Students and staff say goodbye to the old F.H. Collins school

Peter Grundmanis remembers a cool spring day when the doors were open inside the F.H. Collins Secondary School gym and the students were practising archery.

Peter Grundmanis remembers a cool spring day when the doors were open inside the F.H. Collins Secondary School gym and the students were practising archery.

All of a sudden, a gopher ran in and made a mad dash for the bleachers.

“You can’t imagine what 12 kids armed with bow and arrows would do in that situation,” he told a packed audience in the gym on Thursday afternoon, pointing to the spot where it happened.

“There were more gouges on the floor there than anywhere else.”

The gopher escaped unscathed.

It was one of several anecdotes Grundmanis recalled from his 25 years as a teacher at the school.

He acted as the master of ceremonies for hundreds of students and staff, current and former, young and old, who packed into the gym to celebrate the closing of the 52-year-old building.

They walked down memory lane together as they watched old pictures and videos displayed on a big screen.

One segment featured the school’s well-known alumni, including renowned artist Ted Harrison, actress Amy Sloan and former Olympian Jim Boyd.

A bevy of former students such as Ruth Massie, Carl Sidney and Roger Kyikavichik have also gone on to become First Nation chiefs throughout the territory.

Another highlight was a mock music video created using hits from every year between 1963 and 2015.

The camera weaved its way through the hallways and classrooms of the school, as students and staff lip-synced and danced to the classic tunes.

For over 30 years, it was the city’s only high school.

When it opened in 1963, it had 20 teachers and 315 students.

Yukon Commissioner Doug Phillips remembers that year. He came over to F.H. Collins as a Grade 9 student from Whitehorse Elementary High School.

But similarly to 2015, construction of F.H. wasn’t completed yet, he said.

“We were on shift work from September to December because they didn’t move us in permanently until January,” he added.

“So a bunch of us would go in from 7:30 a.m. until noon every day. We didn’t get a lot done that first semester.”

Many former F.H. Collins students have made an impact on a national level, Phillips said.

As Yukon’s education minister in the early 1990s, he remembers going to a conference in Ottawa with his provincial counterparts.

He sat next to Richard Nerysoo, from the Northwest Territories, and pointed something interesting out to him.

“Do you realize there’s 12 of us in this room making national education policy and two of us are grads from F.H. Collins?” Phillips asked.

NDP MLA Kate White said her favourite memories of the school were in the band room.

Her music teacher, Ross Peterson, would take the class to international competitions in Hawaii and San Francisco.

“The room itself has a massive amount of meaning for me,” she said.

“Art kids don’t necessarily fit into the mainstream of high school. So for me, the band room was that safe spot.”

As Whitehorse’s oldest school, gophers weren’t the only critters to roam the hallways over the years.

Anyone attending the school in the 1990s would remember thousands of silverfish too, White said.

By the mid-1990s the student body had grown to about 1,000 students.

Before the cafeteria opened there was a limited lunch menu available, Grundmanis remembers.

Different clubs would try to fundraise by either selling hot dogs or grilled cheese sandwiches. But one day, one staff member thought it would be nice to order take-out pizza for a change.

So they tried to figure out how many pizzas it would take to feed 1,000 students.

“We assumed they’d eat one-third each, so we ordered 300 pizzas, and figured we’d make some money selling it by the slice,” Grundmanis said.

They only sold 30 pizzas that day.

The replacement of F.H. Collins was fraught with just as many planning mistakes.

For years, the Yukon government insisted that plans to build a new school were on time and on budget. But the project continued to be delayed and costs continued to rise.

Before the 2011 election, Premier Darrell Pasloski hosted a groundbreaking ceremony on the building, announcing it would open in August of 2013 for a total project cost of $52.5 million.

Costs quickly spiralled out of control, as the government continued to promise features it did not budget for such as geothermal heat and a temporary gym during construction.

Ultimately, the plans were scrapped and swapped for new, downsized designs.

The new school, which is 18 per cent smaller than the old one, looks spacious, bright, and at least for now, gopher-free.

The high ceilings and wide video screen in the main lobby resemble what you’d find in a modern museum.

As the ceremony began on Thursday, there was a touch of nostalgia in Grundmanis’s voice.

“It’s time to close the covers on this book,” he said.

“But in the book that you’ve enjoyed reading, you’ve come to love the characters and the setting. You’ve come to appreciate everything so there’s no harm, there’s only joy in looking at the past.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson the dog sits next to the Chariot Patrick Jackson has loaded and rigged up to walk the Dempster Highway from where it begins, off the North Klondike Highway, to the Arctic Circle. (Submitted)
Walking the Dempster

Patrick Jackson gets set for 405-kilometre journey

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
BREAKING: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read