Northlea salutes Canada’s crossing guard
78-year-old who travels to work from Markham considers his responsibility ‘much greater than one could imagine’
An estimated 250 eager students, gathered in one of Northlea Elementary and Middle School’s two gymnasiums for a morning assembly, chatted and rustled as they waited for proceedings to begin.
When Jake Apacible entered, the idle chatter exploded into cheers and applause, as though a rock star had arrived.
Everyone knew and cherished the 78-year-old Apacible, who hass braved rain, hail, sleet, snow and temperature swings ranging
from a wind chill of – 20° to a humidex of 40 while escorting Northlea students across the intersection of Broadway Avenue and Rumsey Road. They were all here to applaud his having been named Canada’s favourite crossing guard in an annual contest sponsored by charitable organization Parachute and FedEx Express Canada.
“Crossing guards … are what we call the unsung heroes of the school system, because they work very long hours in sometimes very bad weather, and they earn very little money,” Ward 13 trustee Gerri Gershon said at the mid-December assembly.
As part of a larger initiative, Parachute and FedEx solicited nominations from students across the country, with Apacible being one of four 2013 winners. The others live in Whitehorse, St. John’s and Winnipeg. Each received a clear maple leaf trophy, $500 for themselves and an additional $500 for their school.
Grade 8 student Gabriel Smith read Apacible’s nomination at the assembly.
“Jake has been helping me since my first year at Northlea — that’s almost 10 years,” Smith said. “He knows each and every one of our names, and takes pleasure in knowing that we cross the street safely.”
School safety chair Claudine Lukawesky led the nomination process for Apacible. She said the response to her posting a notice on the school website was “overwhelming.” “As a parent it’s so amazing to see these children respect him,” Lukawesky told the Town Crier. “Parents aren’t telling their kids to say thank you — they say it on their own, because they’re so thankful that he’s out there every day keeping them safe.”
A native of the Philippines, Apacible and his wife came to Canada in 1994, after being sponsored by his daughter and son-inlaw.
His other four children, all married, remain in the Phillipines. He is the proud grandfather of 13 and great-grandfather of a four-month-old.
Apacible says he chose to be a crossing guard because, while not a heavy job, it’s an important one.
“Don’t take crossing guards for granted,” he said. “The responsibility of keeping kids safe and sound is much greater than one could imagine.”
He was assigned to Northlea by Toronto Police Services’ 53 Division, and has been making the commute from Markham for a decade. He says the personal commitment is why he travels so far for a parttime job.
“Although there are crossing guards there,” he says, gesturing north, “I came to love Northlea. “It’s a great community, because the motorists here are very respectful — law-abiding — and they care for the safety of the children.”
Apacible’s workday begins at 8 a.m. and finishes at 4 p.m. On breaks he visits a nearby café with other crossing guard friends, though he often extends his hours serving the handicapped patients of the nearby Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s Rumsey Centre.
“I shall always do this for as long as I am here,” he said during his speech at the assembly. “I will always be there for these kids.
“To tell you the truth, they are the inspirations of my life.”
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