Parkdale Alumni



As a 40-year veteran of the Toronto Board of Education and tireless community activist, Irene Atkinson wore many hats throughout her successful, storied career. Along with her role as a wife and a mother, Irene was a dedicated school trustee in the Parkdale High Park area who also served as Chair of the Toronto District School Board for several years, and actively contributed to countless committees.


Irene’s passion for education started while raising her three daughters when she discovered there was a lack of adequate, affordable daycare for her preschool girls. Realizing a need in the community Irene founded the High Park Nursery School in 1966 and became a member of the High Park Residents’ Association.


When it became apparent that more affordable daycare spaces were needed, she founded the Emmanuel Howard Park Day Care in 1970, and then went on to serve as President of the Residents’ Association In 1972. It was then Irene realized more needed to be accomplished to improve the local inner-city schools, many of which were located in Parkdale, and she successfully ran for school trustee of Ward 2.


In her role as trustee Irene fought tirelessly for increased funding for inner city schools, student field trips, and local libraries. An avid reader herself, Irene advocated for Canadian books to be purchased for school libraries, as well as the works of Canadian authors taught in classrooms. She then went on to create a book lending program between the public library system and school libraries.


Irene’s desire to provide the best opportunities for her students didn’t stop there. She was the driving force behind a new library for Parkdale C.I,. as well as completely new schools for both Queen Victoria P.S. and Parkdale P.S.


At the end of the baby boom and resulting decline in school enrollment, Irene yet again identified a community need and got to work. Ever the innovator, she focused on ways to increase enrollment in underfunded schools by introducing special programs including French Immersion and music at Howard Park PS, helped create recreational facilities at Queen Victoria PS, Argentina PS (later renamed Garden Avenue PS), Kent PS and Bloor Collegiate, and brought afterschool programs to many public schools including Fern and Howard Park.


With Parkdale CI – Toronto’s second oldest high school – facing closure, Irene orchestrated bringing the Internationally renown IB program to Parkdale CI. She secured funding to ensure there were no fees associated with attending the program allowing many local families to take advantage of such an important educational opportunity.


Irene cared deeply about students and their families. She successfully fought for lunch and snack programs at many of the schools in her Ward in which there were low-income student bodies, ensuring the students had full stomachs in order to concentrate on their studies. She also attended every graduation and special event she could in support of her students.


In a word, Irene was a champion of community involvement, and in particular, the Parkdale High Park neighbourhood. She always strived to do the very best for her students. She will be greatly missed.