Wagar High School opened in 1963 in Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec, and its first graduating class was in 1965. It was part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (PSBGM), and later the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). It was named for Roy Wagar, a PSBGM official who died during a speech at a graduation ceremony at Monkland High School. With declining enrollment (the class of 2004 had 62 graduates), Wagar closed in 2005.
Wagar.ca was started in December 2016, but its roots go back to a reunion of the Wagar Class of 1973, held in May 2004. For that reunion, we organized using a Yahoo group that got so busy, there were almost 2500 messages in the month before the reunion. By the time about 130 of us (and about 10 teachers) met at Wagar High School, we had already had a sort of reunion. In preparing for the reunion, we started sharing souvenirs: class pictures, programs for events, even bus tickets. I scanned these and put them onto a website for the reunion. By the end of the reunion, we had gathered about 3000 scans of old photographs, merit badges, contributed photos, etc. The pages of staff and graduates from our yearbook, the Prelude, were scanned into some large PDFs, one for each section, and I scanned the grads and staff for some other years. These were put onto a CD and distributed to the attendees. Years later, the website moved back online where it still resides, password-protected, at Perlman.ca/Wagar-73.
I spend a lot of my retirement from software development doing genealogical research. With two grandparents born in Montreal, and all eight great-grandparents buried here, my focus has been on Montreal, particularly on immigration of Jewish families to Montreal. I attended many workshops given by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal (JGS-Montreal). In 2015, I started doing volunteer genealogy at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre, located across the street from Wagar High School. I meet with residents, take down some information, do some research, and report back with marriage and birth records, records of immigration and naturalization, and more, all arranged in an online family tree. More often than not, I am in touch with the residents' families, who would help gather information, or just observe what would appear in the tree. I think the favourites for the residents have been printed family trees (sometimes as big as 10 pages wide) and marriage records (signed by the parties, and showing the birth names of all four parents).
The Beth Zion synagogue is in the heart of Cote Saint-Luc. With the majority of students at Wagar being Jewish, many families of Wagar students were members of that congregation. There is a Beth Zion section of Eternal Gardens Memorial Park in Beaconsfield in the West Island of Montreal. In my interactions with members of JGS-Montreal, I began working on databases of burials, with photographs, for submission to the JewishGen.org Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR). In the summer of 2016, we photographed the Beth Zion section, and in December of that year, the records were made available for genealogical research. For me, having grown up in Cote Saint-Luc, it was an emotional experience, at times overwhelming, to be among my neighbours, my friends' parents, and even some of my friends, in their final resting place. I counted 30 families of classmates in that section. That led me back to the Prelude yearbooks that I had, and made me wish I had more. Leonard Cohen had died a month earlier, and I saw his Westmount High School 1951 yearbook on sale for $3500. Why weren't these freely available online? I had a nice flatbed scanner.
I was a member of the Facebook group Wagar High School Friends, On December 1, 2016, I offered scans of Wagar Prelude 1969-1973, noting that I had scanned 1974 twice and lost both scans. I think I only offered PDFs of grads and staff, and asked if people wanted more sections or more years (for which I'd need to borrow a copy). I borrowed the 1974 yearbook for the third time. One grad from 1975 offered her coverless copy, which she dropped off at my door along with her sister's Preludes from 1965-1968! Although Wagar opened in 1963, if only went up to 10th grade its first year, so 1965 was the first graduating class. I was holding the first four years of the Wagar Prelude! Those first Preludes were in good condition, but fragile, and I was certain that pressing them onto a flatbed scanner would cause two covers to pop off, and for two or three to split at the signatures. I asked if it would be acceptable for these books to be returned in pieces, and frankly, I was relieved the answer was "no". I've scanned thousands of pages of some very old documents, and any damage to them is as much a trauma to me as it is to the documents. One year, 1967, was in good enough condition for flatbed scanning, although I did skip some sections to reduce wear, and some pages were photographed instead of scanned. For the other early years, I used Microsoft Office Lens, which is like having a flatbed scanner in your smartphone. With updates and requests on Facebook, I received copies of 1976 and 1978, bringing the total by January 16th to 13 yearbooks, 1530 pages, and 4234 names entered.
Soon after connecting with Wagar grads (Wagarites) through Facebook, I picked up the Wagar.ca domain. Even though it's only Prelude yearbooks, for now, it could expand in the future. In any case, having the email address email@example.com is convenient, and easy to remember. On the website, I migrated from a focus on large PDF files to pages of thumbnails for each year, leading to large images, scanned at 300 dpi, for each page, all coordinated with searchable class lists. The search capability led to the creation of a page summarizing all the names across all the years. My scanning improved, an in some cases (1973, for example), I rescanned all the pages I had already scanned for descreening. I've used the newly scanned pages for my genealogy clients, who had relatives at Wagar.
After posting a picture of the 13 years scanned to Facebook, announcing "That's All Folks!" on January 16, 2017, several Wagarites bemoaned the lack of 1977 and 1979. I received 1977 via snail mail, and 1979 by schlepping out to DDO. I also learned that the Wagar High School library (now the Marymount Adult Education Centre) has Preludes from the 1980s (6 years), 1990s (all 10), and even 3 from after 2000. And, in the lobby of the building, renamed the Wagar Foyer, there are class photos of the graduating classes from 2000-2004 (almost up to Wagar's closing). So, 13 Preludes was just the start. By February 12th, the effort was up to 36 years, 3318 pages, 8291 names.