Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Schools and Teachers

Before I return to my "Travels" I would like to share with you something about the people who helped to shape the adult that I have become.

I attended Grade 1 at the school in Ruskin which was directly across the road from where we were then living. This was a small two-room public school. The Japanese had been forced to move away so the school population had shrunk from around 50 students to 11 spread over six grades.

Our teacher was Miss Johnson. I believe that she was from Vancouver - she boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett who lived just along the road from the school.

How she managed to teach we 11 kids (three of us in Grade 1 and the remainder in grades 3 through 6 - there were no pupils in Grade 2) I have no idea.

I sat in the front desk with Bobby Sidwell behind me and Bobby Fraser behind him. I do not remember all that much of Bobby Fraser but Bobby Sidwell was different - he bullied me all year long!

            This Community Hall is two lots east of where we lived while I was attending Grade 1.

My friend, Michael W., drove out to Ruskin and photographed the Community Hall as it looks today. I remember a plain clapboard building with no color at all! 

The following summer - 1943 - we moved to Dawes Hill in Coquitlam. There were a number of kids living near us so, as we went to school together, I was not alone.
Since Alda was entering Grade 1, Mom was with us that first day.

Millside Public School had six grades with around 35 students each. Grades 1 and 2 met in two separate buildings across the school yard from the main building. Grades 3 to 6 had classrooms on the second floor of the big building. The first floor was at ground level and consisted of two large rooms with the furnace room in between. One of those rooms was for the boys to use while the other was for the girls. On nice days we were out in the large school yard and played inside only when the weather was unpleasant.

The Grade 2 class at Millside Public School in 1943/44. I am in the second to last row and the second  child in from the left hand side.

There were two features of the school yard that were any kid's dream.

Up on top of the ridge was a pond of water (Como Lake) which was drained by School Creek. The creek tumbled down the slope through the forest, flowed through a culvert under the road, and then across the school yard.

Playing in or beside the creek was forbidden but, in the autumn, salmon swam up the creek on their way to spawn and what kid could resist trying to catch the salmon? More than one boy tumbled in, was reprimanded, and sent home to change clothes.

There was a footbridge across the creek - which could be an intimidating stream when it rained - to a playing field for ball games. Beyond this field was swampy land covered with thick brush and skunk cabbage. At the edge of this 'wilderness area' was the stump of a large tree that had long since been cut down. Notches for toe holds had been cut into the side and the top was relatively flat and smooth. I remember one noon hour when I was up there and I heard the hand bell being rung for classes to resume. Always I have been afraid of heights but I had no choice but to jump - it would have taken me too long to try to get down via the notches carved into the side. I jumped, landed - and wasn't hurt.

The teacher of the Grade 2 class was Miss Atkins. I believe that she had taught at Millside for most of her career and she was a gem. She prepared interesting lessons and was much respected by the students so she rarely had to punish anyone.

One day, though, one of the boys kept misbehaving so Miss Atkins felt that she had no option but to administer the strap. Usually, when this happened, the miscreant would mutter about "that old bag" - but not this time. Later Joe commented to the rest of us, "I deserved that!"  demonstrating the high esteem in which Miss Atkins was held.

When I reached Grade 5 Miss Atkins had retired from Grade 2 and was our home room teacher again. That was her final year of teaching - she retired in June.

She lived by herself in a bungalow close to the final 'pick up' stop for our local bus route thus I saw her a number of times after I ceased being one of her pupils. Always she remembered my name. Indeed, many years later, I was at the bus stop in New Westminster waiting for the bus out home and chatting with a neighbor who had graduated from Millside before I moved there. Miss Atkins approached the stop and, seeing us she did not miss a beat but said, "Hello, Ernie! Hello Albini!" She remembered both of us.

In Grade 3 I did not fare that well in who our home room teacher was. Miss Goyer taught us for a few months, got married (becoming Mrs Grimble - and some of the boys substituted the 'i' with a 'u') and then took sick leave in order to give birth to a baby. The substitute teacher was a Mrs. Knight and, as she seemed to take an instant dislike to me, my life became miserable. Also, this was when I began missing school in order to have surgery. I missed a lot of school but was still able to keep my grades up. I wonder why she disliked me - was it because of the ugly scar tissue on my face?

The teacher in Grade 4 was Miss Gardner - ironically, she was one of the daughters of the head gardener at the Colony Experimental Farm. Miss Gardner's sister had a lovely singing voice and she would sing at every school event. Her signature song was "It's a Grand Night for Singing" which I do not recall hearing again until a friend opened a concert a number of months ago with that very song.

Our class teacher in Grade 5 was Miss Atkins again and, in Grade 6, it was the principal, Mrs. Davis. I encountered somebody else years later who attended Millside and she commented on how much she disliked Mrs. Davis. I was surprised to hear that as I found her, while strict, a good teacher.

To explain the next item I will relate some history.

Included in the original settlers of New Westminster were some British Army Sappers. It fell to them to give the new community a name but they could not decide between Queensborough or Queenborough. They wrote to Queen Victoria asking her to decide for them. As the monarch didn't want to take sides  she gave the request some thought while standing at a window. She looked up and saw Westminster so she suggested that this new town be called New Westminster. A part of New Westminster is across an arm of the Fraser River on Lulu Island and it is known as Queensborough.

From then onward the slogan of the community has been "The Royal City" - a title claimed by Guelph, Ontario as well - but for a different reason.

While New Westminster is a separate city, it cannot help but fall under the shadow of Vancouver - it's younger but much larger neighbor.

One of the British customs adopted by New Westminster - and, later, by most of the satellite communities - was the annual festival of crowning a May Queen.

Coquitlam followed that tradition as well. Early in a new year each public school in the district nominated a girl as a contestant for the title. All the public schools participated by nominating their own queen candidate and an election was held. As Millside was the largest of the public schools - at that time - our candidate was the winner. The two 'Maids-in-Waiting' were girls from two of the competing schools.

The May Day was held on one Friday in May (before the May long weekend) in Blue Mountain Park - the largest park in the municipality. Preparations meant that all of the classes learned various dances which were performed for the large audience. Grades 1 and 2 learned the Mexican Hat Dance, 3 and 4 the traditional Maypole Dance while grades 5 and 6 - the big kids - learned a Square Dance.

I was in either grade 3 or 4 when the ribbons on our pole became hopelessly entangled. I was told that it was my fault so I burst into tears - It WASN'T MY FAULT! I have no idea if I was at fault or not but I never forgot the embarrassment.

The Maypole Dance. I do not recall in which year this photo was taken - nor where I might be in the photo. In the background is the band shell where the Royal Party was seated.

The Square Dance. Again I have no idea in which year this was - nor where I may be in the photo.

My earliest memory of a May Day celebration superceded the Coquitlam experience. The daughter of Mom and Dad's good friends in Mission was elected "Queen of the May" for their celebration so we all went. My memory of the fair grounds and the displays are dim but I vividly remember what happened in the evening. While Dad and Albert Copeland went somewhere else, Grace Copeland and Mom took us to the Junior May Day Dance. When we left the hall to return to the Copeland's home we encountered two soldiers staggering home from the pub with their arms linked and loudly singing "Roll Out the Barrel" - and very much off key!

In 2007 or 2008 Millside celebrated the 100th anniversary of its existence and I was able to attend. Some of the school was still familiar - but much had been added onto and turned around. Instead of the creek coursing across the grounds, there was no sign of it (all buried?) and an industrial area came right up to the back fence - no old stump nor skunk cabbage covered swampland. In a bustling metropolis things cannot be expected to have remained the same.

In Grade 7 I was now in high school. At that time Coquitlam High was old and overcrowded. As well as the main school there was yet another annex. My Grade 7 teacher was Miss Rumsey. I remember her as being a nice person - but little else. By this time - 1948 - the war was a few years in the past and we were receiving an influx of male teachers - returning servicemen who used their discharge monies to go to university and become teachers. Some showed promise while others were dreadful! Miss Rumsey was not one of those!

I am delighted by how frequently old photos are popping up! The above photo is of the Grade 7 class at Coquitlam High School. I have no idea where I was when the photo was taken!

My Grade 8 home room teacher was Miss Bisshopp ("Two esses and two 'Ps', boys and girls!"). She was middle-aged and always had heavy pancake makeup on her face. Later we learned that she had been in an accident at some time in the past so, under the makeup, there were ugly scars.

She was our art teacher. The dictum that has always remained with me was "Boys and girls, there is no such thing as a purple mountain!" Years later - in Alice Springs - the mountains frequently looked purple in the light of the setting sun.

Each year Miss Bisshopp decided upon an art project in which all of the class participated. That year it was the Cinderella story told by using puppets. We each made our own, learned how to manipulate them, and became an integral part of the School Concert. I was assigned to create and operate the puppet which represented the fat ugly step-sister. In my nervousness at the performance I could not get the puppet to sit firmly upon the little chair so I expected a reprimand.

Instead I was complimented - I showed just what a fuss-budget was that ugly sister!

                                     Mr Green and Mr. McBay cutting reunion cake - 2004

Our math teacher was Mr. Green - a tall lanky man. Back then the teachers always dressed formally and Mr. Green always wore a suit. Naturally, while writing on the blackboard, he would start at the top. While working his way down towards the bottom he never stooped but spread his feet outwards so, when the bottom was reached, he was doing 'the splits'!

This is Alda's story of when he was her home room teacher. One day he showed up wearing a brand new blue suit. The wags in the classroom began chanting, "Blue and green should not be seen with out a color in between". He never wore that suit again.

I do not remember who my home room teacher was in grades 9 to 12 - but I remember great educators.

Mr Sankey taught math. Each day he assigned homework and, whether or not you had completed it, your homework was always checked. Math was not one of my good subjects so I struggled with it. Mr Sankey understood and would devote time before school and after - as well as lunch hour - to coach pupils who struggled. I really admired that man!

Mr. Ennis taught science - another course at which I struggled. Like Mr Sankey, he was also a patient man.

Mr. Sheeley taught history - a class which I thoroughly enjoyed. Those who did not do so well in that course called him "the commie" behind his back. Mr Sheeley believed in debating ideas so he would play 'the devil's advocate' just to spur discussion. No he was not a Communist - just a darn good teacher and debater.

We had three different English teachers - two were good while the other, unfortunately, was laughable. I remember with respect Miss Leslie who was fond of telling her classes about a Scottish ancestor who was hung for cattle stealing! Mr McBay - seen in the photo above which was taken at the 50th Reunion - whose classes were interesting. However, Miss McPhee was something else. She loved to regale her classes with farfetched stories about being sick with dysentry while traveling in Mexico and about being chased by a rhino in South Africa. All of us fervently wished that that rhinoceros had been faster on its feet! Also, she drank and smoked and tried to cover the resultant odors with excessive use of perfumes.

French was taught in grades 11 and 12 by Miss Elmore - who was from Alberta and was not French at all! Oh well!

Upon graduation from Grade XII - and to continue our education - we had a choice of enrolling in a university or to move to a school which offered Senior Matriculation (Grade XIII). Neither I nor my family had the funds for tuition at university so I opted for Senior Matriculation at the Duke of Connaught High School in New Westminster. There were two high schools in that city - Connaught and T.J. Trapp Technical School. The teachers at the former taught academic subjects while at T.J. Trapp High trades subjects were on the curriculum.

That was the first time that I struggled academically. The teachers knew the subjects that they taught but they - and especially the math teacher - had the bright students sitting at the front of the classroom and we - for whom the subject being taught was difficult - sat at the back. I doubted that I would be able to pass the Math but I received just over 50% on my final exam so matriculated. I was always pretty good at arithmetic but not the theoretical subjects.


  1. I actually taught a 5-class room in the early 60's north of Québec City. It was hard to try to keep each class on schedule while allowing for both the slower and the quicker students. I taught all day and wrote lessons on the blackboard all evening. Luckily, or maybe not, I lived in the school.

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