Tollgate celebrates 50th anniversary

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Plans for Tollgate Technological Skills Centre to celebrate a milestone anniversary stemmed from a bit of a sticky situation.

Principal Brian Quistberg was just new to the school last year when he decided to clean a nameplate commemorating the opening of the building.

"Someone had put gum on it," he said with a laugh. "When we pulled it off, we saw the date and realized it was the 50th anniversary!"

The school is planning a celebration on May 13 that includes an open house, classroom tours, decades rooms filled with memorabilia, and a pub night.

One of the rooms will be dedicated to Camp Fawcett, an excursion students have been taking for almost 40 years to Magnetewan, Ontario.

The day will also mark Tollgate's annual Spring Sale, a tradition for the past 30 years, which includes the sale of student-made crafts, flowers and baked goods.

The Piston Pushers Car Club will have vintage vehicles on display at the front of the school.

Anniversary organizers are hoping several hundred people turn out for the events.

"It's the nicest school with some of the greatest kids and parents," said vice principal Jim Young.

Tollgate began as Herman E. Fawcett Secondary School, which opened on Tollgate Road on Jan. 3, 1967.

The $2.5-million school was named in memory of Fawcett who was principal at Pauline Johnson Collegiate for 10 years and, later, a secondary school inspector.

The federal government of then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker passed the Technical and Vocational Training Assistance Act in 1960. Under the act, significant federal funding was made available for training and employment-related programs.

An initial $90 million in funding was directed at increasing the numbers of secondary school technical-vocational programs across the country. In Ontario, 335 new secondary schools, including Herman E. Fawcett, were constructed, all devoted partially or totally to vocational education.

The school was designed to accommodate 600 students who experienced academic difficulties in a three-year occupational program.

Students began classes on Jan. 3, 1967 under the direction of Glen Wier, the first principal.

In the early years, students were enrolled in a non-credit occupational program and graduated with a certificate of training from the Ontario Ministry of Education.

In 1976, the non-credit courses were dropped and classes were designated Grade 9 and 10, followed later by Grades 11 and 12, with a continued emphasis on vocational training and education. That system continued until the 1990s.

In 1995, HEFSS was renamed Tollgate Technological Skills Centre and became a "Magnet" school to attract students from other secondary schools.

Today, Tollgate offers a blend of academic, technological, personal service and entrepreneurial skills programs from Grades 9 to 12. The school attracts students from across the Grand Erie District School Board. Students who successfully complete four years of study receive a Secondary School Graduation Diploma and either enter the workforce or continue their training in apprenticeships or their education at a community college.

The school population is about 450, including Magnet students and "home" students.

Programs include horticulture, masonry, auto mechanics, baking, construction, cooking and cosmetology.

Students also operate The Gallery Restaurant in the school, which is open several days a week to the public.

"Many school boards have gone away from this model," said Quistberg, who believes that with growing recognition of the importance of skills and trades there will be more need in the future for the type of programs Tollgate offers.

"We have great kids who are going to have a leg up because they can pick up a hammer," he said.

Diane Campbell, who has been teaching at Tollgate for 17 years, said there is satisfaction in helping students who may not be academically inclined to succeed.

"You can make a difference with kids who you might ordinarily not be able to."

The Spring Sale will kick off the 50th reunion activities on May 13, running from 8 a.m. to noon.

The decades rooms open house is free and will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Pub night, with finger foods made by Tollgate's hospitality students, will be held at the school at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the school.

Organizers are hoping alumni and former staff will contribute memorabilia to the celebration. More information is at