“The Spirit of Byng” remains ineffable, even to those who have walked through the doors of the legendary high school, but they are sure it did exist.
Baron Byng High School, the Protestant public school that was the alma mater for generations of Jewish children in Montreal, many of whom excelled in many fields, is commemorated with modern technology.
The website baronbynghighschool.ca was created to preserve its history and capture its zeitgeist for generations to come.
Launched on June 6, the site features over 500 artifacts and ephemera, as well as oral histories, from some 150 donors who cover Byng’s existence from 1921 to 1980.
This online museum is the culmination of a project that began six years ago with a reunion class from the 60s. The original idea was a physical museum in the old school site on St. Urban, headquarters of the Sun Youth Organization.
When this proved impractical, the committee went virtual. Led by Ted Rotsztein, the committee includes graduates from 1940 to 1976.
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Organized by Helen Malkin (a non-Bynger), the site provides access to her treasures through multiple portals and different themes, linked throughout.
Malkin, who was Deputy Director of the Canadian Center for Architecture for 23 years, believes the site will be appreciated by anyone interested in the history of Montreal.
The site tells this story through the teachers and students of the school, with a section on over 70 of its most notable graduates.
Each edition of the directory, the Echo, from 1949 to 1980, was scanned, and there are over 20 videotaped interviews.
One section uses the school’s floor plan to assign each “room” a different theme, such as music, art, and sports – important activities in Byng’s heyday.
The oldest document in the collection is typed 1922 Review of basketball rules.
These children – especially those of the 1930s –‘50 years old – may have done well in school, but not all were angels and much of their education was acquired outside of the classroom. In particular, there were three billiard rooms nearby.
In recognition of this, photos of a pool cue and the famous strap for corporal punishment have become icons. There is a link to Irving Layton’s memoir page where he remembers being “crossed out”.
Up to the ‘1960s, almost all of Byng’s students were Jewish. They lived in the close-knit Jewish quarter and usually came from working class immigrant families. There was a lot of pressure on these kids to be successful.
As noted cancer researcher Dr Phil Gold (’53) observed: “Our parents didn’t really care what we were doing as long as we got good grades. And we did well, we got out of the ghetto.
Some were immigrants themselves, like Rotsztein, of Polish descent, who immigrated to Montreal in 1956 from Uruguay, not knowing a word of English. Fortunately, a classmate translated everything into Yiddish for him.
Among the more than 120 former students who attended the launch, held at the University Club of Montreal – an elite private enclave they never dreamed of entering in their youth – were the retired judge of the Court Supreme Morris Fish, Former MP Harry Blank, Artist Rita Briansky. , former dean of medicine at McGill University Abe Fuks, former judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal Joseph Nuss; and businessman and engineer Lorne Trottier (a major sponsor of the project).
Notable alumni also include writer Mordecai Richler; Sydney Shulemson, the most senior Jewish officer in World War II; actress Marilyn Lightstone; NDP Leader David Lewis; the former Minister of Justice of Quebec Herbert Marx, and Rudolph Marcus who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1992, attesting to the scale of the achievements.
Two alumni of Class 39, which continues to host meetings, were in attendance: accountant Eddie Wolkove and biochemist Sam Levy. Children and even grandchildren represented those who died or were unable to attend, including Sandor Klein, son of poet and lawyer AM Klein, and Lewis Dobrin, son of Steinberg supermarket chain manager Mel Dobrin. .
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Two teachers offered their memories: Clifford Ford, who taught mathematics from 1954 to 1959, who remembered the motivation of the students and the dedication of the teachers, and Robert Kouri, principal from 1972 to 1980.
The names of all students and teachers since 1945 are listed by decade and class number, and many of those that came before that are so far documented. The site is a work in progress, with welcome additions.
Byng’s demographics have changed over the past few decades. In the ‘In the 1960s, there was an influx of Moroccan Jewish students and a French section was created. Journalist Evelyne Abitbol entered her first class in 1964, the year she immigrated to Montreal. Non-Catholic Francophones were not allowed to attend Catholic public schools at this time.
In the 1970s, there were a significant number of students of Greek and other descent.