If I were to ask you what the word "school" means to you, what would you say? Homework, studying, the strap, graduation, a favourite teacher, sports, Christmas concerts, bus rides, grades, or...? I would anticipate answers such as "I hated it," "I was so glad to get out of there" or "I loved it" and so on.
I have always liked reading and I think that knowing how to read is very important to succeed in school, or even life. Our mother was a good example since she liked to read and write letters. We had many books in our living room library including encyclopedias and a two-volume dictionary. She was very quick to correct our grammar. She only went to Grade 8. She had hoped to attend high school, but it was too far away for daily travel and her family could not afford to stay at a boarding house. Who knows where her life might have led had she furthered her education.
Our family lived about a mile from the Elgin Superior School, which I attended from Grades 1 to 12. There was no kindergarten in those days. Up to mid-Grade 3, I walked to school and did not miss classes unless I was ill or school was cancelled because of storms. If the roads weren't plowed, we walked in the fields where the drifts weren't so deep.
For my first years of school, classes were in the old parsonage, then a residence, because the school (built in 1885) had burned in 1945. I remember a little platform at the front of the room where the teacher sat at her desk and I was always afraid of tripping over it. I also remember the outhouse because it was so dark and eerie to me. I avoided it unless I had to go! Isn't it strange what we remember while growing up.
I am told that I was late only once and for good reason! I had to walk by a house that was burning and you can imagine the commotion since there was no local fire department in those days. It was so traumatic for me that I couldn't bring myself to walk by and ended up being very late for class.
In February 1948, our new school opened; it was like a palace compared to the old one. It was a one-storey building with four classrooms with three grades to a room as I recall. It also had a kitchen and auditorium in the basement with a stage, huge furnace and bathrooms! (The old school had box stoves for heating and outhouses.) The bathrooms had two sinks and several stalls but minus doors! For a little privacy, you would have a friend stand in front of the stall.
In earlier times, the schoolyard was divided into boys’ and girls’ playgrounds. My Dad said that in his time the boys would peek through the knotholes in the fence to watch the girls! I wonder if any dates were arranged in that fashion?
In 1951, the Parish added two more school rooms after the small schools in outlying areas were being closed and more students were being bussed in. We had a ping pong table in the basement which the boys "hogged" in the same way they did the ball field, leaving the girls' team without enough time to play.
Our first "bus" was a blue panel truck owned and driven by a local resident, but it sure beat walking. Later the Parish provided a yellow panel bus with benches down each side. It could be hot and stuffy because there were no windows.
We remember the Dick and Jane readers with beautiful drawings and repetitive words, ("Watch Spot run!") that we had to read out loud. We used slates and lead pencils. We took very good care of our books which we had to buy in later grades. We taped covers on them from brown paper bags and decorated them with crayons or drawings. Books were often handed down or sold to students in the grade behind you.
One teacher had a “flower calendar.” Whoever brought in the first flower(s) of the season had their name with the name of the flower in her hand-made calendar. The person with the highest total "won" the calendar to take home at the end of the school year. It was a wonderful learning experience and went from early spring to the last day of school. In our family of three girls, there was a lot of competition and walking the fields!
We had films, sing-songs with the piano, Red Cross meetings, Christmas concerts and our graduations in the basement auditorium. For graduations, the stage was decorated with our school colours, peony blossoms and real ferns. The girls wore fancy white dresses, often lacy, similar to what a bride or bridesmaid would wear. A girl and boy from Grade 1 or 2 were chosen to give bouquets of roses to the female graduates and the boys received boutonnieres. The chosen girl wore a crepe paper dress made by a local lady. We had special speakers. The graduating students were responsible for their speeches under categories of Valedictory, Prophecy, Class Will, Grumbler, etc. which we read out loud on graduation night. We poked fun at each other! I was called the bookworm. Our graduation classes were generally small; mine had only seven graduates.
There was no such thing as a cafeteria. We carried our tin lunch pails: some held a thermos in the lid. In our family, sandwiches were made with sardines, Cheese Whiz, sandwich spread, molasses or jelly and wrapped in wax paper. The bread was always home baked.
I could tell you more details of my school life but I hope this brought back some good memories for readers. Times sure have changed!
Sources: The Schools of Elgin Parish by Eleanor Goggin (1994), and the memories of Idella Steeves-Lazar (email@example.com) with help from her sisters.