Thursday, September 12, 2013

Those Places Thursday: St-Joseph and St-Charles Schools

Here in British Columbia, school has been in session since last Tuesday (September 3rd). Just about every year at this time, I think back to my elementary school days in Timmins, Ontario and reminisce about how I loved school.

What I loved most about school was learning new stuff. I was a good student in every subject (except Arithmetic). I behaved, I was quiet and studious, I was eager to please and eager to help.

There were times, though, when school wasn’t such a nice place. I was very poor at Arithmetic and would be kept in class during part of recess so that the teacher could get me to understand a concept. (I didn't mind so much losing the chance to play outside at recess, but worried that I was different from the other children.) Some of the boys would make fun of my last name (they made up rhymes and teased me), and walking to and from school in winter was an ordeal on many days. (I can still see myself slipping and falling on icy patches.)

My schools, St-Joseph and St-Charles, were rather plain looking two-storied buildings that shared one large town block. St-Joseph was the smaller building and had eight (possibly ten) classrooms; it’s where I did Grades 1 and 2. St-Charles was bigger and had twenty classrooms (four in the basement and eight on each of the two floors); it’s where I did my Kindergarten and Grades 3 through 6.

The two schools were part of what was known as separate schools. These were French or English Roman Catholic schools where Catholic children could be instructed in their language and in their faith. Very basically, we were ‘separate’, because we weren’t public, non-denominational schools.

Our teachers were mostly women (the first time I was taught by a male teacher was in Grade 6), a fair amount of whom were from the Soeurs de l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge (s.a.s.v.), an order of teaching nuns.
Yvonne Belair and her sister Marianne in 1966
Yvonne (right) and her sister Marianne, 1966

This picture of my sister and I shows us in our school uniforms: a navy blue jumper (sleeveless V-neck dress that fell just above our knees), a white blouse, and a red tie and vinyl red belt. Marianne and I were 5½ and 8 years old, so we were in Grades 1 and 3, respectively. I can tell it was winter time, because we’re wearing pants. Our hometown had very cold winters, so we wore tights and pants under our uniforms because we walked to school. (We took off the pants once in class and stored them with our coats, boots, hats and mittens.)

Let’s see if I remember the names of my teachers.

• Kindergarten: Madame Sylvia St-Jean
• Grade 1: Mademoiselle Dagenais
• Grade 2: Soeur Lorraine Marie, s.a.s.v. (Sister Lorraine Marie was also the principal at St-Joseph. Whenever she had to attend to some official duty, a stand-in teacher would take over the class.)
• Grade 3: Mademoiselle Blanche Desjardins
• Grade 4: Madame Jeanne Lauzon
• Grade 5: Mademoiselle Dicaire
• Grade 6: Mademoiselle Larose, Monsieur N… (a male teacher from Haiti), Madame Jastrebski, and Mademoiselle Nicole Melançon (I don’t recall why we had a group of teachers during Grade 6, as opposed to one teacher in previous Grades. I remember that Miss Larose and the male teacher were replaced in the first few months by Mrs. Jastrebski and Miss Melançon, because we were somewhat of a rowdy bunch. Miss Melançon knew how to tame us, and she quickly became our favorite.)

I still have a few souvenirs from my K-6 school years:

• my Diplôme “Jardin d’Enfants” (kindergarten diploma)
• a few examples of classwork (printed letters and numbers)
• some artwork (from Easter and other holidays)
• a holy image (which I received for learning the Gloire au Père)
• my bulletin scolaire (Grade 3 year-end report)

St-Joseph and St-Charles were eventually found to be too old (I think they were built in the 1930s or 1940s) and outdated and were torn down to make way for one modern school in the 1970s or 1980s.

I have (mostly) great memories of my school days. What about you, dear readers? What memories or stories do you have of your school days?

Copyright © 2013, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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