Canterbury is special, even in a pandemic  

Canterbury School has 70 per cent of its population in the Arts program.

By Iva Apostolova

My daughter, Tamara, has lived in the Glebe since birth. She went to kindergarten and school with the same kids she had playdates with since she was a little tot. It was this comfort and familiarity that softened the blow for her – she was in Grade 7 at the time – and for all of us when the pandemic hit last year.

Tamara has always been artsy and as she pondered where to go to high school, she decided that despite her close friends in the Glebe, she wanted to try out for Canterbury. I thought the school would be a perfect fit for her. Singing is her passion and Canterbury offers the most comprehensive voice program in Ottawa.

We were told that the auditions had to be online. Now doing anything music-related online is hard! For starters, there can only be one source of sound at a time. When the Canterbury music department held its virtual orientation night last January, it was clear they were still figuring out how to do online auditions without live accompaniment, something unprecedented for them. Until the last minute, everyone was scrambling to answer questions such as “will there be different music tracks in different keys?” or “what if my computer/modem/internet gives out during the audition?” When the results came out, along with the sense of accomplishment, there was also a sense of genuine relief.

We had heard fantastic things about Canterbury (70 per cent of students are in the arts program, 30 per cent in the general program), not only as an academic institution but as an environment fostering creativity and freedom of expression as well. A “special place” and a “safe space” for the artistically inclined kids, as Tamara’s violin teacher, a Canterbury alumna herself, put it. Once September rolled around, the anxiety of leaving behind everything my daughter has ever known, including the luxury of walking to school (now she takes two buses each way in rush hour) came to a screeching crescendo.

But Canterbury was everything we were told it was, and more. Tamara quickly found her artistic niche (and fashion sense), made friends, and she loves all her teachers.

I was so grateful that I signed up as a volunteer in various parent-support groups. Then things started coming into sharper focus. My daughter was in Voice, so she was luckier than most students in the arts program. She still has to sing with a mask on, but the inconvenience is nothing compared to what kids in the Winds section, for example, had to deal with. Because of the risk of aerosol transmission, playing wind instruments indoors was considered unsafe. (It was only on October 26 that OCDSB decided to lift that restriction.)

On October 21, CTV News reported the disheartening news about the closing of the Grade 12 dance course (informally known as the “Company.”) The course is related to the big event for graduating dance students, their end-of-the-year production, Dance Night. No extra-curriculum activities, such as regular talent shows (known as coffee houses), various music ensembles and other arts activities, which are as much a part of the fabric of the school as the mandatory programs, are currently allowed in-person.

At meetings with trustees, it was argued that the restrictions are valid for all schools in the region. While that may be true, it is also true that Canterbury is not like other schools – it doesn’t simply have arts programs, it is the arts. As a parent, I feel a degree of frustration and apprehension about the future but also hope the OCDSB will take the necessary steps to ensure that Canterbury can continue its smooth sailing in growing our future artists.

 Iva Apostolova is a philosophy professor at Dominican University College and a Glebe resident of 16 years.

From left, Canterbury students Milo Foley, Ruby Funnel, Hyrum Tarrant and Tamara Emond
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