HERITAGE LIVES: Going To Memorial School In 1949

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“A chorus of whistles from the many industries nearby preceded the lunchtime bell and we quietly moved down the staircase assigned to boys and girls, burst out of the doors and hi-tailed it home for lunch…”

By Terry Hughes

It’s September and with the Labour Day weekend behind us and the memories of the Atlas Picnic gone, the wonder of who would be our teacher for Gr. 4 became important. After filing into the school and climbing the stairs quietly, we entered our colourfully decorated classroom.

At that time women entering the teaching profession were not allowed to be married. But boy did we have some attractive people for teachers. Last year we had a real spitfire for our Gr. 3 teacher and for this term we would not be disappointed. She was a red-haired Irish gal named Teresa Donovan. She wasted little time getting down to business. After distributing the supplies we were told the routines and timetable we were to follow.

The bulletin board contained a chart on which your names were listed in alphabetical order for weekly spelling dictation. The reward would be in the form of gold, silver, red and blue stars indicating the number of mistakes or perfect dictations you had.

Soon, the routine of regular school days was underway with new challenges such as cursive writing, sharing written stories about our summer holidays and being introduced to endless measurements using the imperial system for linear, capacity and liquid measures. Throw in multiplication tables and you had a full plate of things you had to know for arithmetic.  

The idea of grouping in math and reading skills was not part of the curriculum. We all had the same text books and were expected to learn the same material. Unfortunately, those who were unable to learn were held back. We had an eleven- year-old girl amongst a class of nine-year-olds.    

A chorus of whistles from the many industries nearby preceded the lunchtime bell and we quietly moved down the staircase assigned to boys and girls, burst out of the doors and hi-tailed it home for lunch. We had an hour and a half before having to return to our classroom. Mothers were for the most part homemakers and had prepared our lunch during this time.

This was the time of neighbourhood schools.  A quick return to the Wallace Avenue school meant fun on the playground. Unfortunately, an activity called  “Crack the Whip” had been banned due to serious injuries involved in that game.

Miss Donovan maintained a much loved routine when, after returning from lunch, she read a story to us that held us in suspense. She would only read a chapter but this told her pupils that we should share her love for books. This book was Lassie Come Home.

One aspect of her teaching style was her love of poetry. Unfortunately, we were expected to memorize portions of it and that would turn me against this form of literature.

November of 1949 was a historic time in the Hughes household. My dad had been working overtime at Stokes Rubber Co. machine shop and purchased a ten-inch Admiral television set. The first image we saw was the Texaco Star Theatre and Milton Berle. Somehow, Miss Donovan found out about it and noted on my report card that I watched too much television!

Little did I realize that my future would be involved in the teaching profession. To my pleasant surprise I would meet those two teachers again and work with them dealing with children in the public school system.

The accompanying picture, above, shows us the variety of math skills to be mastered in the Gr. 4 arithmetic text book.

Next: Ghosts of the WRCC.

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

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