Getting to Whitney Public: Angus Remembers

Our family’s remembering Toronto’s Whitney School in the 1940s and 50s. (See the blog of March 19). It was a good school, indeed a famous one, with some excellent and lovable teachers. It’s been interesting calling up our pre-adolescent selves! Our home life was strict; the school was strict, but in between home and school and after  we had hours of freedom without adult supervision. No one was driven to school in those days. Rain, shine, sleet, hail, you walked, friends joining on the way.

My brother writes: “Interesting, Janet, that you ran in terror from the trains passing below the railway bridge. We would run as fast as we could to get into the smoke and soot. What fun, what joy we had dancing around breathing in all those carcinogens!

“I remember running all the way home for lunch with John McLean only to be told it wasn’t lunchtime, it was recess! So we turned around and ran all the way back again and made it in time.

“I recall changing the fish bowl in our room on warm sunny spring day and the fish jumped out the open window and landed on the cement below. I left the classroom, went down and retrieved it, then put it back in the freshly changed bowl, but alas it never swam circles again. I remember the principal hauling me into his office when I was in grade four and telling me I was responsible for another boy (I forget his name) getting brain damage after running me down with his bike, then landing on his head.

“Boys’ fights were common, but I remember the first and only time I saw two girls having a punch-up in the school-yard. I remember Margaret McMillan (Paris 1918) pontificating to her coterie of female acolytes by the north fence and wondering what she was telling them all the time. Whatever it was she would keep them spellbound at recess.

“I remember the school inspector telling us that he had visited hundreds of classrooms in Toronto schools but ours was the best of all of them because we could see Lake Ontario shining in the distance. He was right.  But of course he was hopelessly old fashioned as they soon began to build windowless classrooms for the improved structuring of little wandering minds. I think it was in grade five that you were allowed to use fountain pens.  And in grade six you could use aquamarine coloured ink without getting into trouble.

Kady forgot to mention another layer of smell. Kids throwing up. Lots of that. And by the way alleys was banned as school yard activity by the time I got to grade 8 because the girls played it with the boys and so …. in a splay-legged sitting position skirts would not conform to the appropriate knee length.”

My sister adds:

“Angus is right, kids did throw up all the time. And kids often peed in class because the teacher would not give permission to leave.

“I don’t remember alleys being banned, but one terrific game was banned. It was only played by girls. We went to the back hill for this.  We took a band of elastic – every house had rolls of elastic because it was used for garters and underpants and bloomers. Two girls would stretch the elastic out as tight as it would go and make the line nice and high. Then the others, one by one, would leap over it in a sort of high jump stance, one leg at a time. That was the game. We loved it. You just had to be a girl, any grade or age. One sad day a female teacher was sent to tell us we could no longer play the game. She was very red in the face as she told us the school was afraid the elastic might snap at some point.”

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