Palmerston RWTO members share memories of school days from 1950s

Christmas concerts, fall fair parades, Arbor Days, pot-bellied stoves, hot lunches prepared at school and outhouses are all memories of being a teacher or a student 60 years ago.

On April 3, 1956 the Ontario Provincial Association of Retired Women Teachers was born. A small group of women in Toronto met for the first time as retired women teachers and it was soon decided that because of the Great Depression and the inflation rate created by World War Two, there was a need to improve pensions. It took 11 years of briefs presented to the legislature before, finally in 1967 the minimum pension was raised to $1,200. However, this was for future pensions and did not help those already retired and in need. More work needed to be done and now retired women teachers benefit from all the hard work and perseverance of those first few members.

The Palmerston branch of Retired Women Teachers of Ontario, along with several guests from the Listowel branch recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the organization which represents women working for the benefit of other women. The Palmerston Branch was formed in 1976 with Edith Bramhill as its first president. The celebration was a walk down memory lane for some members who became teachers in the 1950s and for the many others who had been students during the ‘50s. Although things weren’t always convenient and there were many hardships, it is apparent after listening to the stories that each one of these teachers enjoyed those early years.

Marilyn Streeter gave her recollections of being an 18-year-old in 1956 traveling alone to her first teaching position in a lumber camp near North Bay. She recounted many of her experiences teaching her first class of 35 students whom most, she was soon to discover, could only speak French or Finnish. She recalled a  young man from the camp who gave her a rifle because he was concerned for her safety. It stood loaded by the door.  The rifle and a well-sharpened butcher knife was all she had for protection. Streeter learned a lot in her two years there and would do it again.

Dorothy Dickson had the unique experience of teaching her brother at her first school in Maryborough where she was hired to teach without even having an interview. Teachers were in great demand in the ‘50’s. Dickson has fond memories of the many Christmas concerts, the fall fairs, the weekly visits by the music teacher and having to complete the monthly register.

Marg Hall’s first teaching days in Alma brought back memories of the pot-bellied stove in the classroom and the hot lunches which consisted mostly of different kinds of soup. Her principal, John Sullivan decided he would stop the arguing among the students about the kind of soup to have by tearing all the labels off the cans. “Surprise Soup” was then enjoyed.

Dorothy Reid’s first school was at Farewell where she was hired to supply while the teacher was away on an extended holiday. During that time some senior girls threw a birthday party for her and she still has the letter they sent her.

Shirley Jackson began her career at S.S. #9 Minto in 1953 where she stayed for two years and then attended London Teachers College. Certainly a change from what is required today. She recalls her students were allowed to skate on a nearby pond if they returned by 1pm. On one occastion they returned at 1:30pm. Jackson waited until they were all seated and proceeded to turn the hands back on the clock to 1pm. A special memory for Jackson was of a Grade 1 student winning first prize for all Ontario at the Canadian National Exhibition for his printing. Jackson and her husband built a new house on the lot where her first school stood.

Marilyn Cherry’s first teaching job was in Fergus in 1953-54 where the school was quite modern for the times. She had a class of 37 Grade 4 and 5 students with most of them from Grade 5 and of every ability level. There was no Special Education teacher to help. Cherry was pleased the school had a Gestetner (copier) which saved so much time compared to the “jelly pads” that were commonly used. She remembers Red Cross magazines and Gideon Bibles for Grade 5 students. A highlight of her early days was a trip to New York City by train with fellow teachers.

Pauline Brown began her 45-year career at S.S. #4, Arthur Township, also known as the Riverstown School. She, like the others at the time, has many fond memories of the one-room schoolhouse with a pot-bellied stove for drying wet snowsuits and mittens all winter and always having to keep the stove going. Yard duty consisted of looking out the window every once in a while as she spent recesses writing assignments on the blackboards. Sometimes she would play baseball outside with the students. Brown smiled as she remembers the young itinerant music teacher from Arthur who kept her old car running by giving the carburetor a whack with a wrench if it wouldn’t start. Preparing the stage and curtains for the ever-popular Christmas concerts was done by a helpful neighbour.

President Anne Darroch thanked each of the ladies for sharing their memories and added one of her own memories by showing a picture of the old Palmerston Public School where she attended Kindergarten in 1956.

Kathy Watt introduced Doris Bonnett (now Bradley), who was her music teacher in 1956. Bonnett and her friend Morgan Johnson provided the music while the group enjoyed singing several songs from the ‘50s. A display of toys, books and games from the era were enjoyed by many.

Another highlight of the meeting was the presentation of the Cora Bailey Award to Bea Houston and Oriole Blyth for outstanding service to their branch.

Houston was a contributor of Issues and Concerns reports for 22 years. She was unable to attend but received the award earlier in the month.

Blyth served the branch as president from 2013 to 2015 and spent countless hours helping to organize the Stratford Convention in June 2015.

Reports were given and members were reminded of the five-day trip to Washington DC in September and to Stratford Theatre in October to see A Chorus Line.

Submitted by Joan Woods