Degrassi Convention-Commentary by Mark Polger
Getting off the Trentway-Wagar bus at 5am, I wandered through the streets of Toronto wondering what to until 10am. I went to Kinko’s to check my mail. I closed the web pages advertising the convention because I did not want to have hundreds of messages waiting for me. I needed a deadline. Some of my plans fell through. My plan for references numbers that would be checked off did not work, because my convention list was in Montreal, and my hard drive was damaged. The School’s Out soundtrack that Andrew Sutcliffe sent me was forgotten in Montreal. I brought my camera and 15-20 Degrassi episodes.
I went for breakfast after checking my e-mail at a place on Yonge near Bloor. I slowly walked East towards Pape, but I knew it would take too long, so I took the subway. I got at Pape and Danforth, and walked north until Mortimer.
I was to meet Natalie for the first time, along with her husband Scott. We were to meet at Bell Centre for Creative Communications at Centennial College to get some breakfast and start our 8 hour decorating frenzy. We met at 10am, she and Scott parked their van on the south parking lot, and I sat at the north end watching curiously. I saw two people come out, a woman with purple-burgundy hair and a man with blond hair. I knew it was Scott and Natalie. I was to come to Toronto for 14 hours as I had to leave back to Montreal to finish my packing as I was moving to London, Ontario to start graduate school.
When we met, I admit the nerves and tension was so thick, you can see it in the air. I was shy, and Natalie seemed uncomfortable, but we later relaxed and we went into the building to make sure our reservation was confirmed with the security guard. Scott and Natalie bought food and decorations, along with a helium tank and police officer to guard the building.
I forgotten two critical things, my School’s Out soundtrack, and my guest list, as my computer crashed, and I could not retrieve it. We went to Subway for lunch on Danforth, and we went back to the school to start decorating. There was some trouble at first because the school did not have the stuff we ordered, a VCR, TV, microphone, tables, chairs, and a stereo. We eventually got it from a nice person who came in that day to the building. She felt bad for not having the equipment ready so she bought us (Scott, Natalie, and myself) two pizzas.
After 8 hours of filling over 300 balloons, and putting up party streamers, Degrassi framed archival items, and making the foyer resemble the last episode “One Last Dance”, we had finished by 6:00pm. People started arriving at 6:30pm. We were given tables from a classroom to put in the foyer to stock the tables with cakes, cookies, chips, cold soda, and other junk food. The room was filled with decorations, and there was more party food to be brought as we asked each and everyone to bring some food to the convention.
Chris Nutall-Smith, a reporter with the Toronto Star came to the event for the whole time to make a report on the event. He came with a photographer who took photos of everyone who came. We had about 35-40 people in total, with the following cast members and their significant others.
The Degrassi Convention at Centennial College (The Bell Centre for Creative Communications) was a thrill within itself. Natalie and I met for the first time only 8 hours before the convention. We operated our websites and planned the convention entirely through e-mail and telephone correspondance. We never dreamed that our websites would ultimately lead to a event like this. We decorated the foyer of BCCC to resemble the last Degrassi High episode “One Last Dance”.
We roamed through the building, taking account of all the significant locations in the series: the courtyard where Kathleen and Melanie were tied to the pole, the cafeteria where Joey walked naked on a bet, the washroom where Claude shot himself, and the halls where Lucy filmed “It Creeps”, and the lockers where Liz and Erica got into a cat fight.
The building was renovated in 1993, so the cafeteria’s entrance had changed, the bathrooms were renovated, the glass covering was removed from the upstairs floors overlooking the lower level and quad. Mostly everything looked the same. One significant change was the installation of an elevator installed where Joey, Wheels, and Snake used to sit below the wheelchair ramp. The courtyard (quad) had a pond with real fish (BIG goldfish).
Tonight, August 21, 1999, Degrassi High came back to life for us. Going through the classrooms, going into the now unused auditorium where the talent show was performed after Claude’s death. We decorated the foyer with baby pink, blue, and white pearl balloons and streamers. Everyone slowly started showing up at 6:30pm.
Michelle “Ms. Avery” Goodeve came with her partner Glenn Norman. They arrived dressed up. They brought some party food and Glenn brought a Degrassi video for the gang to watch. Michelles also wore her dark blue Degrassi Junior High jacket. Byrd Dickens (Scott) and his girlfriend Heather Schramm came along with Cathy Keenan (Liz), her sister Anna Keenan (Rainbow) and their mother Jeanette.
Darrin “Dwayne” Brown arrived afterwards. Dan Woods (Mr. Raditch) and his family arrived the latest, along with his wife and two children. Roger Montgomery (Mr. Garcia) came with his wife Lisa Lawson. I was surprised when the same woman who stopped by at 11am and asked about the Convention came with her 21 year old son. I greeted them as I had greeted every guest. I asked them to sign the guestbook, and I welcome them to the event. The young man whispered that he is a bit shy and he does not know if he should tell me but he is “Stacie’s brother”, and the woman is “Stacie’s mother”. WOW! They introduced me as Cory and Laurie.(Caitlin’s mother and brother). Darrin Brown toured the group around BCCC, pointing out some key places where scenes took place.
The famous wheelchair ramp was still by the front entrance, but this time it was so real. I looked around, but did not see the glass that separated the ramp from the upper floors. I peaked into the auditorium, and found out it was not being used anymore. It used to be a gym, then was transformed into the auditorium. This room will be turned into offices, said the BCCC staff person who helped us find a stereo, TV, VCR, microphone, and a podium for announcements.
Dan Woods, Michelle Goodeve, and Roger Montgomery stood up and spoke about their experiences on the show, what they have been doing since Degrassi, and the problem of the lack of funding for Canadian TV and film. Glenn Norman, Michelle’s partner, brought the Degrassi Video Yearbook, a documentary directed by Maureen McKay which chronicled the series in the 4th and 5th season, from the point of view of the actors. It was like a Degrassi “behind the scenes” meets “a 30 minutes blooper special”. Glenn also promoted a television project that Michelle Goodeve and Stacie Mistysyn underwent in 1996, called Flights With Mom. I thought the show had a mix of drama and light hearted comedy. The pilot was 15 minutes, and it was nice to see a more updated look at Stacie, although it was 1996.
I thought it was good, and I wish them best of luck trying to sell it to California.
I found this convention a great way of meeting other people around Canada and other countries. I was also happy to meet some people from my Degrassi Digest mailing list. I met an array of people, from 16 year olds to 50 year olds. I met students, parents, professionals, artists, actors, actresses, and TV professionals behind the scenes. I was also happy to meet someone who I had a lot in common, a Jewish librarian ( I am Jewish and I am doing my library degree this year)
A cool thing that happened when I arrived in Montreal the next day. I was planning my trip to Quebec City with my family from New York when I bought the Toronto Star. Our Convention made the front-page news on Monday August 23, 1999. I was VERY happy, especially since we did not get any support from Playing With Time or Epitome Pictures. Natalie, Scott, and I organized this event on our own with the support from Kit Hood. I would like to thank Natalie and Scott, along with Kit Hood for lending his collection of archival framed photographs, and for his encouragement. I had a good time, and I was happy to meet everyone who came.
Thank you to the following for your attendance:
Daniel Woods and his wife and two children
Byrd Dickens and Heather Schramm
Cathy, Anna, and Jeanette Keenan
Cory and Laurie Mistysyn
Michelle Goodeve and Glenn Norman
Roger Montgomery and Lisa Lawson
Natalie, Scott, and I would like to thank these people for coming:
Debbie and Steve Bergson