Personal Memoirs: Memories of Winnipeg Schools in the 1930s and 1940s
by Margaret E. Leitch Russell
These memoirs were written and edited by Mrs. Russell in June and July 2015.
Cecil Rhodes School: 1934-1945
Principal William Martin was born on 3 June 1880 in Kent, England. That being correct, I recall him talking at different times about Somerset, England while I was in Elementary School at Cecil Rhodes School. The “little school” was the ground level building while “the big school” was the two level building. Mr. Martin visited the classrooms from time to time to bring the teachers their allocated supplies for each month.
When he knocked on the door and walked in, we immediately stood up and said, “Good morning, Mr. Martin” then sat down to continue working. If a student was slow in getting to his feet, or someone was slow in returning to the task at hand, Mr. Martin would reprimand the individual.
In Weston, during the Depression, most of the families were either on Working Mens’ Relief or on ten days a month working in the CPR Weston Shops. Mr. Martin made foolscap paper available with punched holes and other supplies, for students whose parents were unable to provide them. He also had the paint inserts for a paint box if the student had the box in which to put these replacements.
About twice a year, the school had a silver tea with the fancy sandwiches and the petit fours to raise a bit of money for needed items.
Once a year we had an Amateur Night in which students who had some talent could perform. The judge for this evening was Mr. Herb Roberts of the radio station CKY. One year, Winifred Johnson, a grade 1 student, played the Minuet in G by Schubert. She was awarded first prize for her performance, not because she was the youngest, but because she showed promise in what she could do at an early age, and this prize would perhaps encourage her to continue with the piano. Winifred Sim played for years on the CBC “Hymn Sing,” not only on piano but was also an accomplished organist.
The Principal provided packets of seeds to the students who wished to grow vegetables during the summer. A prize was given at the end of the competition to the student who had the best garden. The judge was the janitor of the High School, Mr. Neighbor, as he had one of the most beautiful gardens in Weston.
Occasionally, he would stop to tell us about something he had read about changes coming in the future. I was in Grade 4 when he told us that a new aircraft had been invented that could land on the roof of the school. He was telling us about helicopters. Another time, he remarked on the length of time it took our mother to cook the Sunday “joint,” as in a cook stove, it often took several hours, according to the size of the roast. He said the day was coming when the cooking would be be done in a very short time. He was talking about the microwave. We were told that we could have our daily requirement of food in a capsule. This came about when astronauts went into outer space.
I recall a couple of times that Mr. Martin encouraged us during those bleak days by quoting the lines that had been found on the back of a picture in the Chester Cathedral.
During the war years, Mr. Martin held an open Assembly once a week for the students in the “big” school. He opened the sessions with the required “O Canada,” the approved Scripture portion for that day, followed by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Following that, he read a couple of letters that were received from former students who were now on active duty. The Principal encouraged us all to concentrate on our studies, but also to get involved with any of the projects that were being conducted in the school to aid the war effort. We were encouraged to purchase the weekly War Saving stamps to fill up our certificates, as well as aiding the school projects that helped to raise money to provide a 20-pound box of “goodies” for each former student at Christmas and a newsletter every few months of what was going on at Cecil Rhodes, as well as in the city of Winnipeg. One Spring evening, the students lined along the sidewalk down from the school along William Avenue to place the pennies they had saved on the sidewalk to help pay for the Christmas boxes. The boys were encouraged to collect metal and rubber for recycling.
In addition to this and many more projects, a group of women met once a week in the Home Economic rooms to make layettes, quilts, clothing for the people of Weston, Somerset England who were being bombed. These huge boxes had to be covered with cotton and the seams sewn and be the exact weight that was required by the Post Office before they could be sent! These women worked under the direction of Mrs. Doig who had been at Cecil Rhodes School for 28 years at that time. She was later honored with the key to the city for her part in the war effort that had be carried on in the school.
Facing immediately opposite the front door was the noticeable Memorial Centre, where the Union Jack was placed, with a rostrum holding an antique photo album in which was a picture of each former student was placed who had given his life for his country.
Also on the main floor, on the facing wall, there were two sections; one with the name of each former student who was in the military, the other, a picture of each man, with his name printed below.
The dual entry system was in place in Winnipeg schools at this time, so having a birthday in January, I was admitted to Miss Hannah Goulden’s Grade 1 classroom in January 1934. The basal reader that was being used at that time was the Jerry and Jane series. Each page had a black silhouette picture at the top of the page, with the text below. I can remember one day while in a small group at the front of the class along with Miss Goulden when she asked me to read from the reader. I paused, as the first word started with “Th”, and I was reading to the end of the sentence to ascertain in my own mind what was this first word. I guess I paused too long, for Miss Goulden said, “Margaret, do you want to go to the washroom?” How affronted I was, to ask me that in front of the entire group. I did not need to go to the washroom, all I needed was the first word. (I had been walking from Weston to downtown Winnipeg with my mother since I was about three years of age, around the stores, and the three miles back home. When we arrived downtown, we went down into the clean public lavatory at the corner of Portage Avenue and Fort Street. The walls were all tiled and kept in a clean condition as were the toilets. There was usually a women in charge who seemed to be busy all the time cleaning the facility after each person left. There was no fee, as there is in Britain.) As a result of this embarrassment, I could have been a Grade 1 dropout. However, I continued to pay attention, in spite of my dislike for Miss Goulden. She wore five sterling silver bracelets that were held together with a clasp. The two outer bracelets were green, the two inner ones were red, and the one in the middle was blue in color Miss Goulden was very thin, and when she was teaching the class, and moving her arms around, these bangles rattled, so immediately she thrust the bracelet up her arm until the bracelet was almost up to her elbow and then they held fast. If it hadn’t been for her bracelet, I wonder where I would have been today?
Miss Goulden was getting rid of some dusty gourds that she kept on the window sill. She threw them in the waste paper basket to be emptied into the garbage. I was very petite, so my desk was right beside her big desk, and right beside the waste paper basket. At recess time, I took these gourds out of the basket and placed them in my desk, so if Miss Goulden didn’t want them I would have them. Later on, she noticed them in my desk, and took them from me, and I never saw them again. Why did she not let me have them? I am still concerned I wasn’t stealing them, as I have never stolen anything in my entire life.
Once a week, the pupils who entered in January, were taken to another classroom in the school to learn how to write. This was a dusty place, with huge desks. Miss Fanny Davis, was possibly a substitute waiting for a permanent class. She gave us each a thick black pencil, with soft lead so that if we weren’t careful we could get our fingers messed so everything we touched would be smudged. Miss Davis was very attractive with her blond bobbed haircut, painted fingernails, and sheer blouses. She used to take my hand in hers to show me how to make the letter. After she went on to the next student, I was still sniffling the pencil as it bore the beautiful lasting fragrance of her perfume. Then she would call my name, to remind me that I should be writing, not sniffing my pencil. When I went home after my first writing lesson, I asked my mother if she went to the bathroom the same as I did as she was always so fragrant; I enjoyed being next to her.
My father was a First World War Imperial veteran. In the summer of 1933 he was working at Polo Park on some Working Mens’ Relief project when his face broke out with a skin disease which soon covered his entire body. Dr. Easton immediately diagnosed the problem as Mustard Gas poison, which had been latent in his system, but would be out on his skin for several years. The doctor warned my dad that when his face cleared up, that his days were numbered. That was the way the disease went, as his skin cleared up in 1943, and he passed on in May 1945. The poison went into his liver, and the autopsy stated that he had died of toxic hepatitis. He never received a penny pension from the British War Office! He was clean when discharged in 1919.
Dad was unable to be out in the extremely hot temps during the drought years, and we were placed on Social Welfare. Social Welfare gave no money, no clothing/shoe allowance, and the lowest amount for a rental, at $16 a month, which was impossible to find in Winnipeg. The food items were monotonous – dried peas and beans, very little milk, absolutely no variety! Needless to say, my siblings and I hung up our stocking at Christmas time, but it was still empty on Christmas Day. I had no toys, but I did find the gourds attractive!
Grade 1: 1934-1935
In September 1934, I was in the Grade I classroom with Miss Lily Peters. Whenever anyone asked me what grade I was in, I always stressed that I was in “high” grade 1, as otherwise they might think that I failed a grade which I did not. I only remember one thing in this classroom. Miss Peters was required to go somewhere at the commencement of the afternoon session. Two grade 5 students from Miss Jessie Innes’ class across the hall came to supervise us. Before she left, Miss Peters told us that we were to take off our wraps in the closet and not utter a word, as the two girls were there to watch us. I always followed the rules at home and elsewhere. I took off my wrap, hung it on the hook in the closet, and worked my way past the students until I got to the other end where one of the students was standing. I did not utter a word, but was accused of talking, so I had to stand at the door of the classroom and wait there until Miss Peters returned. When Miss Peters returned, she took me out into the hall to talk to me. I told her that I had not talked, but she refused to believe me, and shook me violently. I was always a quiet one, that did more listening than talking. Most of my spare time was spent with seniors, listening to the story of their lives and those of their family. She, too, was off my list.
Grade 2: 1935-1936
In the 1935-1936 school year, I was in Grade 2, with Miss Flora MacLeay. She was a very attractive teacher, much like Miss Davis. The early part of the year passed quickly, but by March 1936, I was starting to be a thorn in my teacher’s flesh. At home we were now feeling the pinch of having no money whatsoever, as we were on Social Welfare so I was using pencil stubs instead of a pencil of decent length. We were using the Palmer Method Compendium books for writing. There was usually a row of ovals that we were to make, ensuring that our wrist was on the surface of the paper. Then we were expected to make the up and down strokes again, without lifting our wrist from off the paper. Miss MacLeay came around to inspect our writing, stopped at my desk and said that my writing was too small. She wanted me to write bigger. When I wrote bigger, she said that my writing was messy. Next, she said,“Margaret, how can you write with that small stub for a pencil? Get a new pencil that has some length.” I went home to ask my mother for a penny so I could buy a cheap Chinese pencil for one cent. A better Faber pencil cost two cents, and if there was an eraser on the end, it could cost upwards to five cents. My mother did not have a cent that she could give me. A cheap Chinese pencil could do the task at hand, but if you put it in the classroom sharpener, the pencil was ripped apart, and you were left with two lengths of useless wood, with a strip of lead in one length and just a gouge in the other piece. These pencils could be sharpened only with a five cent sharpener.
When it came time for Arithmetic, the students were told to check their addition by counting upwards if they had counted downwards before, in order to get their total. I was good in Reading, but weak in Arithmetic, so it would not matter which way I checked my computation, as it could be wrong simply because I had not mastered my addition and subtraction facts. If I thought the answer was wrong then I could erase it, but now I didn’t have an eraser. We did our work on folded newsprint. In an attempt to erase the wrong answer, I wet my finger. I was trying in more ways than one, as I now had a hole in the paper.
Miss MacLeay, when seeing the mess I was in, told me to take my paper and go to the office at the end of the hall to see Mr. Martin, the Principal, for the strap. When I got to the office Mr. Martin was not there, so I returned to the classroom. As soon as I sat down Miss MacLeay sent another student to go down to the office to see if Mr. Martin was there! I always had been taught to tell the truth, even though I might get into trouble. I always did as I was told and behaved myself. Now I was suspect – she proved to me that she thought I was a liar. As usual I went home for lunch, and found out that my parents were both out somewhere. They were out house hunting for a rental that could be had for $16 a month, the amount stipulated by the Social Welfare. My three siblings worked together to have the lunch that my mother prepared before she and dad left the house. My brothers and sister returned to school, but I refused to go, because I would have to see Mr. Martin for the strap. Later in the afternoon, my sister was sent home to bring me back to school but I refused to go and hid under a couch.
My dad, as a rule never interfered with my mother as she disciplined the four of us. This was the first time I ever saw my dad angry, as he was upset with what had been done to me. I was never in any trouble because I always did what I was told and followed the rules. How happy I was, when the next day was Good Friday, and I didn’t have to go back to school until after the Easter holiday. However, I was not sleeping well at night, as I was very concerned what would happen to me when I returned to school. My mother, too, was upset, but it was my dad that said that he would accompany me back to school when I was to visit Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin spoke to me very kindly and listened to my father, as I guess he knew how irritated he was with this occurrence. Dad accompanied me back to the classroom and I went in, while he talked to the teacher outside in the hall. He apparently told Miss McLeay how upset she had made me, and how it all affected my sleep at night. He plainly told her that if there was any more of this nonsense, he would be going to the School Board. After he left, she came over to me, and said that she wanted to speak to me in the hall. She tried to tell me that she didn’t say this, and she didn’t do that, knowing that I never contradicted any adult. I repeated to her exactly what she had said to me in class when she sent me to see Mr. Martin. I never had any more trouble with her, but she never came near me to check my work or to see if I was doing my work correctly or not. She completely abandoned me. However, Mr. Martin would always come to my desk to ask me personally how I was doing whenever he came to the classroom.
My parents could not find any rentals in the city for $16, as most of them were anything from $22 to $25. Our corner grocer, who was no longer getting any business from us because of our placement on Social Welfare, told my mother about the house down the street that was $22 per month. His friend was a Mr. Horning, who was the rental agent, so Max Polonski phoned him to ask if he would rent it to my parents for less. The price was lowered to $18, and the Social Welfare allowed us to stay in the house, because they knew my parents were honest, and my mother kept a clean household.
The Social Welfare investigator, unbeknown to my parents went firstly to visit Mr. Martin to ask about our attendance, our behavior and our personal cleanliness. Mr. Martin gave a good report to them telling them that if all the children in the school were as well behaved as our family, a teacher’s life would be paradise. My mother never knew of this until in April when the thaw began, that she visited Mr. Martin. She told Mr. Martin that the boys didn’t have decent shoes to come to school, and she was worried lest they get their feet wet and contracted pneumonia. My mother told him she did not come to plead poverty, but to explain the case in case the boys were absent from school. It was at this time that Mr. Martin told her about the investigator, and he would see if there was any money left in the Empty Stocking Fund which I believe was run by the Tribune paper. Mr. Martin told my mother to take the boys to Hudson’s Bay to get the new shoes. After this, she visited Mr. Martin to be able to write a thank you to the Fund. Mr. Martin told her that no thanks were necessary, as the Empty Stocking Fund did not supply the shoes, but just accept the shoes. My mother figured that it was the teachers in Cecil Rhodes School that had contributed from their meager funds to purchase the shoes. It was years later when I attended a school reunion that I learned that my mother had the right answer – the teachers had collected the money.
This was then followed up by a visit to the corner grocer. Max told my mother that the woman came in and her first question was, “ How much money does she owe you?” Max was able to tell the woman that my mother owed him nothing, but if she came into the store at any time and needed anything she could have anything in the store, whether she had the money or not, because she was an honest woman. What a recommendation!
During the 1930s the summers were hot and dry, while the winters were cold and long. This meant that the wheat crops came to nothing while the farmer watched the seedlings shrivel in the intense heat. If an advanced crop ripened, it was often beaten down with hail, with the addition of grasshoppers everywhere. When I crossed a field, the grasshoppers were hitting me in the face, with a wind blowing dust and Russian thistle rolling everywhere. Night after night there was thunder and lightning without a drop of rain. I recall 12 July 1936 being one of the hottest days on record. As the wind blew across open prairie it felt as if a blast furnace had been opened.
Grade 3: 1936-1937
In September 1936, I entered Grade 3. My teacher was Miss Isabel Millidge. Her reputation was well known throughout the school as she being very quick tempered. Whenever she noticed a youngster turning around, talking or just not doing their seatwork, she was on them immediately. Her method of discipline was to come down the aisle, usually from behind, and rap a wooden 12-inch ruler across the knuckles, or slap the student across the back with it. I never experienced any of her wrath. To me, she was sickly sweet. She liked smart students; they did all her errands and were her “pets.” The “pets” could do nothing wrong.
My mother was a good singer, and from as far back as I can remember, I woke up in the morning with my mother singing. When I was five years of age, I was asked to sing a solo at the Brooklands Hotel as the Buffalo Lodge were having a social event. I was first on the program, and sang “South fo the Border” accompanied by Betty Tarantino and three other instrumentalists. (Betty was the pianist for Bill Moore’s orchestra that played for Vaudeville acts between the double feature that was presented daily in the Beacon Theatre on Main Street.) When I finished my solo I was given a crisp one dollar bill, and allowed to go home. I ran along the block to the terrace where we lived at the corner of Worth Street and William Avenue to give my mother the money. At this time, you almost needed a horse and cart if you were to purchase $5 worth of groceries.
The winter of 1936 was very severe. We had a terrible blizzard with plenty of snow on the streets. My mother was concerned about an elderly Scottish couple who lived in a house by themselves. Architecturally, their house would be called a shack. My mother knew that they would be unable to open their door as snow would be piled up against it. She sent me over to shovel their snow. It took the two of them to push against the door, wide enough to pass out a large shovel to me. When I finished the job, the man wanted to pay me, but I refused, as my mother would never allow us to take money when we were doing a good deed.
This Scotsman had been working in the CPR Weston Shops, had participated in the 1919 Strike so when he retired, he and his wife were existing on $20 per month each, of Old Age Pension, that they received when they were 70 years of age, with a means test. They could have absolutely nothing in the bank or have an insurance policy either. In spite of Stanley Knowles’s efforts as an MP from Winnipeg Ward 3, to get these men their pensions, no one received a penny from the CPR.
The Scotsman thought that I should come each day after school to chop their wood, carry it into the house, and go to the store for whatever groceries were needed. He said he would pay me fifteen cents a week for this job. I refused the money, but the independent Scot was not going to allow me to do anything, unless I was paid. My mother approved, and from then on I felt like a millionaire with my savings.
All the time I was on my way to Neil’s grocery store at the corner of Quelch and Logan Streets and then next to Robert’s Drug store, I was rehearsing what I had to purchase. I held up my thumb and said “a loaf of bread” my index finger, “ a tin of Todd’s red salmon”, the middle finger, “Fuller’s Earth” the ring finger, “Dodd’s Kidney Pills” and the baby finger “ Dr. Chase’s Ointment”. The elderly woman could get quite irate with me if I forgot anything, so this was my method of trying to remember.
During these Depression years, children on Relief and Welfare were usually underweight. They were allowed a half pint of white or chocolate milk each day. The crates of milk were left in the hall of the school, just outside Mr. Martin’s office, by either the Crescent Creamery or the City Dairy. The children drank their milk during the morning recess.
We had a piano at home that my parents bought in the 1920s but refused to sell in the hopes that some of us would learn to play it. My parents never pleaded poverty, and when others knew of our plight, they might alert the IODE, the Red Cross, or the Canadian Legion in an effort for us to perhaps obtain something we needed in the way of bedding and the like. Whenever, someone came to investigate our case, and they saw the piano, they were quick to tell my mother that she could sell the piano and get $25. We were refused help!
My older sister and I walked to town, and we purchased a Tutor book for the piano, so we could learn to play. We worked on the exercises and practiced daily. She was a better player that I was, as she could make up arpeggios to enhance the sound, whereas I couldn’t, as more often I just played between the cracks. However, in my struggle to play, I became a good sight reader of music, even though I couldn’t always put into action what I saw on the page.
In Grade 3, we were given small music sight reading booklets, so we could progress from simple time value of the notes, to melodic tunes which we had to sing correctly in the proper rhythm and pitch. We used the solfeggio system doh, re, mi and so on. Miss Millidge gave us the starting note by blowing a pitch pipe. As I was a good singer, and could read the notes, I was not afraid to sing out during these sessions. Needless to say, I sang a solo every time, as none of the rest of the class was capable of joining in. Miss Millidge was pleased with my efforts, but told me to be quiet and let the rest of the class do a little work. This was my shining moment! At last I could do something that even her “pets” could not do.
Miss Annie Pullar was the Music Supervisor for the Winnipeg Schools at this time, and visited our classroom. She was a rather severe looking woman with her hair pulled back tightly into a bun at the back of her head. She quickly noted those students who were out-of-tuners. The boy who sat in front of me had to stand and go up the scale for Miss Pullar. With her hands under the boy’s armpits, she sang the tone for him to copy. As he tried to go up the scale with doh, re, mi, she was gradually lifting him off the floor in an attempt to raise his voice for the desired note. He didn’t seem to know the difference between doh and reh, and I had a hard time trying to muffle my snickers. For me it seemed so easy to do, but this boy just could not do it. Even today, I laugh whenever I think of this event.
Before Christmas, Miss Millidge asked if I would sing a solo at the Christmas concert. My older sister was in Miss Elizabeth Oakes’ Grade 6 class, and taught me “Early One Morning” At the concert, Miss Oakes heard me, and wanted to teach me proper diaphragmatic breathing, proper production of head tones and diction. Miss Oakes was a member of the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir. After the New Year, I was given about three lessons by this teacher, along with a book which contained vocal exercises. She became seriously ill, and was absent from school for several months. That was the end of my singing lessons, but I continued to use the book, that had been given to me.
No matter how hard I tried to get my Arithmetic work finished in time, I seldom managed to get out at recess time to play with the others. Each drill time I was always asked what a certain addition or subtraction combination was, but did I ever get the opportunity to read a portion of the story from our reader out loud?? I couldn’t understand this at all. Whenever I had some time, I would walk the three miles to the Public Library near Ellen and William Sts. to obtain two wee books, and then walk the three miles home, in all kinds of weather. When I arrived home tired, my mother was usually making supper, and said to me in her Glaswegian accent, “Margaret, ah think ye ought tae tak’ yer bed doon there.”
Elementary students had to stay outdoors until a teacher rang the hand bell to bring the children into the school in the morning, during afternoon sessions and also at recess. Boys stood in one line, girls in another. Each class had to wait in a goodly formed line, and be quiet, before they were allowed into the school. The class with the best formed lines, and the quickest to be quiet, entered the school first.
At the entrance next to our classroom, were three concrete steps. On each side of the steps was a concrete block. During the winter, rather than be cold, we played “Pile On” while waiting for the bell to be rung to let us into the school. We sang the words “pile on” to a rhythmical beat, while each student sat on the lap of a seated student. In this way we kept warm as we huddled together.
When we had a fresh fall of snow, it never seemed so cold. Often we would lie down in the snow and make angels by waving our arms up and down. Real skill and dexterity were required to get up out of the angel form without messing or distorting the “angel”. It never failed, for as soon as a perfect form was achieved, some boy would come along and destroy the angel either because he thought it was better than his, or just the thing to do to get the girls annoyed.
Another game we played in the freshly fallen snow was “Tag”. We made a large circle in the snow, and then cut the circle into eight parts. The person who was being chased, could cut across the circle at any of the fraction lines, but the pursuer had to stay on the circle rim.
Grade 4: 1937-1938
I was in Miss Jones’s Grade 4 class in September 1937. Miss Jones was an even-tempered teacher. I don’t recall her ever showing signs of annoyance, nor experienced any upsets in this classroom. In this grade, the emphasis in the Arithmetic program was problem solving, and to solve the problems, the student had to put down a statement to tell what was being solved. I often could get the correct answer and do all the calculations that went with it, but for the life of me, I could never write down the correct statement to say what I had, and with what I hoped to have at the end.
Miss Jones wanted to keep me in after school to correct my problems, but I told her that I had the little job to do each day after school for the elderly couple. She told me to take the problems home to correct them, and return with the work in the morning. At home, no one would help me, as mom felt that a student should do their own homework without any assistance.
In our classroom was a huge map of the world, put out by the Neilsen company that made chocolate bars. It covered the slate blackboard at the back of the room. This particular blackboard had deteriorated so much that it was faded black and cracked in several places, so it it was just as well covered. I examined that map so carefully that I discovered there were two Christmas Islands in the world. They both belonged to Britain, as they were denoted as such by being pink in color. One of these islands was directly on the Equator while the other was located further away. I learned that the equator was the hot part of the world, but as I was always so cold, I decided that is where I would like to live. Living on a tropical isle seemed so desirable. To me, an island spoke of warm tropical breezes, fresh fruits and coconuts, with absolutely nothing to do. Little did I know that I would have died there of thirst and perhaps starvation. What a dreamer I was! However, at that age I vowed to myself that I was going to get an education, and as soon as I had a job I was going to get out of Winnipeg as it was just too cold for me. Years later, one of the Christmas Islands, because it was barren, was chosen as the site to test nuclear weapons. That would have been a hot seat for me, indeed.
When I first entered Grade 1 at Cecil Rhodes School, the grades only went up to Grade 8 and later to Grade 9. My older brother, was now entering Grade 10 at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, as Cecil Rhodes had no High School program. In order to complete his high school education, he would have more than a mile to walk each way. He came home for lunch as the lunch hour was from twelve o’clock to one thirty. This meant that he walked approximately six miles a day. He was very athletic, and did not seem to mind. At first he had plenty of company, but as time went on, the numbers dwindled as students dropped out of school.
In the winter months, my brother was alone in his walk across the bleak fields. During a blizzard, the only semi-cleared area was the railway line which cut across the prairie from Logan Avenue to Notre Dame just east of Quelch Street. My mother kept all of our reports cards and other mementoes for us until each of us left home. This brother never missed a day of school in the eleven years he attended, and was a good student.
During the Spring of 1938, I invested in a bag of marbles which cost five cents a bag. In our backyard at the weekends, I practiced shooting the marbles in the snow, so by the end of March I could engage others to play with me. I did very well when I played against others at recess. I won some of their prize marbles, or crockeries as they were called, but in order to get them back they had to pay for them. Besides being considered a “champ,” I also was making and saving money. After the marble season was over, the girls brought their skipping ropes to school. As I was very agile, I did well in both single and double rope skipping. I seldom had to hold the rope, as I competed against the other girls, even though I never owned a skipping rope.
Once my older brother reached the age of sixteen, an investigator came to our home, as my brother was to be placed on Single Persons’ Relief. Shortly after this visit, we had another visit from an official of the City Health Department, who recommended that dad’s health would be better if our family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Perhaps this was true, but mom felt that the city was trying to get rid of us, and if we moved to the coast, the City of Vancouver would promptly send us back to Winnipeg. The result of all this would be no home, no furnishings, and the loss of schooling. My mother refused to leave Winnipeg.
Grade 5: 1938-1939
I entered Grade 5 in September 1938 with Miss Jessie Innes as my teacher. She was around fifty years of age. I liked her, because she never made us do useless homework. There was always some new project or something new to think about in her classroom. At the start of the afternoon session, she read to us for five minutes. Some of the books she read were Little Women, Joe’s Boys, Anne of Green Gables, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn. She also read Longfellow’s Evangeline.
As I look back, I realise that she gave me an awareness of good literature. She also developed within us an appreciation of the fine arts. One of the boys in our class was working up a delivery route for the Montreal Star. Every new customer would receive a reprint of a famous painting each week. Miss Innes subscribed for the paper, and in return had another picture of a famous painting to show us. She told us about the artist, the times in which he lived, and the artist’s contribution to the world of art. After all of this, she placed the print on the side wall, above the blackboard. Soon we had pictures all around the room. I looked forward to seeing what the next print was going to be.
We also did a considerable amount of choral speaking during the year. Miss Innes had us work on several of Pauline Johnson’s poems such as, “The Song My Paddle Sings.” I learned early that if there is no comma or period at the end of a printed line, you keep on reading along until you reach one. We learned from Miss Innes, through example, that if you stop at the end of the printed line, that the poet’s meaning is taken out of context.
Miss Innes hung her reading glasses from a chain around her neck. She was the first person that I had ever seen using a chain for her glasses. If someone in the class was talking or misbehaving while she was reading, she would seize the nosepiece of the glasses, pull them off, and point the lugs in the direction of the student and say, “I’ll fly at you, if I get interrupted again.” She replaced her glasses and went on with her reading as though nothing had happened. She was even-tempered for the most part. She had short well-coifed way hair that I enjoyed admiring, as I always wanted curly hair.
She taught the students in her class how to play softball, and gave us plenty of time to practice the skills. We played on the diamond in the empty lot across the street beside one of the houses. When the other students threw off their sweaters, I made a bed of them, and soon went to sleep. When the class finished the game, and had to return to the classroom the kids gave me a shake to awaken me. All through school I was never interested in group sports, but entered and did well in individual events such as high jumps, relays, hurdles and racing.
When I was in this classroom, my arithmetic marks improved, as well as my class standing. Instead of being near the bottom of the class I was now near the top. It proved that a good teacher can make the difference.
Mr. Martin, our school Principal was a good-living man, and thus a good role model for the students. With his periodic talks in the classroom, he tried to instill in his students the highest ethics. Every so often, he gave us a pep talk to inspire us. He told us that were golden opportunities in life for those who press on and finished the course. He told us that by taking the right road, and fitting ourselves to the best of our ability, with honesty, and unselfishness, to mention a few, we would succeed. As always he shared with us something he had read, or gave us a personal vision of the future. He left us with the thought that “the difficult is what takes a little time, the impossible is what takes a little longer.”
Once my older brother finished the school term at the end of June, being on Single Mens’ Relief, my parents were told that he had to work on the streets or whatever the City wanted him to do. At this time, my dad was going through the throes from a recurrence of malaria, when he had to remain in bed for several days. During this period, often my father was delirious, and enduring hot and cold sweats. In spite of his illness, and if a situation such as this arose, in which we were going to be penalized in some way or other, dad got out of bed and fought the battle with the Welfare or the Health Department.
Dad got out of his sick bed and went to the Relief Office and perhaps with a few thumps on some desk and a few choice words, told them that his son was going to finish his High School education. They agreed to allow my brother to remain in school until the end of June 1940, when he would graduate, as he was highly intelligent.
While the King and Queen were travelling across Canada, the newspapers and magazines were filled with pictures of the royal couple. Miss Innes had each student collect pictures to make up a scrapbook of their tour. She had a prize for the best scrapbook. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Winnipeg on 24 May 1939. While in the city the King hurt his hand, and being a hemophiliac, had to get emergency treatment, so all during the day, the cavalcade was delayed. Citizens and very young children stood for hours in a hot sun waiting to see them.
My two brothers, my sister and myself were in Scouts and Girl Guides. My younger brother was part of the Honour Guard on Portage Avenue, while my sister and I were lined up along the route as the car went through Assiniboine Park. As the entourage went through the park, it was a case of now you see them, now you don’t as they went by so quickly. We had stood there waiting to see the royal couple for hours in the hot sun, and nobody in charge even thought of that!
The summers of 1938 and 1939 were worrisome times for parents as there was an epidemic of Infantile Paralysis or Poliomyelitis, as it was called, which could affect adults as well as children. The mosquitoes were bad during these summers, but the city could only spend within the limits of its budget for spraying the larvae beds in infested areas. Most members of the School Board thought the schools should remain closed and not reopen on 2 September, but Mrs. Jenkins, the School Board member from our district, stood up and said the best place for the children to be was in school away from the outdoor areas that were possibly dangerous. The Board decided to follow her advice, and she was right, as the disease was soon on the wane. (Jimmy Jenkins, the husband of Mrs. Jenkins, operated a garage on Logan Avenue near Keewatin Street, which was the end of the city limits and the Municipality of Brooklands. All the residences in Brooklands were non-modern. The residents got their water from a pump on the street and had a back house in the rear of their property.
Grade 6: 1939-1940
On 3 September 1939, war was declared on Germany. From this time on, our young lives were gradually being changed. I felt so young before, but now even at eleven years of age, I was expected to think and act in a responsible manner. I was now in Miss Jean Baxter’s Grade 6 classroom.
Miss Baxter and Miss Magnusson had both spent their summer vacation in Europe. I waited throughout the entire school year for Miss Baxter to mention something about her trip. We studied Britain and Europe in our Geography period, but she never mentioned any of her personal experiences. (When I became a classroom teacher, I decided that if I listened to children’s “show and tell” sessions, then I would contribute also. Every day, I showed the class something different, told them something that I read in The National Geographic, telling them only so much so I would whet their appetite to read the article once I left it out for them to read. Sometimes, I would tell them some story from my own childhood, so I think that my students could possibly tell my stories better than I could tell them myself.)
Miss Baxter was a red-head, with a short fuse. She could blow up over nothing, though she never raised her voice. No matter what my mother or my sister would do to make my hair look attractive, it was always just a mess. Somehow I received a coupon that entitled me to go to the Hairdressing School on Portage Avenue to get a free permanent. When I got this done, I was left with straight frizz that made my hair look worse.
At school Miss Baxter said to me each morning, “Margaret, you didn’t comb or brush your hair this morning.” I told her that my mother would not let any of us out of the house in an unkempt condition. Every morning she asked me the same question and every morning I was able to give her the same reply. Finally, a few weeks later, she gave me a gift. It was a envelope styled bag that contained a number of school supplies—pencils, both lead, and colored, erasers, crayons and a sharpener. This was given to me because I did something about my hair. Actually I didn’t do anything more than I had done before, but the perm was growing out, and my mother was cutting my hair as short as she could, so I would look better. Perhaps Miss Baxter, knowing the home conditions, was just trying to assist in giving me a few required items in the way of school supplies.
During the years that I was in Grades 4 and 5, I was in Miss Elizabeth Oakes’ choir. Each year, we entered the Music Festival in the Auditorium. Two adjudicators came out to Winnipeg from Britain, Hugh Roberton, and John Goss. Hugh Roberton was the conductor of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir and was later knighted. He was a rotund little man, who spoke softly to the children of each choir in a very friendly manner and showed them with his singing voice how they should have sung certain passages. John Goss was the very opposite in appearance, as he was gaunt and lean. He looked as if a good wind would blow him over.
Grade 7: 1940-1941
At last I was in Grade 7 in the big school. At this time, this was part of the Junior High Program. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of moving from one class to another, and following a timetable. It gave me great pleasure to know that I was responsible for myself, and from now on, would not have a teacher breathing down the back of my neck as was the case in an elementary classroom.
My biggest thrill was having access to a library without walking three miles to town and back. Mr. Martin had worked hard to bring this about, so one room in the school was set aside for the library.
My home room teacher was Mr. Max Manishen. He taught our class French, Spelling and Literature. Mr. Manishen had won a scholarship to the Sorbonne in Paris, so his knowledge of French and his accent were both good. I can remember him asking us to say “oh,” and while making this sound, try to say “ee.” This is a difficult sound to make, and is required whenever you try to pronounce the word for “a leaf” in French, the word “la feuille.” He told us that if a German was trying to pass for a Frenchman, and was suspected of being German, he was asked to say the word ‘'la feuille” as it was impossible for a German to make the sound correctly.
In the Spring of 1941, Mr. Manishen spoke to me and asked me to come to see him after school. I wondered what I had done. He said to me, “Margaret, I hope that you are considering taking French through High School, as it is the passport that is necessary if you ever consider going on to University.” Up to this time, no teacher had ever mentioned scholarship or higher education to any of us, as most of our parents did not have the money necessary as most of us had just come off Working Mens’ Relief, or ten days a month working for the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Male teachers in the School District were frozen to their jobs, and were not called up for enlistment. It was possibly in the Spring of 1942 that Mr. Manishen volunteered for military duties as an interpreter, translator for the Canadian Army and left Cecil Rhodes School. I missed him when he left. A Mr. Turner replaced Mr. Manishen. Mr. Turner was not a stranger to us, as he appeared on several occasion before this as a substitute for any Cecil Rhodes teacher who was ill. Later when I was in Grade 12, I met Mr. Turner’s sister, who was a single teacher teaching English at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate.
Miss Gladys Goulden was my younger brother’s classroom teacher in Grade 9. Miss Goulden was an older sister of the primary teacher I had in Grade 1. The older teacher taught English literature and music at Cecil Rhodes. My brother had a very good treble voice, and each year during Grades 8 and 9, Miss Goulden called upon him to sing solos in the musical pageants she put on to help raise money for the school. My mother’s only regret was that neither my brother, nor myself were able to have our solo voices recorded.
It was the years 1940-1941 that Cecil Rhodes School had a full Matriculation - Commercial Program for the students in Grades 10 and 11. It was now more than a year since the commencement of the Second World War and, for the present, many of the young men that were older than I were enlisted for active duty.
My sister did not have to walk the distance to Daniel McIntyre as did my brother, because of Mr. Martin’s efforts to provide the prerequisites for university entrance at Cecil Rhodes. She went to Daniel McIntyre one half day each week for Home Economics, as the full program was not in place until the next year. She graduated with the full Matriculation - Commercial program, with Grade 11 standing, when she was sixteen years of age.
As the Social Welfare did with my older brother, they did the same when my sister turned sixteen. She had to be placed on Single Women’s Relief. The Relief already had places in the River Heights District, where she could earn $10 a month with her room and board. Again, my father went to the Relief office and told them that Ellie was going to remain in school until June 1940 to finish her Grade 11. Naturally, they had to recant, as she was an outstanding student and a member of the 100% Club. (Later in life, she was invited to be a member of Mensa when she worked as a private secretary with the highly intellectual Chemical Engineers in a NASA cell in Azusa, California, and spoke daily on the telephone with Werner von Braun who brought the formula for space rockets to America.)
A few stenographic jobs were starting to appear in the want ad section of the newspapers. When Ellie tried to apply for these positions, she was turned away because she either was too young, had no experience, or lacked a certificate from a reputable commercial college. A business college certificate showed a person’s competency on the typewriter and the shorthand speed. She was competent in both, with a high rate for typing and a hundred words a minute in Pitman Shorthand.
Although my sister was competent, my parents knew that she needed a Business College certification before she would be employed. Again, my dad went to the Relief Office, and told them his daughter needed tuition at a reputable business college. After much debate, the Welfare finally agreed to pay $18 of the required $28 monthly fee. There were strings attached, as she would have to do light duties at the College as required, in order to pay the other $10. They agreed to give her Single Womens’ Relief while she attended the Manitoba Business College.
The average student took six months to meet the requirements of the Business College’s standards for certification. Repeatedly, Ellie was taken out of her classes to work in the lunch concession, run off papers on the Gestetner machine or other duties as required. With all these interruptions, her course was completed in three months! ( Mr. J. K. Watson prepared much of the materials on English composition that were given to the students attending the Manitoba Commercial College.)
Ellie’s first employment was with the Great-West Life Assurance Company. Several young women had applied for the one position. The personnel manager, while handing out the questionnaire to test their ability, told the ladies not to bother writing their names on the paper, as they knew what paper belonged to each participant. Ellie pondered this, but did as she had been told. The others wrote their name on the paper. She was the only one who did as she was asked, and got the job. She wasn’t with the company very long when she was quickly moved up the promotional ladder from a lowly filing clerk. As a filing clerk, she told her boss, that there must be a quicker way of doing the filing, rather than the repetition that was taking place. She was allowed to make the changes, and then promoted to a new position in the medical investigation bureau. In this new position, her English composition was exemplary, and her mathematical computations done quickly with much ease. ( I am mentioning this, because of the high standards that Miss Gladys Goulden, demanded from her students in English composition, the high level of note taking required by Mr. J. K. Watson in his History classes, and the enjoyable class sessions in Mathematics and Science by Mr. R. A. Storch.) As more men were called up, there was a shortage of underwriters at Great-West Life. At this time, an underwriter had to have a degree in Economics to do the work. Ellie was given in-service training after a free dinner in the cafeteria to obtain the required knowledge and prove herself a worthwhile underwriter for accident and health insurance claims. She received another boost in salary.
In January 1941, my mom’s New Year’s resolution was to get off welfare and try to make it on our own, if possible. This was a bold statement, after you have been without for almost twelve years. Mom had nothing to back up her resolution for she had a sick husband, her oldest son of seventeen years was just receiving a small salary as a clerk with the City Clerk’s office, a sixteen year old daughter would not be ready to graduate from High School until the end of June, and two younger members still years from graduating.
In March, Charles, my younger brother turned fifteen and again our situation was assessed. It was during this assessment that mom pointed out to the authorities that she was no different from a widow, as her husband had an incurable disease and would never be capable of working again. The authorities had to agree with her. Mom, Charles and I were placed on Mothers’ Allowance. Mom received a cheque from the Provincial Government once a month, and was able to take advantage of any food bargains at the cash and carry stores such as Piggly-Wiggly, Super Valu, and Safeway. Max Polonsky, our corner grocer, knew that mom had the ability to go elsewhere and told mom that he would give her groceries at the same price as she would pay at the cash and carry grocery stores. Polonsky’s groceries were a little more because he extended credit to his customers.
At the end of the summer of 1941, Charles told mom that he was not going to return to school as he knew that she needed some financial support, as the cost of living was gradually rising. Mom pled with him to return to school as she said we would all manage. He heard there was an opening for a machinist apprentice. A young man had to enter before he was sixteen years of age. When the Personnel Officer in the Canadian Pacific Railway received three applications for the one opening, he decided to call Mr. Martin, the Principal of Cecil Rhodes School, for his recommendation. Mr. Martin recommended my brother Charles, because he not only had a good head on his shoulders, but had mechanical ability as proven in the Industrial Arts workshop under the direction of Mr. William G. Fonseca, who also demanded a high level of performance in the fashioning of wood and metal objects. Charles started work in the Weston Shops in November. To keep his promise to his mother, my brother went to night school for courses that were required in his training.
In the early 1950s many workmen in the Weston Shops could see the handwriting on the wall, as the company was updating their engines from steam to diesel. There was a large exodus of qualified tradesmen from the Weston Shops to the United States. Charles, with his wife and young family, moved to California where he was soon employed by the Southern Pacific Railway. One day, Charles saw one of the management supervisors make a grave error, and Charles thought that if he couldn’t do better than that he would quit. This gave him the idea that he should complete his high school. He was given a test at the Long Beach College, and did so well that the clerk asked him where he had been educated. Charles stated: Winnipeg, Canada. The clerk told him that he did not have to complete his High School subjects, but could start on his University program immediately for Mechanical Engineering. When he was almost to the point of getting his degree, he filed an application to a large aircraft corporation and was interviewed. He was the man they wanted, because of his journeyman’s knowledge of steel to satisfy this company’s requirement for buying and selling steel on the world’s markets. Charles needed a degree in Business. At this point he changed horses in mid-stream and ended up with a degree in Business Management. How pleased his mother was to be able to attend his graduation, the year before she passed on, and see him receive his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Her son, who left school at the end of grade nine, fulfilled his promise to his mother that he would complete high school. Again this is another example to illustrate the high standard of teaching that took place at Cecil Rhodes School.
As soon as my parents were no longer in receipt of public charity, the house in which we had been living since 10 April 1936, was now up for sale. My mother knew nothing of this until Max Polonsky, the corner grocer, told her about it one day while she was in his store. Mr. Horning, the rental agent, was now a real estate agent selling many of the homes that had previously been rented. He phoned his friend Max Polonsky to let him know that our home was now on the market. Mr. Polonsky had lost some of his money in the ARG Creamery business, and now had his money tied up in another venture. He was able to tell mom that our house was being advertised for $1800 with a required $200 down payment. Polonsky urged my mom to buy the eleven-roomed house and rent some of the rooms. My mother said to the grocer, “Ah’d hae trouble getting 200 buttons, let alain $200.”
To gather the down payment of $200 when there had not been any income for a dozen years, was out of the question. Mr. Polonsky told mom she was to gather up as much cash as she could until she had the $200. He had a plan in mind, and told her to buy all her groceries from him, and she wasn’t to worry about payment until she secured the house. There would be no strings attached, such as interest on the unpaid balance. Mom saved up $100 and was so excited to tell Max about this achievement. He went to his phone and phoned Mr. Horning, telling him to accept the $100 as intent and not to send any other prospective buyers to the house.
After this, my mother went to see the Manager of the Bank of Commerce on the corner of Logan Avenue and Blake Street to secure a loan to make up the rest of the down payment. The Bank Manager refused to give mom a loan as all her children were below twenty-one years of age, and those who were employed were on small incomes. Beside, he just laughed at her and said, “Do you think we are in the mortgage business?” To this mom said, “If ye’r no, ye should be.” She felt deflated but continued with the plan that Polonsky had devised. Mom had a good business head but had no money, or else she could have owned half of the city of Winnipeg. It was later that the banks opened mortgage departments and started make money and were proud of themselves erecting new buildings all over the country. As prices steadily increased the Government of Canada set up the Wartime Prices and Trades Board to control rents, food prices, and other commodities. Rationing of certain foods and products was also another element of control, with shortages of many things that we used to take for granted.
Max Polonsky was a Polish immigrant of the Jewish faith who helped my mother in the only way he could so that my parents could own a home. There was a definite housing shortage in Winnipeg at this time, as families of military men moved into the city. He knew that if someone else bought the place, my parents would have difficulty even finding a rental, and especially with a sick husband who had a face either like a piece of raw beef or else covered with Calamine lotion, with the rest of his body covered with itchy loathsome sores. Whenever Max cleaned out his fruit and vegetable bins, or his refrigerator, he would send his grocery boy up to our house with perfectly good fruits that were slightly bruised, or large pieces of roast beef that were darkened with having been in the refrigerator too long, and was unsalable. He knew that my mother would make good use of these, which she did. She had shelves of jams, jellies, pickles and sauces in the basement. My mother felt blessed for the help this man was giving her in this time of rationing. She visited Polonsky in his store, willing to pay something for these”goodies” and he refused to take any payment. My mother and he debated the issue and she told him to send nothing more to her unless he charged so much for a bag of produce or the meat. The matter was settled. My mom would pay twenty-five cents per bag. They both were benefited from this tidy little piece of business of loss and gain.
During my grades 7 and 8 years, the Home Economics room was in the basement of the “big” school and also the Industrial Arts section or Manual Training room as it was called at that time, under Mr. William G. Fonseca. My younger brother was in his classes for three years and considered him a very patient man. Mr. Fonseca could become very irate with any student if he ever caught them using of some piece of machinery in an incorrect way. All students had been given specific rules about the proper use of these machines. Apparently, at a time such as this, he would startle everyone with a loud roar to stop the erring student.
The Home Economics teacher, Miss Beatrice Felsted, was very young and attractive. I don’t know if this was her first teaching position since leaving university. I believe it was in the term 1942-1943 that two rooms of the “little” school were torn apart and made into one large classroom for Home Economics. One half of the room was set up for sewing and the other half for cooking. We had four electric stoves, a counter with a sink in the middle of this portion of the room, as well as a refrigerator. Our first cooking lesson was to make toast and cocoa. We were shown that cocoa is a product like flour and has to be cooked before consuming it. Up to this point, I was never fond of cocoa that was usually served with a teaspoon of cocoa and the cup filled with hot boiling water.
Grade 8: 1941-1942
In September 1941 I was in Grade 8 with Miss Isabel H. Beggs as my home room teacher. She taught Canadian History and Physical Education (PE). When I was in the “little” school, Miss Beggs taught regular as well as slow learners who could not handle the academic subjects very well. The other teacher that taught these slow children was Miss Gwen Magnusson, before both teachers were moved into the “big” school. Most of the curriculum for these slow students was artwork using cheap, assessable materials such as rafia for weaving, paper mache for models, and light metal work using aluminum foil. It was in 1938-1939 that Miss Magnusson was moved into the “big” school to teach the academic subjects that I have mentioned above.
Miss Beggs was a very attractive woman but had a very bad temper. Once she got on your back, she was there for the duration of the term. Fortunately I never had any trouble with her. During the study of Canadian History, we had to know the important dates, so if 1774 was mentioned, we would know that it was the time when Samuel Hearne discovered the Coppermine River, 1812 the time of the war between Britain and the United States, with Canada being saved by the Canadian militia, as well as the reinforcements from Britain. I give Miss Beggs full credit for this help, as these memorized dates were mileposts for me when I was taking courses at University in Fine Arts, History, or Education. I knew what was taking place in the world in each of the disciplines by having had to learn these dates when I was in Grade 8.
I enjoyed the PE classes under the direction of Miss Beggs. Apparently she had been a Highland dancer when she was young, and that training was apparent when she was teaching us the country dances of the different countries, as well as the Highland fling. In 1958, my mom and I spent six months in Britain and Europe. We bought a car and used it to enable us to go to the highlands of Scotland in October and November. While there, we spent a week in a bed and breakfast place in Largs in the highlands. Each night, some activity or other was going on in this rather isolated community. I was taken to the school where adults were being taught Scottish country dancing. The PE teacher was more than surprised that I knew Scottish country dancing as well as I did, and used me for his “prop” as to how to do certain steps, etc. All thanks to Miss Beggs.
In the fall of 1941, I noticed an advertisement in the newspaper wanting girls who were instrumentalists to contact a Mrs. Reid, who was forming a concert party. I phoned Mrs. Reid and told her that I knew how to play a trumpet, but I did not own one. She gave me the loan of a trumpet, so I could attend the band rehearsals that took place each Thursday evening in the Old Immigration Hall at the back of the CPR Depot. During these rehearsals, we worked on marches, dance pieces and the songs that were on the hit parade at the time. One of our instructors, who volunteered his time, was Charlie Herald, who performed on CKY during the 1930s with his “Round Up Rangers.” Charlie was stationed in Winnipeg at Fort Osborne Barracks. One night before our rehearsal, I told Charlie that I remembered his program in 1933 when I was five years of age. Charlie Herald was so elated to think that a little girl of five years would remember him after all these years. (A friend of our family had bought a small Philco mantle radio and brought it into our home, as a thank you gift for my mom who had looked after him when he was sick. I can remember how amazed I was to hear sound coming out of that little box. This friend also gave my mom five dollars to pay the radio license. Every household that had a radio at that time paid an annual charge of $5 for their license.)
Most of the band’s engagements were at the weekends when we visited the military bases at Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Carberry, and Camp Shilo. We also played for the Orangemen’s Parade on 12 July, and put on variety concerts for different groups. When the band ceased to function after the war years, I returned the instrument to Mrs. Reid. She also arranged for me to work at the United Services Centre in the former T. Eaton Mail Order Store on Vaughan Street. The Centre had been completely refurbished to provide coffee and a place of relaxation for the service men and women while on leave in Winnipeg. My job was to empty ash trays on Sunday mornings when it was relatively quiet.
At Christmas 1941, Mr. Manishen was in charge of the school’s Christmas program. He visited each classroom asking the students who were vocal soloists, instrumentalists, dancers or magicians to come forth and let him know what they could do so they could take part in the concert. When it came close to the deadline date for entrants, Mr. Manishen again visited the classrooms to remind us that there would be no concert unless we got involved, as no one had come to him to participate. My girlfriend Evelyn was an excellent pianist, taking lessons from CBC concert pianist Gordon Kushner. Each of us were musical, and became concerned that there had been no response. We decided that even if no one else responded, that together we would provide a program. Each of us were sopranos, and would sing a solo, with one us providing the piano accompaniment for the other. I would play the trumpet, with Evelyn accompanying me on the piano. Evelyn would play a piano solo. We would finish up by singing a duet, with me singing the alto part. I would play the accompaniment as Evelyn, though a far better pianist than me, could not play and sing at the same time. There would be repeats of everything, according to the time allowed. We wrote it all down and went to see Mr. Manishen. Immediately we were told that we could do only one number each, as he had had responses to his last appeal. At the concert Evelyn played “To A Wild Rose” by Edward McDowell, and I played a trumpet solo, “The Wild Horseman” by Schumann with Evelyn at the piano accompanying me.
Former students who were in the military appeared at school from time to time to visit the teachers. My older brother Andy had just finished a course in Astronomy in the RCAF. He visited his favorite teacher, Miss Gwen Magnusson. She asked if Andy would come the next day and talk to our Science class about the Solar System. He came and gave a very interesting lecture.
Each year, the Salvation Army’s Grace Hospital Tag Day was held the second week in May. My mother volunteered for this, and stood each year at Eaton’s store on the corner of Portage Avenue and Donald Street. While there, a man came up to mom and handed her the daily Scripture text that was in each of our newspapers at that time. Mom took the small bit of paper and put it in her pocket, and gave the man a tag. When she arrived home, she took out the paper. Printed was the text taken from Psalm 91: “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Mom knew that Andy would be going overseas in the next couple of months so this Scripture verse gave her the assurance that he would be alright. In July, he came home for his final leave before going overseas. Mom bought him a small complete Bible. In the front of the Bible she wrote the words that had been on the scrap of paper from Psalm 91, and gave her blessings to him and signed “Mom.”
While Andy was in the Air Force, he made out an allotment of fifty dollars from his pay to help mom. Several months after he was overseas we did not get any letters from Andy, but my mom wasn’t worried about this as she knew he was still alive, because she received his allotment each month. Even when my brother finally did write, he could not explain to my mother what was wrong because it would have been blotted out by the censors. I finally learned from Andy in 1968 what had happened. He was in the French Bomber Command working out of England and making raids on the French coast. On one of these trips, they were intercepted by enemy planes. All he remembered was a huge flash of light with the aircraft being buffeted, with side parts of the plane blown away. (He was the Navigator Bomber and plotted the course and sighted the targets below.) The plane was descending while he crawled along the metal plank that went from the rear of the plane to the front. The two pilots in front were both dead, as were the rear bombers. He took over the controls and crash landed in England. He was in hospital at the time that we did not hear from him. When they took off his fleece battle jacket and uniform, the little Bible was in his left uniform pocket, with a piece of shrapnel embedded in it. He was he only one that survived.
Grade 9: 1942-1943
In September 1942, my classroom teacher was Miss Cecile H. Wood, an exchange teacher from South Africa. Due to the war, she had to remain in Canada. During the year she gave out the names and addresses of students in South Africa that we could have as pen pals. For the next five or six years, I wrote to a Joey Smith in Johannesburg. She and I exchanged stamps, facts and the history of our countries, and general news that was not classified. Sometimes our letters took a month or more to be delivered, as ships carrying food and supplies, as well as mail moved in convoys by the Merchant Navy. These ships often had to move in circuitous paths to get to their destinations as they avoided mine fields and U boats (submarines).
Miss Christine Griffiths taught us European History. Every time we were in her classroom she had all the blackboard space covered with notes that we were to copy. It took the entire period to get all these notes copied. This was her teaching method as to what was important, but also to help her maintain discipline. Our Physical education was also taught by this woman. The girls in our class called her “Bloomer Gal” as she wore dark serge bloomers, and a middy top during the PE session. I don’t remember Mr. Jarman, the Supervisor of PE for the Winnipeg schools ever coming during the year. She was a disappointment, after having had Miss Beggs.
In Winnipeg the Junior High and High School’s dress code for girls was the navy blue wool pleated tunic, and white blouse with black stockings. The recommended length was a few inches above the knees so when the student kneeled, the tunic was about an inch above the floor. There were some girls who flaunted the rules, and had their tunic half way up the length of their thighs. The tunic was serviceable for most of the activities at school, and made everyone uniform, if and when a class of students performed at the annual Winnipeg Music Festival. This uniformity also discouraged any socio-economic differences. Years later, when I showed my school pictures to anyone who was not from Winnipeg, they thought I had been educated at a private school.
Miss Elva Humphries was the Home Economics teacher, using the new facility. She was most efficient and helpful as she went around the room giving time and immediate help to those who were cooking, while students working on sewing projects needed less supervision. She got along well with the girls, and took a special interest in each to find out what activities and hobbies they had in the community.
Mrs. Maie S. Doig was our teacher for French and Mathematics. I did not do well during this school year, and I often wondered why. Perhaps I tuned out, as I recall some of the teachers that were in place and the subjects they were required to teach. Rather than give us homework in math, Mrs. Doig had us come to her classroom about 8 a.m. on a Friday morning. At this time, if we needed extra help, we could receive it. Being poor in mathematical computation and problem solving, I also was poor in understanding the basics of Algebra that was being taught in preparation for Grade 10 Algebra.
At the end of Grade 9, each student was given a form on which they were to indicate which courses they wished to take in High School. There were three programs for the High School student as this time: Matriculation to enter university, Normal School Entrance if they wished to teach the Elementary grades Grades 1 to 9, and the General Course along with Commercial if the student wanted to work in an office. My program choice was checked off for Matriculation – Commercial, so I could have all the prerequisites necessary for entry into medical school. The necessary sciences were Biology, Physiology, Physics, Chemistry, Home Economics, then Algebra and Geometry, English Literature, History, and a foreign language.
I knew that my parents did not have the money for my entrance into university, so if I wanted to be qualified to work in an office where proficiency in typing and shorthand was essential, then these were the subjects I also had to take. At the end of the year, while in one of Mrs. Doig’s class, we filled out the forms. She viewed each student’s form and stopped at my desk and said “Why are you taking all those heavy subjects?” I told her that I was wanting to be a doctor. “Margaret, aren’t you hitching your wagon to a star?” I said, “No.”
She then went on to tell me that housekeepers would soon be unionized, and she thought I should be thinking about this. I couldn’t believe that she was tearing me down in this way in front of the other students. With her negative attitude, it just made me feel more determined that I was going to work as hard as I could, to get through the next two years of High School. I was the only student in the school taking the full Matriculation -- Commercial courses. Each night I was doing four hours of assigned homework, not study. Some students took only the Matriculation subjects, while a few took typing in addition. Most students had a Library period in which to read the required monthly novel along with a written report or else time to do their homework. My Library period was used up taking the commercial subjects. I took the form home, my mother signed it and then I returned it to our classroom teacher.
Grade 10: 1943-1944
In September 1943, during my Grade 10 year, my home room teacher was Miss Iva M. Halprin. She was small in stature, well attired in fine clothes as though she had just come out of a Fifth Avenue store in New York. She spoke quietly, but maintained good discipline, often resorting to sarcasm if a student was stepping out of line. She was an excellent teacher, and carried a heavy teaching load, teaching French, Typing, Pitman Shorthand, and BCOP (Business Correspondence and Office Practices). I don’t know whether it was part of the required Commercial program, but Miss Halprin spent time discussing wearing apparel for she knew that some of the girls taking Commercial subjects would be leaving school at the end of the year or the next, and working in an office.
One of her training sessions was to have the female students do a project on how to dress well for the office job, on a small beginning salary. We had to work on this project for a couple of months, showing how we would spend our salary. We had to allocate a certain amount for living accommodation, transporation, clothing, etc. We each prepared a booklet showing pictures of models wearing the clothes we thought were suitable for wearing in an office. We had to be mindful of the price of this apparel and its suitablility. Miss Halprin emphasized the difference between fashion, suitablility, versus low cost, plain attire with an appearance of quality. She showed how a scarf, flower, and piece of costume jewelery could set off a piece of plain clothing to make it very attractive, whereas too much ornamentation of any kind would be unsuitable.
Occasionally, I would run out of time while doing my homework, and perhaps not have some Shorthand transcribing done. Miss Halprin was very thorough. If she discovered this in the morning then she would be sure to ask to see my French homework during the afternoon language session. There were only a few students taking the Matriculation courses. Some of the young male students would try to capture a girl’s attention, by sidling up to her and calling her “Babe” or some nickname. If a young lad spoke to me, I was always addressed with my full name, Margaret. They must have regarded me as the studious type, as they were very respectful to me, especially if they didn’t get their French homework done and wanted to copy mine!
Mr. J. K. Watson taught us History. He was a quiet-speaking man, and never raised his voice, or showed any feelings of annoyance with the class. Mr. Watson had a severe hearing loss, but could read lips, so he knew exactly what was going on in the classroom if any student was trying to engage another student in conversation when he was teaching. I guess these students thought he couldn’t hear them. At the end of the period, these student were taken aside while our teacher spoke to them personally. Mr. Watson’s class was the quietest class in the school.
In late January and during a week of February, Mr. Watson was absent from school attending the annual Manitoba Bonspiel. Before he took his unpaid leave to play in the curling championship games, he handed out an outline of the work he expected us to do in his absence. He also told us that he expected us to be responsible and well behaved even though no one was in the classroom to supervise. He said that Mr. Martin would be looking in on us occasionally. We were on our own, as the School Board would not grant him a paid substitute. In essence, by our good behavior we were making it possible for him to take this leave. He and his brother Grant had won the McDonald Briar Trophy, years before. He also devoted time to teach High School students the rudiments of curling. In 1950 he wrote a book, Ken Watson on Curling. Mr. Watson left teaching at the end of the year, without anyone knowing about his future plans. I learned the following year that he was employed by the Crown Life to administer aptitude tests to students and adults. The results of these tests could help the individual decide what career was the best for them according to their ability and academic standing.
The teacher who was responsible for teaching us Algebra and English Literature was Miss Luella J. Sprung. She was very formal and serious in her manner, but an excellent teacher of literature. The set up for High School students was that if they took Algebra in Grade 10, then they would take a year of Geometry in Grade 11. Algebra is a branch of mathematics that uses positive and negative numbers, letters and other symbols to help in the solution of solving the unknown with a given equation. I was always poor in Math, and any problem in mathematics was an enigma to me. No matter how Miss Spring tried to explain and show me relationships in this form of mathematics, I was the unknown quantity, as I became more confused than ever. At the end of the year I squeezed through with a mark of fifty on the government three-hour examination.
Mr. Roy Lind taught us Biology. He was a good teacher, pleasant at all times, and never seemed to get upset about anything. Most of the young girls liked him, as he was fairly young and good-looking, with an easy manner that they had no trouble conversing with him.
Miss Audrey Sproull was the Home Economics teacher during this year. Once a month, she had the students plan a luncheon for the teachers, who paid a nominal sum for this. The money received helped defray the cost of the food, with a bit extra going into some school project that was in progress. This was good training for the girls, as they not only learned about the culinary arts, but also learned about different types of table settings for different social and holiday events. Between the cooking and sewing sections of the classroom, was a bed and a bookcase full of books covering all subjects classified under Home Economics. The bed was there whenever we learned anything about First Aid or Home Nursing.
Grade 11: 1944-1945
Many things were taking place during this year at Cecil Rhodes. The war was coming to an end, Mr. Martin was ill and moved out to Sooke, British Columbia while Mrs. Doig was taking over the Principal’s duties. (Mrs. Doig often talked about the Orkney Islands, so perhaps that is where she was born, as most records just say Scotland.)
Miss Halprin was our French teacher. The novel we had to read was “L’ile San Nom” (The Island Without a Name). It was a very interesting cloak and dagger story, but each of us had to look up practically every word. By the time we found the meaning of the word we already had forgotten the rest of the sentence. Personally, I felt it was just too difficult for Grade 11 students who were already burdened with the heavy math and sciences. I am sure Miss Halprin, too, noticed that everyone in the class was having problems. She asked if any of us planned on writing the three-hour Departmental French exam. When none of us planned to take it, she was relieved. She told us lay aside the novel and concentrate on French grammar and vocabulary with a bit of emphasis on informal conversational French.
I remember one day when she spoke to me in French and expected me to come forth with a response. I must have been late getting to bed the night before as I was taking too long to respond. She stood looking at me and with her index finger rotating above her ear, said, “Margaret, what does it feel like when the wheels are going around, as if they need a bit of oil?” I just looked at her with her finger circling about and all I could do was laugh. All the rest of the class laughed, too. She was trying to be sarcastic but with everyone laughing, I am sure it helped her because she ended up smiling along with us. She was human too, and carrying a heavy load, but doing her best to prepare us for our final school exams, and the unknown future.
She said to me, “Margaret, think in French, stop translating the French into English and back into French.” I am sure Miss Halprin would have been proud of me years later in 1957,when my Scottish mother and I were walking along the road in Bologne Sur Mer in northern France. My mother stopped me and said, “Margaret, whit are ye talkin’ aboot?” I had been walking along talking to my dear Scottish mother in French. My mother, who did not know any French. I had not even realised it, because I was hearing and seeing the language all around me. I laughed and immediately thought of Miss Halprin. The day I needed some oil!
Mr. Lind taught Geometry and Physics. He was a good teacher and he always tried to do the little extras to lighten the course material, as Physics could be a dull subject at times. Cecil Rhodes did not have a proper chemistry lab with gas jets; therefore, those of us who required Chemistry would have to take it in day school at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute when we took our Grade 12. Knowing the difficulty that I was having with Geometry he asked me to come back early from lunch so he could give me some extra tutoring in this subject in the hopes that I would be capable of passing the required Departmental Geometry test. I was capable of memorizing the Propositions, but I couldn’t apply them to solve a problem. At the end of the year, I passed with a fifty, but I could not have done it without the extra help from Mr. Lind.
In Physics we were trying to do some caloric experiments, but without the gas jets, it was difficult to get an accurate reading within a time frame. To get the experiment done in a hurry and get some accurate readings, Mr. Lind brought his blow torch to school. I remember the day well, for while Mr. Lind was manipulating the blow torch, the door opened and in walked the School Inspector. The use of a blow torch in a school was against all fire regulations, but the Inspector just used his Nelson eye, as he realised that Mr. Lind was doing his best to provide the best conditions in order to have some accurate measurements for the caloric readings.
About the end of May 1945, the small Grade 11 class of graduating students were given the privilege of going to the Crown Life one morning so we could take a written aptitude test. (I don’t know whether or not Mr. Watson volunteered his time for the Cecil Rhodes students to take this test. Usually these tests are paid for by the recipient.) This test showed that I had strengths in the area of educational and scientific research, and I would do well as a doctor, scientist, social worker, or a teacher. As I look back over my life’s experiences and the different types of work in which I was involved, the aptitude results were correct for me, as I was a teacher, federal government employee, social worker, and speech pathologist. In each of these disciplines, I found that the skills that I had learned in music, French language, literature, drama, public speaking were well utilised. When I was a child, as I have said before, I did more listening than talking, so this ability to listen was vital when confidentiality was of utmost importance!
In May 1945, my father suddenly took sick. His face and body was cleared of any sign of the skin disease. He was looking quite youthful for his fifty-seven years. In 1933, Dr. Easton had given an accurate diagnosis and prognosis of my father’s Mustard Gas poisoning, that when his skin cleared his days were numbered. The toxins went into his liver and, according to the autopsy, he died of Toxic Hepatitis. He never received anything from the British War Office, as he was clean when discharged in 1919. The teachers of Cecil Rhodes sent a dozen red roses to my mother, with a short note that a teacher’s life would be paradise if all the children in the school were as well-behaved as her children.
At the beginning of June, the students at Cecil Rhodes who didn’t achieve the 65% average grade level, throughout the year, had to write the end-of-year exams. My grade average was 64.4 % because my low marks in Geometry brought me down. Mrs. Doig, who was Acting Principal in Mr. Martin’s absence, made an appointment for me to see Dr. Pincock to see if I could receive a scholarship. I went for the interview. Dr. Pincock was impressed with what I had been able to achieve, carrying the heavy load of Matriculation – Commercial subjects, but said that no one had mentioned me as a possible candidate, and all the scholarship money had been distributed. He advised me to go on to Grade 12, which was at no extra charge, but equivalent to First Year University.
Near the end of June, Rabbi Dr. Solomon Frank was the guest speaker at our graduating exercises. He made us all laugh as he told us of the dilemma that most speakers have when they are faced with a graduating class of young people. He told of the experience of another man who arrived at the assembly still not knowing what to say. As he reached the door of the building, he noticed the brass plate that said, “PUSH.” The man was relieved. This would be the subject of his speech. At the conclusion of his talk, he said, “What all young people need in order to have a successful career is what is written on the brass plate of the entrance door.” Everyone looked back in the direction of his pointed finger, and saw the word. “PULL.”
Dr. Frank continued to tell us that the mind is like an elastic band; the more we put into it, the more it expands, and the easier it is to make it expand. He said that the mind only takes in what it wants, and no more. When the mind has reached its full capacity, it will drop what has been in the mind beforehand to allow access for the new information. (Later, when I attended University, I found this principle to be true, and knew that when I reached my saturation point, I could retain no more. As a teacher, I have listened to my colleagues say that they had to be careful that they did not pressure their students by pushing them too hard or too far at one time. As I listened to this, I thought they were providing themselves with a measuring stick so they didn’t work too hard themselves. I never felt as if I pressured any young person, because I remembered what Rabbi Frank had said, and how much I learned from my own study, to know that when a student has reached the critical point, no one can stuff any more in their head. The slow child will be the first to turn a deaf ear, while the highly intelligent student will keep from being bored, by finding something interesting in what is being related, or else will question something that has been said. While in High School I entered a Bible Quiz, given by the Church to which I attended. I won a leather-bound New Testament. In the front of the Testament was written II Timothy 2:15 that states “Study to show thyself approved, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This verse of Scripture formed the basis of my thinking all through my life as I met with parents to discuss their child’s progress or lack of it, plus what I learned from Rabbi Dr. Solomon Frank when he spoke at our graduating class.)
At the close of the graduating service, tea was served to the parents and the graduating students. My sister took time off her work, to be supportive because my mom had to work. A dinner was held in the Marlborough Hotel during the early evening, at which time the graduates were expected to give a one-minute speech about their future plans. I did not know what my future plans were, so I did not attend. My sister was in the first Grade 11 class held in Cecil Rhodes School, while I was in the last. From now on, there would be no High School classes held there. All High School students from Weston would have bus service to take them to Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute as part of the school system.
Daniel McIntyre Collegiate: 1945-1946
Attending Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute from September 1945 to June 1946 was quite an experience after attending Cecil Rhodes School in Weston for eleven years. I am sure the influx of all the extra students from Cecil Rhodes going into Daniel McIntyre created some problems both in finding a spot for them as well as timetabling.
A bus service was arranged so that each student going to Daniel McIntyre, just waited at the normal bus stop nearest their home, and were picked up each morning, and again for the afternoon sessions. Sometimes the bus ran a bit late, so in fact all students who came from Weston were supposed to spend a half hour in the detention room after school. Not all students were in the detention room, but I was one who did, and I resented having to waste my time there, and then have to find my way home. Some teachers abided by the school rules in this regard, while others knew the student wasn’t responsible for the bus being late and didn’t put the student’s name on the detention list.
The set up that was in place was that all male students were together in the home classroom, while all females were in another. At other times the classrooms were mostly homogeneous. At the beginning of September I was the only girl in a home classroom, with all males. This did not bother me in the least, as I was used to this while attending Cecil Rhodes, and had two brothers. After about a month, I was moved into an all-girl classroom, and felt uneasy, as most of the girls had formed cliques with former school friends. Being on the peripheral, it seemed to me, as if most girls spent their spare time either primping their hair, or else making catty remarks about some other girl. The “family” feeling that we had at Cecil Rhodes was no longer existent, I was a stranger in this environment.
I can’t remember whether it was Lola McQuarrie or Beth Douglas who was the Music Teacher at Daniel McIntyre during 1945-1946. At the start of the term, the students were notified that anyone who wanted to be part of the annual Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta was to make an appointment with the music teacher. I went for the audition and was told that I had a beautiful voice, etc. etc. and would most certainly be part of the operetta. (I had been singing solos from the age of five and had been taken around to many churches and other venues from that time. I had even been a member of the Good Deed Radio Choir under the direction of Mary Woods. During my High School years in Cecil Rhodes, I did not have time to be in Miss Knapp’s choir, because of the heavy load of studies I carried. Others from Cecil Rhodes told me they were going to be taking part in the operetta but I was never notified. Apparently the music teacher phoned Miss Knapp to find out the students from Cecil Rhodes who were most capable.)
The French teacher that I had was Miss J. Doris Hunt. What a difference in the expectations in this class after what was expected in Grade 11. We were not required to do the heavy reading such as “I’le Sans Nom” but deal mostly with vocabulary and grammar. Miss Hunt was an excellent French teacher with a good accent. She used to tell us about her time in Paris, as she tried to spend her summers there. These sessions were most interesting.
Our teacher for Mathematics was Miss G. Frances Huntley. Miss Huntley had a rather severe look about her, with short grey hair that was combed back into place, with heavily stained fingers. I think she must have spent some time looking at the records of her students, and figured I needed some help. Our concentration this term was on Trigonometry, conic sections, and some calculus. As usual, I didn’t have a clue for solving the problems that required the use of Algebra, Geometry, or Trigonometry.
The young man sitting in front of me was forever turning around trying to talk to me, while I was trying to work out the problems the best way I knew, which was looking for the best loopholes I could find. Miss Huntley was quick to notice this, and spoke to the young man and told him to stop turning around, and to let Margaret get on with her work. He later spoke to me out in the hall at the end of the class, to invite me on a date with him. I told him that I didn’t have time for these extra-curricular activities as I had studying to do.
I wasn’t long in this classroom, when Miss Huntley stopped at my desk to oversee my work. She said, “Margaret, it is not your Grade 12 work that is at odds, you never learned your fractions in grades four, five and six.” She was so right. With that, she took me to the front of the classroom and drew circles and squares on the blackboard. For the first time I could see what the fractional concept was all about, and from then on, I had a clearer idea of what I was supposed to do. Caps off to Miss Huntley, as from then on she was warm, caring, and very friendly to me, and was so different from my first idea that she would jump on me at the first instance.
Mr. Johann G. Johannsson was an older teacher, very laid back, and had a subtle sense of humor. To me, he was like the typical father figure, full of good advice in an off-handed way. The few students from Cecil Rhodes School who did not have the required Grade 11 Chemistry were in this class along with other students. Mr. Johannsson was always quick to put in a little extra teaching for the few of us, as we were attending night school two nights each week for Chemistry 12. The few other students from Cecil Rhodes and myself had read the entire chemistry textbook so we could have some basic information for what went on in night school.
Mr. Carl S. Simonson was my classroom teacher for the first weeks I was in the all-male classroom. This teacher knew his subject well, and always tried to get the students to question him about some of the historical facts that were presented. I wasn’t too interested in European history as I was about the history of Canada. I could care less about Triple Alliance and Triple Entente, as I had lived with a disabled father who quietly suffered from the battles that were carried on at the Dardanelles, Gallipoli, and Alexandria for what? He was a forgotten man! Where were all these politicians who agreed to disagree? However, I recall one very astute student who held discussions with the teacher. He was of the Jewish faith, of high intellect, and well able to carry on a debate with Mr. Simonson. I think I learned more from these duo sessions than I would have if our teacher had just given forth in the usual way.
The teacher who taught English literature was Miss Georgina S. Sinclair. She was my home-room teacher when I was placed in the all-female classroom. I can’t remember whether it was the Mill on the Floss or some other novel that we studied, but I recall that one of her assignments was going through the novel and picking out the words for which we were unfamiliar, and had to look in the dictionary for their meanings. To me, this was a useless pursuit, as most of my previous teachers in Junior and Senior High School expected us to do this activity if we came across some unknown word. It was while I was in her classroom, that if the Cecil Rhodes bus was late, I had to be interned in the detention room after school. I offered up the legitimate excuse for my lateness, but Miss Sinclair was not about to be persuaded to change her mind. (In all the years of my working life, I was never late once. I was usually ahead of myself and the first one at the school, or elsewhere, and started working and getting things arranged so I knew what I was planning to do, and getting on with it.)
There was a couple of times that I had Miss Ada E. Turner for English literature instruction. She, like Mr. Simonson, always took time to involve the class in part of the lesson. She would ask for our interpretation of a poem, or what we thought of the actions of a certain character in the novel that we were reading. At these times very few students would speak up and express their thoughts. I had no difficulty in doing this, as I enjoyed English literature, and had been taught to express my honest opinion if I agreed or disagreed, not only at home, but during my school years, as well as into adult life. (Miss Turner was the sister of the Mr. Turner who was the substitute teacher at Cecil Rhodes for Mr. Max Manishen when he volunteered for the military.)
Mr. Reichter was the Chemistry teacher who gave the night school course in Chemistry 12 at Daniel McIntyre. He was very patient with those of us who were taking the Grade 11 Chemistry during the day. The night school course went quicker than the daytime studies so, in reality, it was the cart before the horse. What I found most difficult was doing the mathematical computations for some chemical problem that had to be solved.
After the Easter vacation, I found I just wasn’t well enough to go to school. I guess with all the heavy load I carried for the High School years at Cecil Rhodes, my nerves took over, and I could no longer sit for any length of time in the classroom. At the beginning of May my mother told me just to stay at home, and study in preparation for the Departmental exams at the end of June. I borrowed the daily notes from one of the best and most friendly students in the classroom. I copied them, and returned them the next evening. This student lived in the west end of Winnipeg, so at this time of the year it was easy to just hop on my bike and visit her home to receive or return the notes.
One morning around 9 a.m. there was a knock on the door and I heard my mother talking to someone. Mom brought the stranger into the kitchen where I had spread all my chemistry notes on the floor. I was trying to memorize about one hundred chemical formulas. We had to write the Grade 11 Chemistry test firstly, and if we passed, we were allowed to write the Grade 12 three-hour Departmental exam. The stranger was a woman who introduced herself as the Truant Officer. I was surprised, as I didn’t think they bothered with students who were over sixteen years of age, who were no longer attending school. She was most cordial and said, “Margaret, this is my last year as Truant Officer, but you have done something for me.” I wondered what I could have done, as I had never met the woman before. She continued, “In all the years I have been on this job, I have yet to find the student out of bed at this time in the morning, let alone finding the student studying as you are doing. You have renewed my faith in young people.” Mom explained to her about my nervous malady, and that I was intending to study for, and write the Department exams. She wished me well and left.
I knew that to write the three-hour exams at the end of the year would be a problem. My mother who always reminded each one of us that to solve the problems of life, one either had to have wishbone or backbone. In this case, I knew that my mother would not go to see the doctor to allow me permission to leave the gymnasium at any time during the three hours. I usually had to quickly scan the test to find out which parts about which I felt confident about, and then write as quickly as I could before I would have to leave the room. Once a student left the room there was no returning. Needless to say, I had to do the Grade 12 math test again the next year, and again squeezed by with a pass!
At the end of June I applied to Grace Hospital to be taken into the fall class of Nursing. I was accepted but, during the medical exam, the doctor turned me down medically by saying my circulation was bad and I would not be able to stand for eight hours on the wards. I was disappointed about this, as I hoped to go to some third-world country as a medical missionary. (As I look back over my life, with the bad back I had since I was eleven years of age, and having had two critical times in which I was totally incapacitated and unable to walk, sit, or stand, where would I have been under these circumstances in some remote part of the world in this condition? I am confident that this denial to the Nursing profession was Divine intervention.)
I then turned my attention to teaching. I thought if I taught for a couple of years, I could save my money and then go through medical school to become a doctor. I never ever wanted to be a teacher! I was accepted for teaching and lived for a year in the first residential Normal School in Canada, out in Tuxedo. The Department of Education had taken over the building that once housed the children from different parts of Canada who were profoundly deaf.
Manitoba Teachers’ College: 1946-1947
From September 1946 until June 1947, I attended the Manitoba Normal School. The Normal School was held in the building that had once been known as the School for the Deaf in Tuxedo, just up the road from the Academy Road exit of Assiniboine Park. The front part of this attractive limestone building, looked like an English manor house or mini castle. The casement windows had leaded panes, and latches to open them outward. The walls and beamed ceiling were beautified with walnut panelling, while the floors were either hardwood or tiled. The classrooms were much the same. I believe the upper floors of the building were mainly living quarters for some of the staff members with the old English ambience throughout. The large kitchen was mostly ceramic tiled walls with red terra cotta tiled floors. This building was erected possibly in the 1920s when nothing but the best of materials were used.
Immediately before the Manitoba government took over this building for a Normal School, it was the No. 3 RCAF Wireless School. Apparently, when it was vacated at the end of the war years, much remodelling and repair work was required to make the building satisfactory once more. I recall seeing a place where someone had carved their initials into the woodwork. While the school was in operation, much construction and repair work was going on in all parts of the main building. The students in the meantime were housed in the usual “army huts” that had been used to house the servicemen. The residences in the main building possibly housed the officers.
These “army huts” had separate rooms along a central hall. Usually the huts were at right angles to one another, like an “L” with a washroom at the central point where these two huts met. The washroom had many hand basins along a wall, with mirrors above the wash basins. Along another wall were the showers with a shower curtain for privacy. There were many cubicles each with a door, and a toilet within. The men’s lavatories possibly were much the same except for being set up with a number of urinals.
Each separate room had a bunk bed to house two students, one fairly large crude table, and two chairs. On each side wall was a small closet to hang our clothing. Later on in the year, some students who wanted to live in the main building had the opportunity to do so. The girl I had had as a roommate wanted a change, but I did not want to go anywhere else. I had another girl move into the room with me.
When the first girl moved in, she immediately wanted us to decide who would get the lower bunk. As far as I was concerned it didn’t matter, but she decided that we would make a draw for it. I managed to get the lower bunk. The next thing I remember was how she went over to the table and stated that half of the table was hers, and the other half was mine. She had been to a boarding school in Saskatchewan, and I suppose she had to make sure of her territorial rights! This sort of thing had never entered my mind, but right at the start I had to know my boundaries. I never had any personal visitors in the room because I went home for the weekends, whereas most of the students came from other parts of Manitoba. The students from Winnipeg were day students and travelled to and fro on the public bus. When I wasn’t in the room at the weekends, I know that most of my roommate’s friends would be sitting on my bed, as my bedspread always seemed to be more soiled that hers. I suppose she figured she had territorial rights allowing her friends to sit on my bed. To me it was rather childish, to say the least, but perhaps she never had the parental guidance that I experienced because she must have had to stand up for herself in a boarding school set up. I used to think of what my mother said to us: “Patience and perseverance overcomes many a difficulty.” I was not going to get upset over her domineering personality, because I knew that in time she would be gone.
My newest roommate was friendly, and used to ask my permission before she did anything. I politely told her that this was as much her room as it was mine, and not to wait for my approval. We never had any trouble. I recall shortly after she was with me, that she had gone home for the weekend, and was getting changed into clean clothing. She was quite disturbed that she had not taken time beforehand to iron her slip. I said to her that once she had it on, the slip would be covered with her skirt, and who was to know whether the slip was ironed or not, and besides that, even if it had been ironed, it would be somewhat creased from sitting on it. She just laughed.
At Normal School we were mostly students that had just completed Grade 12. There were some veterans who were using their re-establishment credits for their education to become a teacher. There were some who had been recruited during the war years to fill the teaching positions in some rural schools. These young teachers had only Grade 11 standing but had filled a need. They were attending Normal School to qualify themselves as certified teachers.
Every morning we held an Assembly in the chapel of the school. I believe Beth Douglas was our music teacher and she formed a choir to help in the singing. I was in the choir, and because I could read music, and had a strong soprano voice, I was often asked to sing the alto part, if the alto section was weak, or couldn’t sustain the part being next to the sopranos. Mr. Moorhead was the Principal and conducted the opening ceremonies of O Canada, the daily approved Scripture portion, and the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer. He gave out any important announcements at this time.
There was a certain amount of students in each class. We were then listed as class A, B, C, D and so on. I often wondered if there was any reason why some people were in a particular class. Some of our students were Roman Catholic sisters, who blended well into the activities of the school. They must have come from different orders, as their habits were different from each other. I recall there were usually two sisters that wore the same habit and went together at all times. Some of the sisters spoke fluent French, so perhaps some of them came from French-speaking communities in Manitoba or else came from a convent in Quebec, and perhaps had to qualify in Manitoba.
We had a Miss Norton for our English classes. She had previously written a book on English literature. Her classes were interesting, as she could bring even a Nursery school rhyme into life, by just making a change in her vocal tone, or making a certain face while she recited the little poem.
For Social Studies we had Dr. Boyce. She was a riot. She was very humorous, and had us laughing most of the time. She told us that we were going out into communities in which some of the people we would meet would be immigrants. They perhaps did not know English very well, but they had skills that we did not have, and we were to respect them and learn from them. She said the first thing that we needed to learn is that “Education is life and life is education.” One day she told us that in spite of being most prepared when we were to teach a certain lesson, that things will take place in the classroom that will upset the lesson. She told us not to try to pick up the pieces but stop the planned lesson. There can always be another opportunity to to do the lesson later.
She gave us a personal story when she was just a young teacher. She was responsible for teaching grades 1 to 9, although in that particular year she didn’t have all grades in the one-roomed school. She had taught what she thought was a very good lesson on the teeth. She was questioning the class afterwards on what they remembered and decided that she would give an easy question to the grade 1 boy that was sitting right in front of her. She pointed to her front teeth, and asked him what they were called. The little boy gave her a reply immediately, “buck teeth.” Yes, she agreed that the boy had given a correct answer as she did in fact have these kind of teeth in front. Her reply was, “You are right, they are the friendly kind, the kind that comes out to meet you.” The entire class was laughing, and she knew not to try to pick up the lesson at that point or continue, as it was ruined for that day!
Miss Ring taught Health to the students. Besides going over the guidelines for teaching Health in the school, her main focus was telling us how to prevent disease in the schools, and what to do if we had problems of any kind. She also spoke to the females in our class on certain over-the-counter products that we should not buy, and simple remedies that could cost less and be more effective.
Miss Pilling was our Art teacher, and managed to give us plenty of ideas about utilising simple reasonable priced materials for an art lesson. She told us that no matter what a student produced in the classroom, the child’s art was a self-expression of his art, and this was unlike anyone else’s reproduction.
Mr. Turner that I knew from Cecil Rhodes School was in the Normal School for drama and public speaking. I recall that one evening some of the girls got together to do some table-tapping. I don’t think anyone really knew much about it, or had had any practice with this type of thing before. We would get the table tapping, and then ask a simple question such as “How many pictures are on the wall of Betty’s room?” The table would tap a couple of times, and then we would send someone down to Betty’s room to check to see how many pictures were on the wall. Yes, there were two. The waiting period for the table to tap took too long, so we soon quit this past time and went onto something more productive. It was decided by these students that because I knew Mr. Turner better than they knew him, that I should ask him about the business of table tapping. I asked Mr. Turner about it, and he became very serious. The only thing he said was that we were to stop doing this as it could be dangerous.
Miss Stewart had the students for PE. I always was very agile, so I had no difficulty with any of the exercises we were asked to do. At present, I cannot remember anything about what we were taught.
We had a Mr. Brown for Science. Time seemed to pass quickly during his classes. All about the room were stuffed birds. Our assignment was to learn the names of these birds, so that later when we were tested we could come up with the name of the bird.
At the end of the school year, all the students were given an IQ test. We learned later, that most of us fell in the classification of Superior Intelligence with a few in a higher group, that was termed Gifted.
Following our certification as Class B teachers, we were expected to take courses leading to higher certification. During the summer of 1947 I took a Kindergarten course in one of the downtown schools. The teacher I had in Grade 1 at Cecil Rhodes School in 1934 was taking this course, in preparation for teaching Kindergarten in a school other than Cecil Rhodes. I took a course in leatherwork and fretwork at a school in Winnipeg in the winter of 1947.
If I didn’t remember much about what took place in PE classes at Normal School, I certainly remember the summer of 1949, when I took the compulsory Leadership course at the Teacher’s Summer Camp at Gimli, Manitoba.
Each day we did PE from early morning until late afternoon, learning the skills of different games such as volleyball, softball, rugby, and so on. After the first day of the rigorous work outs, none of felt ambitious about what we were expected to do. We were all sore from the day before, but our moaning and groaning got us nowhere, as we were told the reason we had all the aches and pains was because we were in poor shape. No one had a sleepless night from then on, as we were kept so busy with all the activities.
I cannot remember the name of the man who was the Principal of the camp program, but he was one of the School Inspectors in the province. I had taken my trumpet to camp with me so I could keep my lip in good shape. When the Principal heard me, he immediately recruited me to play Reveille each morning to wake up the troops, and also play taps at sundown. I did this each day. All he did was come and stand under the screened widow of the cabin and say, “Margaret, Margaret.” He wanted to pay me, but I refused. At the end of the summer, he presented me with a book, and gave me Honors on my certificate for my participation in all aspects of camp life.
During the days, we received all the training we would require to run a good PE program in our schools. As I was very agile, I was always used to demonstrate what the PE teacher was trying to get us to do. Sometimes I was standing on my head, and at other time somersaulting or whatever.
I had long hair that I could almost sit on. In order to do all the exercises, I wore my hair in two braids. We all wore shorts and a white T-shirt. With wearing no make-up, and being 5' 2", eyes of blue that matched my shorts, I could pass as a school child of about 12 years of age.
At the end of a day, I sometimes went to a small grocery store not too far from the camp to purchase some chocolate bars to get a quick energy fix. Oftentimes when I went in, the woman in the store would delay asking what I wanted, and instead served customers that came into the store after me. I never said anything about this, as I was in no hurry, but after a few visits and treated in this manner I spoke to her about it.
I said to her, “Do you know how old I am?” She said, “Yes, dearie, you are about twelve years of age.” I said, “No, I am twenty-one years of age, I am one of the teachers attending the camp down the road.” She was all apologies. I took a minute to tell her that the way she treated me and had me wait while she served older customers, was no way to treat a young child.
One night just before the completion of the summer session, one of the teachers in the same cabin as I was suggested that we go to the recreation hall and entertain ourselves. She had a Hymn book and took it so she could play the piano. She played the best she could, and we both sang in unison or else I would sing the alto part, and we had a duet. As we were singing one hymn after another, different teachers started coming into the recreation hall and joined in the singing. Before long, it seemed as if most of the teachers were gathered around the piano. My friend who was playing the piano, got up and wanted me to play. I sat down and we had very melodious sounds coming out of that building. Many teachers, both male and female, were Mennonites, and were used to singing in choirs, so they all blended their voices and it was beautiful. The Principal of the summer camp was there singing along with us. He said that if he had known that there was so much talent in the camp that summer, we could have had many good evenings such as we were having at that moment. The last hymn we sang was Peace Be Still, such a beautiful rendering as I have ever heard, in four part harmony, and so fitting for the last night we were all together.
As a result of this course I was now granted a teaching certificate to tell me that I was a fully qualified first-class teacher. The Gimli Leadership course was a pre-requisite in order to get this certificate. I wanted to make sure I received the proof of my certification, as I was planning to move to British Columbia and take my mother with me.
Return to Cecil Rhodes School: 1947-1948
At the end of June 1947, I graduated from the Manitoba Normal School in Tuxedo. The Department of Education expected each teacher to teach at least two years in a rural school before ever considering to apply for a position in a town or city school.
I did not want to leave home because I felt I could do more to help my widowed mother if I was to teach in Winnipeg. I knew the only way I could stay in Winnipeg was to be hired as a Pupil Teacher, a type of apprenticeship. I phoned Dr. Pincock, the Superintendent of the Winnipeg Schools, to discuss with him the prospects of being hired as a Pupil Teacher. He asked me why I wanted to stay in Winnipeg, and I told him I wanted to help my mother financially. He said to me, “That is a new tack, most young adults are looking for ways to leave mom and be out on their own.” I told him that my mother had made sacrifices to put me through the teacher training. I wanted to be at home to help her. He told me that he really had nothing to do with the selection of teachers, but he would do his best to recommend me.
I waited during the summer hoping I would get word, but I heard nothing until the end of August. One day while my mother was in town, she met Mrs. Doig, who wanted to know if I had had any word. Mom told her we had heard nothing, but that she hoped that I would be teaching at Cecil Rhodes School. Mrs. Doig rejected that idea, by saying to my mom, “Margaret may tend to lean.” Mother was annoyed with this statement and was quick to assure Mrs. Doig that I was quite independent, and would not for a moment look to any of my former teachers as a leaning post as I was in the habit of being responsible and standing on my own two feet.
It was just a day or two later, Mom met Miss Jessie Innes, who asked the same question. She thought it would be good for me if I was at Cecil Rhodes School, so I would be close to home, and could save money from having no transportation costs. Mom asked Miss Innes if she thought that I might tend to lean being close to teachers that I knew from the time I attended elementary classes. Miss Innes apparently was quick to tell mom that during my Practicum, while attending Normal School, that I came to her class well-prepared and that I was not looking for any favours. (When I ended the three-week Practicum in her Grade 5 classroom, Miss Innes took time to look out copies of seatwork in all subjects, and anything she thought that would be of help to me in a rural classroom with multiple grades. I chose Miss Innes for the Practicum, as she was my role model of what a teacher should be. She always had so many interesting things going on in her classroom, and gave no homework.)
During the last week of August, I received a letter from the School Board telling me that I had been appointed as a Pupil Teacher to Cecil Rhodes School. I was overjoyed, and for me this was an answer to my prayers. I accepted this, and instead of receiving $115 salary per month, I would receive $54. With my $54, I paid my mom $30 for board and room, and placed $15 in the bank to buy a Canada Savings Bond, set aside $5 for new clothes, and this left me $4, a dollar a week to spend or pay for the transportation on the trolley bus if I went anywhere. I felt like a millionaire.
As an apprentice teacher I was able to observe good teachers as they worked, watched their methods of discipline, and realised how fortunate I was, because this experience could not be bought at any price. Each day I was in a different classroom, and if a regular teacher was absent, I was the substitute. I also helped the school counselor mark any commercial tests that were given to a certain grade or student. From September 1947 to the third week in January 1948, I reported daily to Mr. McIntyre, the Principal of Cecil Rhodes, and he specified my assignment for the day.
The dual entry system that was in place when I started school in 1934 was dropped for many years, but was again warranted to handle all the wartime babies that were now ready to start school. There was to be a new class of Grade 1 pupils starting the first week of February. For the last week of January, beginning on the Monday, I was told to report to the Victoria-Albert School in downtown Winnipeg. How deflated I felt! I thought that I was going to be appointed to be the regular teacher of this new class of beginners. Now, until the end of June, I would still be on half pay, in an inner city school in one of the poorest districts in the city. Perhaps I would get a full time position next September.
I spent one week in the Victoria-Albert School. On Monday, 2 February 1948, I was to start my second week at the downtown school. As usual, I reported to the Principal to find out where he wanted me to go. The Principal was on his final year before retirement and was quite forgetful at times. This morning was one of these occasions. He looked at me, “Miss Leitch, there is something I have to tell you, but I can’t remember what it is.” With that, he was interrupted with the phone ringing, so he excused himself and answered the phone. The call was short and he quickly hung up and turned to me, “Miss Leitch, you are to go out to Cecil Rhodes School as quickly as possible as there is a class of beginners waiting for you.”
With post haste I left the building. I caught the first bus for Weston. In I went to see Mr. McIntyre who told me that the class was in the gymnasium. When I arrived at the door of the gym and went inside, I saw an eight-foot partition down the middle of the room. Mrs. Irma Edinborough, who had a Grade 1 class since September, was on one side of the partition, and on the other side, there was another class of beginning students that were all mine!
Everyone had known that I was to be the teacher of this class of beginners, but no one had told me. I had nothing prepared! Miss Dora Ritchey, the Grade 2 teacher, came to me just moments after I arrived with enough papers on which she had written the letter “m” for me to hand out, after I taught the formation of the letter. She, too, had had this frightening experience, so she knew exactly how I felt. She left several story books with me and said that she would get some coloring work for them after recess. I have never forgotten her kindness. None of the teachers that I had while going to school even lifted a finger to help or showed any concern. Over the years, when I have thought about this rough beginning, I have often wondered who was responsible for this entire fiasco.
In those days, all duplicated seatwork had to be outlined with an indelible pencil firstly, then the paper placed on the hectograph pad. The new gelatin pad was contained in a tin pan much like a cookie sheet. The indelible outlined pattern was to stay long enough for the pattern to sink into the gelatin. Each paper was then laid on the pan for a couple of seconds, and pulled off, to put the pattern on the paper. I always prepared extra sheets in case some enthusiastic youngster might rip the page. In the first few weeks, I was very busy. A worksheet such as I have described could be completed by a student in a few minutes so I always had to have additional resources on hand. Each day as I left school at 4 p.m., I had a fresh package of 1,000 sheets newsprint paper. Each night, I lifted and laid those thousand sheets on the hectograph pad. This was no small feat, as the gelatin pad was supposed to be left for twenty-four hours before a new pattern was re-laid. Once I had printed enough copies for my thirty-five of more students (at times it felt as if I had 45), I immediately scrubbed the surface of the pan to erase the previous pattern before it would sink into the pan, and show up again when I placed a new delible outline page pattern on the gelatin, and still show some of the old pattern.
This was February, so most of the youngsters wore heavy snowsuits when they went out for recess, along with heavy snow boots. Getting these youngsters ready for going outdoors, and getting their winter wear off of them when they came back into the classroom, was a chore. Some of them had difficulty with their zippers. As the children lined up to go outside, I asked the children to tie the scarf of the child in front of them, and to help them the child behind with their zippers, if anyone needed help. I then asked those who had difficulty to practice at home, zipping up the jacket or parka and zippering it down again. After they had practiced a few times, they were to put the jacket on and then see if they could do up the zipper, and pull it down while the garment was on them. After a few days, most of the youngsters were very pleased with themselves and wanted to show me how well they were doing.
In our newly designed room, there was a soft blackboard, along the wall that separated the two classrooms. These soft greenboards absorbed the chalk more than the older blackboards, but once erased, it was difficult to see what was newly written. I divided the children into into four groups for reading instruction so that there were usually about 8 to 10 children in each group. We were expected to teach Phonics, or the sounds of the vowels firstly, then teach the rest of the letters of the alphabet.
In conjunction with this we taught the vocabulary found in the basal text. There were three Pre-Primers, with extra large bold letters along with the pictures of Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot the dog. These Pre-Primers were developmental in that the vocabulary in each new Pre-Primer was using a few new words, so that by the time the pupils were reading their first reader, Fun with Dick and Jane, they were more or less rehearsing many of the words with which they had become familiar in the Pre-Primers.
I went over the phonics daily as well as the vocabulary of whatever they were reading. I would put the word on the board, then quickly erase it, so they had to use their eyes, and become fluent readers of phrases and sentences. The youngsters enjoyed this as it was like a competitive game, but it helped their fluency when they read orally. By the time I finished the four classes of reading, I was really perspiring, because I actively writing and erasing all the time. Whenever I noticed a child lagging behind in reading or excelling better within one of the groups, I would move them down or up into a suitable group where they would become more capable and feel comfortable. I was doing individualized reading when group instruction was the method at that time.
Every day I went to school I was enthusiastic about what I was going to do that day, as I taught and teased these children into learning how to read. To me it was as though I was teaching a foreign language to them; these characters or letter combinations that made words were just as it was when I was learning to read French. (In later years when I was a Learning Assistance teacher, I have seen teachers with a long list of the vocabulary that would be found in the new story of their reader. The class went down the list on the blackboard, saying each word as the teacher pointed to the word. To me, this was like me trying to learn Russian, with a set of characters that in combination made a certain sound, but if I did not know the sound that went with the character, then I would be lost. I found that many Grade 6 and 7 poor readers couldn’t read because they did not know the sound that went with a certain letters or combination of letters. They didn’t know why the letter “c” sometimes says the sound of “s”, and at other times has the sound of “k” simply because of the position of the letter “c” next to a certain vowel.)
Every month the Primary Supervisor, Miss Lawrie, visited my classroom for part of the morning. She usually left by recess time. My children seemed to be reading very well and just getting through the Pre- Primers in record breaking time. The Supervisor never complained to me or said anything about their reading, but spoke of her displeasure that I had the children place their reading Workbooks in five neat piles on my desk. I could find no fault with the children as the books were piled neatly, ready for me to mark.
“Miss Leitch, I do not want you to allow the children to place their workbooks on your desk. Your desk should be tidy at all times.” I explained that there was no place to put the books other than on the floor, and I did not want the children tripping over them. I also told her that I was trying to keep as much floor space clear as possible so we could move around and have a short game, or a break within the classroom. A day or two later, Mr. McIntyre walked into the classroom and I mentioned about the workbooks being on my desk, as I had nowhere else to put them. I mentioned how I displeased Miss Lawrie. Mr. McIntyre just smiled and said to me, “I am always a bit suspicious when I see a tidy desk, it is as if more time is spent on the desk than on supervision in the classroom.”
As time went on, I dreaded the days when the Primary Supervisor walked into my classroom, as I could do nothing to please her. One day during the month of May, she told me she wanted to take my children out of the classroom so she could listen to their reading and check their comprehension. She never reported back to me about their reading, so I just assumed everything was fine. I thought she had taken them to the quiet staff room to hear them read. When I went home, my mother always knew without me saying anything that Miss Lawrie had been around, because I seemed overly tired. When my mother ascertained what was causing this “tiredness” I told my mother that I would have to leave teaching for an other type of employment, as I was very discouraged. I felt like a complete failure, though I knew all my children were reading well.
One day I was speaking to Kay Garland, who was a teacher while I was at school. I thought I should talk with her, because I was in low spirits and thinking of getting out of teaching. I told her that no matter what I did, Miss Lawrie was never pleased. Kay then spoke up, “Margaret, have you noticed how cool the other primary teachers are towards you?” (There were five classrooms for children in Grades 1 and 2). I was taken aback by the question and told her I had never noticed anything amiss, but then, I was perhaps too busy to take any notice. She said to me, “Don’t worry about Miss Lawrie, she is forever singing your praises during the lunch hour in the staff room when you go home for lunch. She takes your children into the other primary classrooms to show them how well your pupils can read when they have only been in school for a few months.” I was confused as I didn’t know that she was parading them around the other classrooms. After this, I no longer worried about her. I felt that I had done the best I could and just thought it was time for her to retire.
At the end of June, Miss Lawrie was in my classroom, and told me she had spoken to Mr. McIntyre and recommending that I should have the same group of children again in September, with perhaps some other pupils who would be repeaters, but needed more instruction time doing Grade 1 reading. Although my class had only been in school five months, she felt they were ready for Grade 2, but she would not promote them until they returned to school in September when I would be reviewing the reading instruction.
I just relaxed at home during the summer, collected pictures, and worksheets that I could use during the next year. I went back to school in September, full of vigor and well being, but excited about what I was going to do with these students.
Cecil Rhodes School: 1948-1949
When school reopened in September 1948, I was no longer in the gymnasium. Miss Goulden who taught Grade 1 for many years, and who had been my teacher when I started school, left Cecil Rhodes to be a Kindergatern teacher elsewhere. (We had been together taking the Kindergarten course in the summer of 1947.) The classroom to which I had been assigned was room 15, the same room I was in when I started school!
As Miss Lawrie had mentioned at the end of June, I was given the same pupils, plus two more repeaters. As usual, Miss Lawrie came into the classroom once a month, but was more friendly and pleasant. After a quick review of the reading skills, I started the children reading the basal readers for Grade 2; Friends and Neighbors, and then More Friends and Neighbors. Before the end of November, Miss Lawrie promoted all the children into Grade 2, including the two repeaters. From then on, I encouraged the children to work hard, so that at the end of the June, they would be ready for Grade 3. Fait accompli!
(I often wished that the educational authorities had continued with updated pictures in the basal readers of the Curriculum Foundation Series. As far as I am concerned, it was one of the best reading series. It was in 1979 that I was enjoying a holiday in Belize, Central America. I visited one of the classrooms there, and listened to the children reading with much better fluency that I had been listening to for some years in our schools. I learned that they were using the Curriculum Foundation Series that we had thrown out and sent to third world countries.)
During this year, the City of Winnipeg were no longer hauling wet garbage to the city dump as a new incinerator had been built. In spite of the efforts to control the rat population there were still rats at the dump, but with finding no food, roamed further afield. Eventually the rats found their way into the “little” school. Miss Phipps, the Kindergarten teacher, was more or less in charge of the teacher’s staff room at lunch time, as her morning class was over at 11:30 a.m. She recruited the help of a couple of Grade 6 girls to come into the staff room to put the kettle on to boil for the teacher’s tea or coffee. Evidence of rat dirt was discovered in the cupboard below the sink, and efforts were made to clean up the area. Someone notified Adam Beck about the rats. He was our representative on the School Board. At the next School Board meeting, he notified the members that rats were creating a problem in Cecil Rhodes School. The next day, in either the Winnipeg Free Press or the Winnipeg Tribune, the cartoonist had created a portrait of a teacher standing on top of the desk, saying “EEK,” while a little mouse was standing on the floor on its hind legs, looking up at her. Nobody seemed concerned.
A couple of weeks later, one of the teachers who arrived early each morning, opened the main door and saw several rats on top of the milk crates. They were slurping up the milk that oozed from the small cardboard tops on the half pint milk bottles. The Department of Health was notified and the daily supply of milk delivered each morning by either the Crescent Creamery or the City Dairy was stopped. Each morning when I entered my classroom, the aisles between each row of desks would have crumbled bits of crayons on the floor. The box of wheaten paste that was on one of the shelves of the glass bookcase was strewn on the floor and the contents spread all over from the ruined container. I had to get in touch with Mr. Palmer, the school janitor, who came immediately to clean up the mess. Sometimes, the spine of the basal readers was all chewed, perhaps to get some tasty glue.
I recall one morning that a man from the City Health department visited the school. Although every teacher knew about the presence of rats in the school, all of a sudden, very few had actually seen the rats. When he visited my classroom, I showed him the spot where the rats came into the room. The flange that was flush with the wooden floor was missing, at the point where the small steam pipe came up into the steam radiator. With the steam pipe pushed to one side, the opening was no more than a quarter of an inch. I showed him the entry place. The man scoffed and said, “Do you mean to tell me that a rat such as you have described came up through there.”
I said I was positive as I saw the rat poke his nose up, and with his entire body flattened, he squeezed through the opening, stood on his hind legs, puffed up his body to normal size and ran off. He look at me in disbelief, and then said, “Where did the rat go?” I told him I could care less, as long as he went somewhere else, that perhaps he went under the door into the hall, as I didn’t know. I had warned the children that they were not to interfere with the rat in any way, but let him go where he liked. Sometimes when I was at the front of the class working with a group at the blackboard, I would hear some youngster yell out, “There he goes!” The rat had just come up in the area where I usually did the reading drills. This area was near the radiators that were below the windows, the brightest section of the room. I am sure the representative of the Health Department went away wondering about me.
As I was no longer teaching in Cecil Rhodes School in September, I do not know if they managed to get rid of the rats, as they were working on the low foundation of the school ensuring that there were no openings. The only part of the “little” school that had a full basement, was the boiler room, the rest of the school was built above a low ground level concrete foundation. It was years later, sometime in the 1960s, I read an article in the National Geographic magazine about the rats in India, that are more or less revered. It said that a adult rat can get through a space as big as the edge of a quarter, as they have such strong teeth, that can cut through metal and concrete.
(When I was a youngster, the neighborhood kids used to go to the dump. I think it was located somewhere around Erin Street. Some of the older kids had a BB gun which they used to shoot some of the rats that mingled in and out of the cans and debris. I have seen rats as big as Tom cats, with a wide to narrow long tail, with no exaggerating. The ones in the school had a body like a summer sausage – short in length about eight inches, but plump.)
I was eighty years of age when I was making plans to come to the 100th year anniversary reunion of Cecil Rhodes School. I wrote to ask about transportation to and from the hotel in St. James where the banquet and reserved rooms had been set apart. Many displays and events were in the school area that I would have loved to have visited, but no bus transport direct between the hotel and the school had been arranged for the out-of-town visitors. I lost my enthusiasm, and did not attend! There was some mention about a book being made up of stories that former students would submit. I did my best to submit many stories but I heard no more. I don’t know if the book became a reality or not.
During my years of teaching in British Columbia, I taught in four different school districts and, while doing this, I was attending university night school two nights a week, and six weeks each summer until I earned my BEd. I had read a book, titled “Israel,” which covered the Biblical years right through to the immigration of peoples of the Jewish faith returning to the new state of Israel. After obtaining my degree, I visited Israel and Britain that summer.
It seemed as if I was always on an university campus during the winter period as well as the summer. In the 1970s, I was asked to be part of a trial balloon to test the elementary French Second Language in the school district in which I was a teacher. At this time, I had seven academic years of French. After this I was asked to implement the program in another school district, and to teach the teachers how to teach the En Avant program. When my duties were completed at the end of the year, I was asked to remain in the school district as an elementary teacher, until approval was given for the French Immersion program. Everything was set up for me to improvise this in the Grade 1 classroom the following year. About the third day in June, I was sent a letter by the local School Board that the budget cuts throughout the province made it necessary to dismiss me. I was the last hired and the first fired! I was up at the top of the pay scale so they could hire two teachers to fill my place. More than 3,000 teachers in the province of BC were dismissed, and left to look for employment elsewhere in Canada or the US.
I was now to be a recipient of Unemployment Insurance for a year. I received two months payment, while the UI officials were always on my back to find out if I had found a job elsewhere. I was thankful that my training during the Depression years made me aware of the prospects of a rainy day, so I was prepared to use my savings. No employer in the town would insult me with what they had to offer, even if they had a job. I decided to go back to University to become a Speech Pathologist, to help the handicapped children, in an effort to become re-employed, under the Department of Health. I had to attend the University for two years in order to pick up the hours of therapy and courses that were required for the MSc (Sp Path) that I earned.
I applied for every Speech Pathologist job that was posted. I was short-listed and travelled out of town to Vancouver where most of the interviews took place. I never got any of the postings. My next thought was to apply for anything in the educational field. I applied for all that was available: Principal, teachers of Learning Assistance, Music, French, as well as an elementary classroom teacher. I was now the holder of two Master’s degrees. I guessed I was over-qualified.
Finally, I saw an ad in the newspaper for a Learning Assistance Teacher in the Prince Rupert School District, with the position in the native village of Port Simpson. I sent in a copy of my resume, and immediately went to the main Victoria Post Office to mail it. I usually listened to the 10 p.m. newscast and the first item on the news was that Canada Post was on strike. I just imagined that my resume was sitting at the bottom of a mail bag. Wonder of wonders will never cease, I received a phone call from the Superintendent of the Prince Rupert SD. He had received my resume. He was anxious to know if I would be willing to be a Learning Assistance teacher in Port Simpson. He also made a special request that he would like me to come as early as I could so I could set up an English program for the Junior High School students, before school started in September. I was willing to stand on my head if necessary, as finally I had a teaching position.
From September 1981 I was in the village of Port Simpson for two years when the School District needed a Learning Assistance teacher in Prince Rupert. A short time later, the Speech Pathologist left, and I was asked if I wanted the job. I was the only one in the area, so my case load was heavy and totally impossible. However, with all the years of dealing with large classes and split levels, I was capable of overcoming the obstacles, and was able to make a little bit of progress.
In 1988, I retired as the Speech Pathologist, in the Prince Rupert School District and I found out that the reason I was never hired as a Speech Pathologist. My earnings as a teacher before I returned to the University were higher than the salary that was posted for a beginning Speech Pathologist. When I was hired as a Learning Assistance teacher using my skills as a Speech Pathologist, I was not earning $29,000 per year but instead receiving $50,000. There was no higher amount on the pay scale, even if a teacher has a PhD degree.
The following is a copy of the letter I received from the Minister of Education in the British Columbia of Education when I retired. I say this quite humbly, that this is not an usual occurrence when teachers retire, as no teacher gets any recognition from the government.
Let me, in conclusion to this long Memoir, write the quotation by Abraham Flexner that impressed me many years ago, when I was a young teacher.
Page revised: 31 July 2015