Closing the best “School” we never had

While in my previous blog I was talking about teaching the Armenian Language through Armenian schools and its importance for the preservation of the Armenian identity, I remembered an event that happened about thirty-eight years ago and I thought it was worthy to write about as a memoir. Յուշագրութիւն.

It must have been late Spring or early Summer of 1978 prior to the opening of the ARS  Day School in Toronto in 1979. The ARF executive (Gomidai) learned that Soorp Khatch Armenian Church was opening an All Day Ամէնօրեա Armenian school at Sheppard and Bayview Avenue. At the time the construction of the Armenian Community Center, (ACC) and the ARS School building at 45 Hall Crown Place was already in progress, and the ARS School planned to open when the building was completed, and not to be outdone, Gomidai decided to open the school that year and appointed a committee Յանձնախումբ to fast track a feasibility study.

I could remember only the two members of the committee. They were Arpi Meras, (who owned and operated the “Arpi Nursery” in the basement of a Church in the Bathurst and Lawrence Avenue area), and Houry Derderian. (I think Houry then was a young university student and now Houry Najarian, a very active member of the ARS organization).

Soon the report was ready, and it was Houry who read it. It was a very well prepared report, that included, the minimum requirements of the number of students, teacher-student ratio, the starting capital requirement, and the operating budget, etc. Gomidai decided to go ahead and delegated the committee to start the school with junior and senior kindergarten classes, with the intention to add the first grade next year.

Soon a very convenient place was rented in the basement of a fairly new Church that was being used only for Sunday School. It was at Senlac and Finch Avenue west neighborhood. It passed the Ministry of Health’s inspection with hardly any changes except we had to fence the outdoor playground area and provide some additional equipment and toys. The Equipment and toys were purchased, and three quotes were obtained for the chain-link fencing that was within the limit of the budget.

When the registration started it was realized that there were enough students to start grade one as well and Gomidai decided to go ahead. But Arpi Meras explained that we cannot include it that year since we were authorized to open a Nursery by the Ministry of Social Services, and grade one was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (ME), and we needed a different license from ME to be able to add the first grade, and it was too late for that academic year.

It was one of the toughest decisions that the Gomidai members faced. There were those who reasoned that everything was in place and we should open the nursery, and the others, who reasoned that, we had already made the decision to open an All Day school Ամէնօրեա Վարժարան and since at that stage we do not know even how to start one, we should not get “stuck” with a nursery that we might not need, and start immediately the feasibility study to open the All Day School next year as per ME requirement.

It was one of those hot and humid days in the city of Toronto, and the second-floor Gomidai office without air conditioning was “boiling” hot, which was matched with an equally hot debate. Usually, the Gomidai’s decisions were taken by consensus and seldom needed to go through a vote. But this time around, nobody was budging, and if I recall it right, it was decided to close the nursery by a vote count with the slimmest margin.

The Church Board of trustees was very understanding and kind enough to void the contract agreement and pay back the first and last month’s rent. Fortunately, we have not yet ordered the chain link fencing. Աժան պրծանք

When with Stepan Najarian we went to take the equipment and toys, to the basement of Vahe Mardirossian’s newly purchased home in Thornhill and thanked and apologized for the inconvenience that we had caused to the Church, the secretary of the church with whom we have done most of the negotiations, with her natural smiling face said, “Do not worry, you just lost the best “school” that you never had, and we lost the best-fenced playground that we never had”.

Thus Soorp Khatch All Day school, Ամէնօրեա Վարժարան, became the first All Day school in Toronto. A worthy credit must be given to the Armenian community from Istanbul Պոլսահայ for keeping the school open for over twenty years and then they merged with AGBU Daniel Zaroogian All Day school. Unfortunately, the merged school continued only for a few years, and then closed its doors permanently. (Most probably due to the distant location from the Armenian populated area, and thus the insufficient number of students.)

Now that I reminisce about these events, I keep thinking that, maybe today, we need more Armenian Nurseries to ease the burden on the ARS Babaian Nursery and Kindergarten Պապաեան Մանկապարտէզ that has more demand than it can accommodate. This could be a for-profit undertaking by the community, or a private enterprise. According to public reports, there is a shortage of affordable nursery spaces in Toronto and urgent demand for more spaces. The irony is that this idea is coming from someone who ardently supported the closing of the “ready to open” Armenian Nursery about thirty-eight years ago. Well… was that in the twentieth century?.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian


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