North York school renames gymnasium in honour of boy who drowned on field trip
Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto
Published Friday, November 30, 2018 10:48AM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 30, 2018 7:25PM EST
The life of Jeremiah Perry has been memorialized at his North York school with the renaming of its gymnasium in his honour.
Perry was swimming with C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute classmates in Algonquin Park on July 15, 2017 when he disappeared under the water.
His body was found by search and rescue divers one day later.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) later discovered that Perry was among 15 students on the trip who had not passed the required swim test.
He was also not wearing life jacket when he went into the water that day.
Perry’s family, school staff and students gathered for a ceremony at the school on Friday, where a plaque made in his memory was unveiled in the school’s main lobby.
His former principal, Monday Gala, remembered the 15-year-old for his “calm demeanor, respectful attitude and a desire to help others.”
“Jeremiah loved school and worked very hard at it. He and his brother Marion were among the first students to arrive at school very morning,” Gala said during the ceremony. “As a matter of fact, this was actually the area where you would most likely find them. It’s kind of befitting we’re doing this ceremony here.”
Gala praised the young student’s hard work and “endless hours” spent after school ensuring he earned all his credits, but acknowledged his lighthearted side too, especially with his older brother Marion.
“Younger siblings seem to have a lot of expense at their older siblings. I can tell you that we observed Jeremiah having a lot of laughs at the expense of Marion,” Gala said with a smile.
The memories of Perry, though happy for many, are still a struggle for his mother, Melissa Perry.
She spoke slowly, occasionally trembling, while describing how the gathering makes her pain feel “fresh.”
“Jeremiah was my whole world… It wasn’t easy,” she said.
“After someone dies, the people that are left behind are tasked with carrying on with their lives. It is important to pay tribute to our loved ones we have lost.”
She thanked the TDSB and her support system of friends and family for guiding her through the tragedy, but seemingly cut her written speech short, overcome with emotion.
When she lifted the cover off the school wall to reveal the plaque, Melissa Perry shuddered and bowed her head as the words carved on it were read aloud:
“On July5, 2017 Jeremiah Perry, a C.W. Jeffery student, tragically lost his life during a school field trip in Algonquin Park. While his time at C.W. Jeffery was brief, Jeremiah was known as a hardworking, respectful, kind young man who loved school. His tragic passing has led the TDSB and other school boards in Ontario to further strengthen safety requirements during excursions and, ensuring hundreds of thousands of students stay safe on field trips in the years ahead.”
Perry’s death spurred investigations both by the TDSB and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Charges were laid against a teacher, who was acting as a supervisor on the trip, in July 2018, just over a year after the incident.
The TDSB, for its part, implemented a number of new measures surrounding field trips, including that parents be notified if their child passes or fails mandatory swim tests.
A review of outdoor education policies at Ontario school boards was also conducted for the province by Deloitte and recommended a number of guidelines.
“I’ve heard throughout the last number of months the wonderful, wonderful person Jeremiah was. His passing impacted many people deeply, most importantly his family,” John Malloy, the director of education at the TDSB, said at the ceremony.
“I want to say that at the Toronto District School Board, in light of this, we’ve also worked really hard to strengthen safety across our system and to ensure that we can avoid any tragedy like this again. But we continue to remain deeply sorry.”
The ceremony was eventually led to the school gymnasium, where a gold sign had been installed above the doors that reads “Welcome to the Jeremiah Perry Gymnasium.”
The sight of it brought his mother to tears.
“My son’s memory will live on. His name will live on. It’s not easy for me to stand in this gym right now,” she said.
Though the pain of losing her young son remains, she said today’s ceremony gave her a small sense of closure.
“Jeremiah was a wonderful child… His laugh, his joy, his comic, his fun… Jeremiah always made you happy,” she said.
“Whenever I have the time, I can come and see his name is still there and remembering my son.”