|Are you a fan too? This 80s TV series still has quite a few nostalgic devotees.
I took my summer vacation early this year. Two weeks ago I was in Toronto at a TV fan convention for Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. The weekend of events was called DegrassiPalooza and was organized by Pat Mastrioanni, the actor who played Joey Jeremiah. Pat explained that he spent his high school years on set with the large cast and more recently has been feeling nostalgic himself. He wanted to see his old friends and decided it might be cool to invite a limited number of devoted fans to the reunion too. That was the impetus behind DegrassiPalooza and when I heard this was happening, I knew I wanted to be there. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'd like to share.
If you read my review of the 1988 Christmas episode of Degrassi Junior High (read it again HERE), you know that this TV series was a joint production between the CBC in Toronto and PBS through Boston. I originally watched it on PBS in the late 80s and have been a fan ever since. I consider myself a fan of not only Junior High and High, but I've also followed along and seen all of Next Generation and Next Class as well. This reunion was just for the cast and fans of the earlier series. Nonetheless, there were 21 original cast members and 4 creatives in attendance at DegrassiPalooza. There were panel discussions, photograph sessions, autograph signings, and more. This was really an immersive experience. There was certainly more activities and things to see than any one person could possibly do. I'll share with you how I was able to participate.
|Our tour guide was Pat Mastrioanni.
DegrassiPalooza was Saturday and Sunday (June 15-16) but I flew into Toronto a couple days early. I was there, in my hotel bar--along with everyone else in the hotel--watching the final game in the NBA championship when the Toronto Raptors won the big game! I already felt like I was in the right place at the right time. On Friday I was on a special bus tour that took us to several of the shooting locations of the Degrassi series. Our tour bus guide? None other than Joey Jeremiah himself.
|Degrassi is a real street in Toronto.
|Where Degrassi Junior High was shot.
|A third stop took us to Centennial College where Degrassi High was shot. It looks remarkably the same.
|In front of Degrassi High--can you spot me? (I'm sitting cross-legged in the front).
If you've seen the series, you know that the schools are as familiar as any of the students or teachers. Just seeing the exterior of the building used for Degrassi Junior High--which is now a daycare center--seemed pretty exciting. But when we arrived at the building used for Degrassi High, we were permitted to go inside and look around as well. We were joined by a surprise guest: Darrin Brown who played the bully Dwayne. It was a special treat to hear Pat and Darrin (Joey and Dwayne) reminisce about shooting scenes together, especially the scene in which Dwayne smashes Joey's face into the door, and the more tender scene in which Dwayne gives Joey $314 so he'll keep the secret that Dwayne was HIV positive. (Yeah--this 80s teen drama goes there).
|Inside Degrassi High, the ramp is still there and the open second floor.
|Joey and Dwayne reminisce about their high school days.
|With Darrin Brown (Dwayne)
|I HAD to get a photo of the lockers--that's where all the good conversations in the series took place.
|The infamous cafeteria. Everyone joked that Joey needed to keep his clothes on.
|Hanging out in the quad. Niners are not welcome!
One of my favorite moments on the tour was when our large group was walking down a hallway. Centennial College was open that day and we were instructed to keep our voices down so we wouldn't disrupt the students. With our tour guides at the front of the group I was lagging behind talking photos and soaking up the environment when a door opened and a college instructor stuck her head out. "Was THAT Joey Jeremiah?" she asked. I replied that it WAS! That teacher and few others all left their classrooms and followed along with the tour. It was cool to see how excited someone besides our fan group would get on our tour.
|Joanna and Joey Jeremiah.
After the bus tour, I felt like my trip was already worth it. But the convention didn't officially start until the next day! On the first day of DegrassiPalooza, I attended the Grand Panel in the morning which was an introduction of all 21 cast members, and the 4 creative members (Kit Hood-creator, Yan Moore-writer, Kathryn Ellis-publicist, and Judy Shiner-art department/wardrobe). I got a photo-op with Amanda Stepto, and had a special lunch. The Lunch Event was like speed dating, except one of the celebrities would change tables every 8 minutes or so, while we got to eat. It was a unique opportunity to spend a little quality time with some of the cast. My lunch brought me conversations with the actors who played Shane, Liz, Nancy, Michelle, and Diana. That was pretty cool. After lunch, I got Cathy Keenan's autograph (Liz), and attended a panel with the creatives talking about their work on Degrassi, a panel with Spike, Liz, Shane, Amy, and Diana, followed by another panel with Joey, Snake, Yick, Caitlin, and Tessa.
|Amanda Stepto played Christine/Spike on the series.
|Cathy had that Chelsea haircut that drew me into watching the show back in the 80s.
By the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with more opportunities. So I took a leisurely dinner and saved my energy for the 80s Dance Party in the evening. I kid you not, when I arrived, Mr. Raditch (Dan Woods) was deejaying the music!? Fans of the show know how fantastic that is. I was on the dance floor quite a bit but also introduced myself to some of the others that had come from all over Canada, throughout the United States, and all over the world for this unique fan event. Coming from Ohio, I thought I had come quite a distance but there were three people (not together) who came from Australia. There were two (not together) who came from Switzerland, one from Hawaii, and there were quite a few who came from California. All of those fans definitely came farther than I did. But we all had one thing in common: we were touched by the stories and characters in this 80s teen drama.
|A cookie made by Nancy.
Feeling brain dead, I kept my participation to a minimum on Sunday. I attended a Wellness panel discussion with Cathy Keenan (Liz) who lead the group in a movement class--which was fantastic. I also attended a Cannabis 101 panel (it's legal in Canada now) led by Rebecca Haines-Saah (Kathleen) which was interesting. I also bought a Degrassi cookie from professional baker Arlene Lott (Nancy). Later in the day, I traveled to Ottawa--more about that soon!
If you follow me on Instagram (@TistheSeasonTV) then you've probably already seen most of these photos. If you're a fan of Degrassi Junior High and High, you are welcome to follow the hashtags #degrassitour and #degrassipalooza to see everyone else's photos too. Thanks for letting me share.
Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her most recent book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com
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