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2018 Vic High grads may be last students to take part in 65-year tradition

Mysterious attic has been the home to grad signatures for decades, but upgrades may stop that
Grade 12 student Reese Emde takes part in a Vic High tradition and signs the brick wall in the school’s attic. It may be the last time the grad tradition can take part, as seismic upgrades may destroy the area. (Photo contributed)

When Madeleine Dorion first entered Victoria High School’s attic, she was in awe.

“It’s absolutely massive, it’s sort of unreal when you walk in,” she said.

But it wasn’t the size of the space that took her by surprise; it was what was written on the walls.

“It was covered in signatures, floor to ceiling, all the pipes and all the things that make the school work have been written on and painted on.”

For over 65 years, Vic High grads have left their last mark at the school on the rafters.

“My grandmother went to the school; apparently her signature was up there, but I couldn’t find it,” Dorion said. “But I know quite a few people whose parents’ or older siblings’ signatures are up there.”

The attic space has held a lot of history, though no one for certain knows how or when the tradition started.

“It used to be a rifle range,” said Fred Packford, who graduated in 1949 and then taught at the school as a shop teacher for 25 years. “It was wartime and cadets would practice up there after school.”

Amanda Meiklejohn (left) and Madeleine Dorion pose in front of their signatures signed in the infamous Vic High attic, a grad class tradition since the 1950s (File Contributed)

The school later had a sign-making club that would use the space, and Packford guesses that’s probably how poster paint got up on the walls.

Gus McTavish was vice-principal here from 1982-90 and confirmed that he’d heard about the rifle range. “If you look around, there are still slugs embedded in the backstops up there,” he said, adding the space also experienced a fire.

“A janitor tried to burn it down around 1967,” he said. “He took all the paper towels upstairs and stuck them on the wall and lit it on fire. Luckily, it was in the roof line so people saw the smoke quickly, but if you still look you can see charred ceiling joints.”

Students at Vic High have been signing every inch of the attic for over 65 years. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Whatever the origin, the tradition has continued for most of the years since the earliest signature, dated 1952. For Dorion, it was something she and her grad class were really looking forward to.

“They let us go up in groups of 20 and we got 15 minutes up there,” she said. “We spent the first 10 minutes just in awe looking at all the other names, taking in the visual history of the school, and actually seeing all the students’ names. They were teenagers who have written it who are no longer teenagers, now they’re your grandparents.”

Despite the massive jumps across time, the messages were largely the same; people saying they were happy to leave, swear words, messages of gratitude to the school and to the teachers, and inside jokes with friends.

“You keep seeing “X-year forever, or best friends forever,” Dorion said. “It repeats itself, it’s high school and it definitely fits.”

Students at Vic High have been signing every inch of the attic for over 65 years. In the top left you can see Chris Niketas signed his name next to his father, Taki Niketas, who signed the wall 34 years before. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWSS

While the tradition has carried on for decades, this year could be the last time grads could sign.

Greater Victoria School District trustees voted this week to approve nearly $74 million in seismic upgrades and renovations for the school, and the attic’s fate has yet to be determined.

“We knew it was a big deal that we could possibly be the last group up there to sign the attic … I think the biggest thing we were thinking was ‘I wonder if anyone will see this?’” Dorion said. “I hope at least the walls will stay somewhere in some sort of ode to the new school, just because there’s so much history. It’s a special piece of Vic High.”

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Students at Vic High have been signing every inch of the attic for over 65 years. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS