W. Rose Macdonald School Celebrates 150th Anniversary

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Jade Ondrik, a middle school student at the W. Ross Macdonald School, sings during a ceremony marking the school's 150th anniversary on Thursday.  Waterdown's Ondrik is the top prize winner at this year's Brant Music Festival.Vincent Ball
Jade Ondrik, a middle school student at the W. Ross Macdonald School, sings during a ceremony marking the school’s 150th anniversary on Thursday. Waterdown’s Ondrik is the top prize winner at this year’s Brant Music Festival.Vincent Ball JPG, BR

A lot has changed at the W. Ross Macdonald School over the past 150 years, Mehak Aziz said.

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But one thing that has always been there, according to Aziz, a middle school student at the provincial school, is a sense of community.

On Thursday, the community gathered in the Brant Avenue School’s auditorium to celebrate 150 years of teaching the blind, visually impaired and deafblind. Staff, students, former staff, alumni, friends and local dignitaries participated in the celebration, which included music and speeches. Afterwards, a barbecue was held on the school playground.

“The W. Ross Macdonald staff has an amazing way of pushing students to reach their full potential,” Aziz said.

She said staff helped her become a confident young woman, student council president and future graduate looking forward to higher education.

Aziz served as the emcee of the ceremony.

The ceremony was attended by Brantford-Brant MP Larry Bullock, Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis and Eddie Morten, a school graduate and Paralympic athlete , won a bronze medal in judo at the 1988 Summer Paralympic Games, a gold medal in wrestling at the 1984 Summer Paralympic Games and a bronze medal at the 1980 Summer Paralympic Games.

“This school has a great program that has helped me tremendously with my literacy and has provided me with several different activities to keep me busy with work throughout the day,” Morten said in sign language, he said. The speech is broadcast by the speaker to the audience. “It was a wonderful experience.”

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Morten is particularly fond of sports, and he is grateful to the school’s coach, John Howe, for his challenge and guidance.

Morten repeated a phrase he heard repeatedly from Howe during his school days and still guides him to this day.

He said Howe always told him, “You can do it.”

Morten also paid tribute to residence advisor and teacher Mick Ferras, who taught students life skills alongside evening entertainment. Ferras was inducted into the Ontario Sports Association for the Blind Hall of Fame in 2021.

The ceremony included a musical performance by organist, composer and teacher Johan van der Tooine, who attended the school.

Jade Ondrik, a middle school student at the school, sang “Far From Home I Love” from “Fiddler on the Roof”. Waterdown’s Ondrik is the top prize winner at this year’s Brant Music Festival.

W. Ross Macdonald School middle school student Jack Zavits sings Thursday during a ceremony celebrating the school's 150th anniversary. Playing the bass is former staff member Denis Rondeau.Vincent Ball
W. Ross Macdonald School middle school student Jack Zavits sings Thursday during a ceremony celebrating the school’s 150th anniversary. Playing the bass is former staff member Denis Rondeau.Vincent Ball JPG, BR

Middle school student Jake Zavitz sang When You Smile with the band, which included ex-student Oscar Evans’ trumpet, Amy Danino drummer and bassist of Denis Rondeau, both former faculty members.

The school’s chamber choir performed “Deep Meadow” and Vaiva Dzemionas performed “I Want to Be Full of Joy”.

The keynote speech was delivered by Elizabeth Mohler of the school’s Alumni Association.

Megan Myers spoke at the event on behalf of middle school students, while Max Scandlan gave the primary school address.

The ceremony also includes land confirmation from Yehati Antone and Lily King. The Yoda Tao clause of the Oneida wolf clan offers traditional blessings.

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Those attending the ceremony were greeted by the school’s principal, Dan Maggiacomo.

The school’s 150th anniversary celebration begins with a carnival and petting zoo on Wednesday and continues with alumni gatherings over the weekend.

The school was established in March 1872 as the Ontario Educational Institution for the Blind. It later became the Ontario School for the Blind and was subsequently named after Brantford attorney and former MP W. Ross Macdonald, who served as Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor from 1968 to 1974. MacDonald died in 1976.

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