Ahh, June! Exam time, the end of the school year, the beginning of summer holidays or summer jobs, and graduation.
There was no graduation ceremony for us after Grade 8. I remember all of us bidding farewell, at the tail end of June, to our friends and teachers, report cards in hand, collecting our books and belongings and skipping off into summertime with nary a thought of school.
About mid-August 1958, the excitement of beginning high school kicked in for my lifelong friend Susan Kellock and me. There was no nervousness or apprehension. We were very familiar with the layout of the high school, and we knew many of the teachers. It was a very small town. We had participated in music festivals and had attended many concerts in the gym. In Grade 8 we had walked from Huntsville Public School to Huntsville High for weekly Home Economics (girls)/ Wood Shop (boys) classes. (That was a bone of contention for many of us girls…we would much rather have taken shop, but that’s another story!).
Our excitement was about being able to paddle to school in a canoe that we painted with dark blue, light blue and white stripes, a canoe that we could just pull up on the grass near the school, leave it with our paddles—no life jackets required…a canoe is a personal flotation device in itself! We knew it would be safe there for the day ready for the easy paddle downstream after school to the dock by our homes on Fairy Avenue.
Protocol was very strictly monitored: dresses or skirts for girls; shirts with collars, shirt tails tucked into long pants (no jeans) for boys; raise hand to answer a question, ask a question, make a comment and stand to do so when acknowledged by the teacher; always walk on the right side of the halls and stairs.
There were exams before both the Christmas and Easter holidays. The final exam was based on the whole year’s work of all the courses taken during the school year, usually eight. No semesters. We could be exempted from final exams in grades IX to XI. Susan and I, best friends, developed German measles just before the Easter exams in grade IX. As a result, we were required to write the finals that year. We were really miffed about that!
Finals were mandatory in grade XII. The finals in grade XIII were Departmental Exams, meaning that every student province-wide wrote the same exams at the very same times! I don’t remember any stress over exams. In fact, my friend Susan and I kept stress at bay by walking each day to the Tastee Freez for ice cream! We felt it was much more helpful to our well-being than studying. I think it was our PARENTS who were stressing over this!
Our principal, the unforgettable, iconic Mr. J.E. Harry Thornton was a man of distinction, dressed every day in a grey suit and always a tie, a man who commanded respect. He became principal in 1935, and remained so until his sudden death in 1964 a year after we graduated.
Admittedly, I was not the best behaved student, and received many a reprimand from various teachers and detentions from our vice principal, in charge of discipline, Mr. D.C. Stone. The serious misdemeanors were handled by Mr. Thornton himself. Only once was I sent to his office, and that was for drawing, with chalk, on the wall beside my desk, a caricature of a teacher, not just a teacher, but the teacher who was teaching our class at the time! That was certainly a memorable shameful moment for me!
There was a young, handsome, Louis Jourdin look-alike who had arrived at HHS to teach French! As impressionable grade IX students, all of us girls were smitten! Some of us had the pleasure of being in his class for all five years of high school. He was not only a fabulous teacher, but he also, after school, would teach us songs in French. (“Plaisir d’Amour” and “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” are two of my favourites.)
In 2004, Mr. Lefrancois contributed a piece to the book distributed at the 100th reunion of Huntsville High School: “It was a lovely day in June, and I was just beginning a class in French, when two of my students arrived late at the door. They were very sheepish, and as they went down the aisle toward their seats, I glanced at their admit slip from the office. It explained, ‘Their canoe overturned on the way to school.’ Some students were fortunate enough to be able to paddle to school, saving a long walk around. The greatest danger was from the boys who came by motorboat, and tried to swamp the canoes. This time, it worked.”
It was in fact, not our canoe that overturned, but that of two other friends. We just had to accompany them back home to make sure they were okay while they changed their clothes and paddled back to school! We could see that Mr. Stone could scarcely contain a grin, and declared that it was our lucky day…no detention!
Mr. Paul Chisholm, our Latin teacher, was another unforgettable character. He was a brilliant Latin scholar, and wonderful teacher, with a very quick wit and a short fuse. Losing his temper one day, in a rage, he kicked something that was lying on the classroom floor. His shoe came off, and flew out an open window. As the student he had sent out to fetch it went out the door, Mr. Chisholm slammed it, shattering the glass in the door. As we were taught, ‘c’ in classical Latin is pronounced ‘k’. I had thought that Susan and I should have made a sign to attach to the classroom door that read ‘Kickero hic erat’!
Mr. Heron, who taught Science and specialized in Chemistry, was definitely a favourite of mine as well. He would switch our names around so that Susan Kellock became Kusan Sellock, Lynda Grigg became Grynda Ligg, and so on. Of course, he was Hister Meron to us! I remember vividly his classes. They were so very interesting to me.
I have written already about Mr. Bruce Werry, our grade one, two and three music teacher. Well, he showed up in grade IX, but this time to teach us instrumental music. The excitement of being assigned an instrument certainly was palpable in our first class! Playing in a school band was an experience not to be missed. Band practices were held at lunch time. Lunch in high school then was from noon until 1:30. If we didn’t have band practice or intramural sports, which were also held at noon, we went home for lunch.
It was a marching band as well as a concert band. In the spring and fall, we marched along the road that, in those days, encircled the lookout hill. Many of us suffered a chipped tooth from the potholes we encountered! By the way, Mr. Werry issued us canoeists with ropes to tie our instruments to the thwart or gunwale of our canoes, lest we dumped!
My mother, along with other mothers, went on a mission to raise money for band uniforms. As the result, we were able to have uniforms made by the wonderful tailor, Mr. Slatt. Off-white blazers and navy blue straight skirts for girls, slacks for the boys. We had arrived!
Mr. Werry taught mathematics (Trigonometry and Algebra) as well as music.
Miss Louise Dixon, who taught mathematics, was a marvelous teacher, a gentle kind soul who exuded kindness. The kind of teacher that no student would disrespect. Her Geometry classes are most memorable for me.
Mrs. Helen Wolfe, who taught Physical Education was not only a wonderful teacher, but also athletic and beautiful! Sports were huge for me. Mrs. Wolfe was my absolute hero.
A lot of us dearly wished we could take Mr. Austin Cronk’s Woodworking classes. He took such an interest in ALL students, not just those in his class. He declared it “a privilege to be employed at Huntsville High School for 32 years…” (Huntsville High School 100th Reunion). That says it all!
Every Tuesday morning, first period (of eight, I believe), the teachers held a staff meeting. All of us students gathered in various classrooms, depending on our religious denominations, to be taught by our priest, minister, or pastor. Although this was segregating us, I said nothing, because we just didn’t have a choice in those days. I understand, though, my sister was sent to Mr. Thornton’s office for skipping Religious Knowledge. I didn’t have the courage. I did pose a question once. We were being taught that our particular denomination was the only one, I was dating a guy of another denomination, who was being told the same in his class. My question was, who was right? However, I do remember one year we were taught a Comparative Religions class. It was very refreshing indeed.
These are just some of my myriad memories from high school. Lots more I could publish, even more that I wouldn’t!
My close and constant friend with the amazing memory, Susan and I have been enjoying another trip down memory lane.
What is most amazing to us is how unclear our graduation from Grade XIII is. I have no recollection of a graduation ceremony whatsoever. Susan can remember vaguely a ceremony in the gym, with our mothers present, but not our fathers. Perhaps it was held during the day when our dads would have been working. She remembers who the valedictorian was, but not the content, and not whether it would have been held in the spring (when we wouldn’t have had results from our Departmental Exams, which were marked by teachers in Toronto during the summer…all anonymous of course), or in the fall (when we would have had to return home). We know we graduated. We have diplomas to prove it. Hers reads First Class Honours, mine just Honours!
Perhaps the fact that we can’t remember this milestone in our lives speaks clearly that it is the journey, not the destination that matters most!
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