was the former grade 13 hangout, where the eldest students came on their spare (or while they skipped class) to play cards, buy 10-cent Cokes and listen to records.
As a small group of former students stood in that room again for the first time in more than 30 years, the memories flowed easily. They remembered sitting on cardboard couches. They could still hear the crack of an ice-cold Coke, freshly unsealed at the vending machine. And they recalled their favourite artists to listen to on vinyl, from Supertramp and the Eagles, to Donna Summer and ABBA.
When the word “disco” was uttered, something triggered Liliane Gendron-Le Brasseur, class of ’77, to race to the light switch.
“That was our strobe light!” she said, flicking the switch on and off in rapid succession, as if Dancing Queen was playing that very second.
It was a fun moment that was quickly snuffed out when the group asked a current Thériault student what the hangout room is used for now. The room is used for storage and kids don’t have access to it, the student said.
“Isn’t that sad?” said Marc Noël, class of ’77.
As much as some things change – like hangout rooms, relationships and the places you live – others remain the same. A lot of what stays the same is inside the walls of Thériault, where memories feel like they’re preserved for good.
“It’s almost like coming back to a time capsule,” said Ron Pagé, class of ’77, as he stretched out after the alumni basketball game. “You pick up from where you left off and we tell stories like it was yesterday.”
That mention of a time capsule gave his friend Nicole Poirier-Black, class of ‘75, an idea.
“Don’t you think we should’ve dug a hole and put something in this time?” said Poirier-Black, a retiree who spends half her year in Barrie and half her year in Mexico.
“We’re not coming back in 25 years!” said Pagé, who lives in Montreal now. “We’re going to be put in the hole!”
For some people, Thériault is part of a generational legacy. Thérèse Chartier, class of ’69, graduated in the school’s inaugural year. Her daughter, Marie-José Lalonde, graduated in ’94 (Thériault’s 25th year). Now, Lalonde’s son Nicolas will graduate this spring.
Lalonde married her high school sweetheart and has three friends from Thériault who did the same. All of their kids came to Thériault around the same time.
“The generations just keep going and going,” Lalonde said.
Of course, there are other people who left Timmins after high school and have only been back periodically, if at all.
For everyone who attended the Thériault reunion, the purpose was not to replicate their experiences from all those years ago – but rather to recognize that despite the many ways they’ve changed since walking through those halls, a significant part of their lives still belongs there.
“It brings out something in people,” said Mariette Rains, class of ’73. “You get to see that twinkle in their eye and it’s just like old times.”