In 1912, Kelvin Technical High school opened its doors for the first time in Winnipeg’s south end. The school was built in the Georgian revival style, consisting of white stone and red brick. Within the first few years of the schools opening, staff and students began to adapt longstanding traditions. Cherry and grey were adopted as the schools colours, and “Courage, Truth, Right.” Was adopted as the schools motto. Between 1914 and 1918, many of Kelvin’s first graduates volunteered to serve overseas in the First World War. Many Kelvin students fought and died on European battlefields, such as the Somme, Passchendaele, and Vimy Ridge. Those who returned to Winnipeg came back to a city fraught with social, political, and economic issues. The 1919 General Strike affected Kelvin greatly, some students were unable to attend school as transportation was terminated, whereas others stepped in to fill the shoes of those who were on strike, as some Kelvin students volunteered for the fire brigade.
At the close of the First World War Kelvin began a period of innovation. New sports teams and an Orchestra were introduced at the school. In the first yearbook, published in 1925, the editor Gerald Riddell wrote, “Kelvin school is still young, compared to other institutions, and principles grounded now may do unending good in the future.” In 1927, the Orchestra performed their first concert on the radio, courtesy of the Hudson Bay Company. Throughout the 1920’s, Kelvin students danced the Charleston in the school gymnasium, roasted corn at Assiniboine park, and won multiple sports championships. The debating club argued whether “modern civilization has been a failure,” “that the Dominion Senate should be abolished,” and “that the stage is better than the motion pictures.” In 1929, the world economy was encumbered by the Great Depression. The 1920’s brought many highs, and many lows for Kelvin, however the school remained successful in providing a high quality education for its students.
In the 1930s, Kelvin students exchanged letters with German students living in the Weimar Republic, they unveiled a student built war memorial, and they held posture poster contests. Some submitted their writing for the short stories and poetry competitions. The school created the Dux Scholarship, which is still awarded annually to a student who demonstrates great leadership in the school. Students went on Science excursions to the City Water works and to the quarry in Stonewall, while others performed in history plays impersonating the Fathers of Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference. In 1937, the school celebrated its 25th anniversary. Alumni and students alike participated in festivities celebrating the school.
When the Second World War began, Kelvin continued to aid the war effort. The girls worked for the Red Cross knitting socks and gloves that were sent in bundles for the soldiers. The boys participated in mandatory Cadet Training as part of the Physical Education programme. Many students signed up to serve in the army. In fact, so many joined that the school had to discontinue the grade 12 program. By the time the war had finished, 2,640 students and alumni had served, while 225 made the ultimate sacrifice. Students listened to guest speakers who visited the school: one who had escaped France as the Nazis invaded, another who worked as a missionary in China. Even Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt paid Kelvin a visit. Meanwhile the debating team presented the pros and cons of whether “the punishment of war criminals is a necessary part of the reconstruction of post-war Europe” and whether “restricted immigration would be in the interests of post-war Canada.”
By the early 1950s, Kelvin students performed in the school’s Gilbert and Sullivan productions staged at the Playhouse Theater. The school’s debaters discussed the crisis in Korea or the virtues of “Going Steady.” Certain students wrote for the newly established school newspaper the Et Cetera. There was now a United Nations club, an Ethics Committee, and a stamp club. Unfortunately, the schools tower had to be removed, and eventually the school board decided to replace the school entirely with a new building.
The Civil Rights Movement, the Quiet Revolution, student riots, political assassinations, and counter-culture defined the 1960’s. It seems fitting that in this decade of dramatic change the old school was torn down and replaced by a modern building. As Kelvin students entered the 1960s, they debated the pros and cons of integration in the Southern United States, and whether Canada should become a Republic. The Nuclear Disarmament club marched in protest at allowing nuclear weapons on Canada’s soil. Off the Cuff, a popular student literary publication of stories, poems, and essays was published for the first time in 1961. In the same year, the school was abuzz as the Kelvin football team won its first provincial championship in almost twenty years. In 1962, over 4000 alumni attended the 50th celebration ceremonies.
Throughout the 1970’s, Kelvin students continued to challenge the status quo. Kelvin students were increasingly getting their fulfillment from school travel. The choir performed in Toronto and Montreal, there was a student exchange with Newfoundlanders, Students climbed mountains on the first ever Rocky Mountain trip. They also flew across the Atlantic on the France trip and the London-Greece-Israel trip. These enlightening school trips continue to enrich the lives of students at Kelvin. The school was offering its students multiple options for study as well as extracurricular. In 1978, French Immersion was implemented at the school.
June 1987 saw the 75th anniversary of Kelvin High School. Nearly 2000 former students participated in festivities, including one of Kelvins original students, Anna Blair. One of the attendees was a middle-aged man who wore a brown leather jacket. Some remembered him as the reclusive musician who played the local bar scene in the early 1960s: now Neil Young was one of the world’s most popular musicians. In 1981, the school’s cherished International Baccalaureate programme was adopted.
By the 1990s, the world looked dramatically different than it did when Kelvin was first established. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cold War was over. Meanwhile, Canadians debated the pros and cons of Free Trade, GST, and the Meech Lake Accord. Kelvin students were also increasingly engaged in the political process. In 1990, 50% of the student body said they would vote Liberal if there was to be a federal election, while 88% disliked Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. They overwhelmingly supported aboriginal self-government, sanctions against South Africa, and the reunification of Germany. Although too young to vote, they participated in mock elections. They heard Quebecois speakers discuss the pros and cons of Quebec sovereignty. They listened attentively and asked questions at the school’s all candidates’ political forums. Elijah Harper, Gwynne Dyer, and David Milgaard all visited as guest speakers.
By the first decade of the new century, Kelvin was getting a facelift. In 2003, a new addition was built on the east side of the school. It offered more classroom space, a computer lab, and two spacious art rooms. These new facilities housed a student body that was more diverse than it had ever been. Increasingly multi-ethnic, there were now more and more Chinese, Korean, Filipino, African, and Aboriginal students graduating. In 2003, Kelvin’s Gay-Straight-Alliance was established in order to create a safe space for all students. Since its inception, Kelvin has reflected Winnipeg’s growing and thriving population.
In May 2012, Kelvin celebrated its 100th anniversary. 52 distinguished alumni returned to speak to students. The likes of which included Andrew Coyne, Gail Asper, and Michael Bancroft. As the school looks forward to its 125th anniversary, Kelvin’s future is bright. The school maintains its excellent reputation for academics, sports, and the arts. In the last 15 years, the school has produced three Rhodes Scholars: Ariel Zylberman, Aaron Tractenberg, and Melissa Bailey. Scott Coe, Eddie Steele and Donald Oramasionwu have recently played in the CFL. Fraser McLaren now skates for the Toronto Maple Leafs. John K Samson and Stephen Carroll play with the popular band the Weakerthans. Sarah Johnson’s photographs have been displayed in New Yorks’s Guggenheim, and Ruth Moody is an award winning musician and a member of the Wailin’ Jennys.