Peter Recalls His School Daze ….

After I had graduated from “The Barnyard” 1), I continued my education at the Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute 2), situated at the corners of West Street North 3) and Borland Street in Orillia, naturally enough.

Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute

After brief sojourns in several other locations, the school was finally established at the corner of West Street N and Borland Street. Additional classrooms, offices, gyms and a library were added over time as the size of the student body grew. Eventually a set of shops were added to complete the school’s configuration as it was when I first sullied its hallowed halls in September 1968.

Change was definitely in the air at that time, as the rise of social movements such as women’s liberation and gay rights attested to. The old adage “children should be seen and not heard” was definitely on its way out to pasture. The age of majority loomed distantly on my personal horizon, which meant the ability be able to vote, to do my best to make a difference in the current state of affairs, to have my voice heard. (Hmm, if I could only hang on for another few years…..!) The world was changing, politically, socially and personally, and I had a front row seat.

Education too was in transition. Gone were the “departmental” exams, and the curriculum was being drastically amended as the number of mandatory subjects was slashed. The “Hall-Dennis Report” had just been tabled, and its ramifications would resonate far into the future 4). Yes indeed, the times, they were a changing!

Living and Learning – Education was about self realization and not about fitting individuals for pre-determined economic or social roles. In this respect, Hall-Dennis reflected the anti-technocratic, anti-traditionalist romantic impulses of the 1960 s. (Gidney 1998, p.57) Living and Learning (1968 ) attacked some of the teaching methods of the past. The school s learning experiences are imposed, involuntary, and structured students were a captive audience. The pedagogy of the past was simply to stuff students with the content of arbitrarily defined subjects through methods emphasising mindless rote. The focus of the schools was to learn how to learn.

Now as this is starting to read like a book report, at this juncture, I am going to turn on my trusty “way back machine”, to reflect on some of my memories of that seat of learning. I will try to make it interesting, while endeavouring to avoid having it read like my “auto hagiography”. Note that I will write only of 1968-1973, the period of which I have first hand knowledge. Here we go, you’ve been warned 😉 .

Into this educational maelstrom ventured Mrs Montreuil’s little boy, laden (inter alia) 5) with pens and paper, (both lined and unlined!) and a cheap plastic three ring binder smelling of, what else?, plastic. I was able to make the transition to moving from class to class without getting lost too often, although the first few days were interesting.

Aside from the nomadic nature of the school day, it was very much like separate school had been, except that we had considerably more freedom during the day. At lunch one could go to the cafeteria or even cross the street and go to “Frostie’s”(sp?) 6) THE local convenience store. You could see students smoking in the parking lot and some of them even drove to school! Quite a change from St Bernard’s. Of course, the “elephant in the room”, so to speak, was puberty with its attendant raging hormones. But enough reverie, on with the show!

A number of classmates from “The Barnyard” were in my classes, which made the transition a little easier for me. We survived “Initiation Day” 7) and vowed to avenge ourselves when we were in Grade 13 and our turn came to be the tormenters. In the meantime, we got used to the larger scale of the building, the more advanced learning equipment and the almost constant stream of bodies through the halls at class change 8).

While the student population at “OD” was much larger than I was used to, the upside of this was that I was surrounded by very smart people. It was truly amazing to see the omnipresent talent on display daily. Wonderful visual artists, skilled writers, gifted athletes, all of these made up a large part of life at ODCVI.

I am hard pressed to think of a teacher who wasn’t first rate. They encouraged us to think freely and to research and to question and to take pride in our work. While it was always a good thing if you knew that 1215 was the “birthdate” of the Magna Carta, not Maggie Carter 9), I always felt that that was only one part of the equation. The teaching staff viewed our quest for knowledge in a very positive light, always ready (in my experience anyway) to make a gentle correction or put you back on track.

They were also ready, when necessary, to lightly take us down a peg when we got a little too big for our britches. I remember once when Mr Palmer, (my History teacher at the time), said in class that we were too influenced by American culture in Canada. 10) Of course we all vehemently disagreed. He said something like “Well okay then, what about that hero Benedict Arnold?” Indignantly the class replied that Arnold had been a traitor! Mr Palmer, with a “gotcha!” look on his face, said that in the 1770s, we were living in Upper Canada under British rule and hence Benedict Arnold was most assuredly a hero to us. We were very subdued for the rest of that period.

That reminds me of another incident involving Mr Palmer. He had a radio show, and my parent’s anniversary was coming up. My mum really liked the Beatles’ song “Something”. I asked Mr Palmer if he would play a song for my parents. (The whole family would be sitting around the radio listening, of course.) He asked what it was called and I replied “Something”. He replied “Something?” and I affirmed “Something.” (Repeat that exchange about 4 times in the course of the conversation.)

When the evening came, Mr Palmer dedicated “Days Of Wine And Roses” to Mum and Dad!  Mum wondered why I couldn’t stop laughing.

The teaching staff selflessly gave of their free time to coach, to transport, to advise student clubs. They set a great example for us as far as the ideas of service and giving back to the community were concerned. We learned a number of intangible lessons from them as well. For example, we learned how to deal with other people, both by observation and by practice.

The lessons they taught me, as well as those I learned from my classmates, stood me in good stead during my 40 year career with Unemployment Insurance and its successors.

I eagerly seized the opportunity to participate in extra curricular activities, including cross country running, basketball and track and field. Again great lessons were there to be learned about the value of teamwork and self discipline. I ran both cross country and track for the 5 years I was at ODCVI. Part of the training for these meant running the road course, which was about 6 miles long. It ended with the “North Street Hill”. You were sometimes out of shape the first few days in the school year, as you had just started back into running after the summer off. Your ego didn’t even have cheques to write 😉! I still remember groaning through that left turn onto West St, trying to look suave and debonair and much better than I felt as I knew that that cute girl in my History class was standing there waiting for her bus and I would be running right past her. (My body was protesting my inhumane treatment in the name of vanity, believe me, but as naval pilots always say, “I’d rather die than look bad”!)

ODCVI’s teams did very well and won a number of awards. For example, there was a cross country trophy called “The Boot” which was a sabot mounted on a wooden base. Schools from Orillia and Barrie competed for it, and OD won it so often that we got to keep it. Years later I proudly pointed it out to my daughter in the school’s display case. She looked at it, looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said, “Dad, it’s a painted wooden shoe.” Ah well, sic transit gloria.

I only played basketball for 2 years, but had been the scorer/manager for the previous three. Again we had good teams and got along well, so it was most enjoyable. I remember coming onto the floor for a big game, such as the Town Championship versus Park Street Collegiate Institute 11) and being awed by the crowded stands. It was really a nice experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Just a few more random memories that come to mind. Once, during a basketball game, a player from the other team, while running, lost his balance and slid off the court. One of our players stood up off our bench, stretched out his arms and yelled “Safe!” The referee was laughing so hard he couldn’t blow his whistle.

At one time, there was a TV ad campaign for a breakfast waffle and the main character was a cartoon bird called “The Wafflewhiffer”. His cry, of course, was a melodic “waffle waffle waffle”. We were sitting in French class one afternoon when suddenly, through the vent from the boy’s change room below, we clearly heard “waffle, waffle,waffle” as someone expressed their youthful good spirits. Much merriment ensued in the classroom.

In order to have a hot shower in that boy’s changeroom, as an aside, you had to keep the toilets continuously flushing. (This was in the days before ecology .) Someone would therefore have to sacrifice a tee shirt to tie the toilet handle in order to successfully complete this operation. That was one time when my boy scout knot tying paid off. I do hope that that little glitch was fixed at some point.

When I started Grade 10, two new courses appeared, “Communications” and “Man In Society”. I staid 😉 with academic courses . Any field trips we got to go on would be to see petroglyphs or some other such thrilling venue. The M.I.S. folks got a bus trip to Toronto, and the next day, several of them regaled us with tales of their visit to “Starvin Marvin’s” 12)! The Statute Of Limitations has probably expired, but your secret is safe with me, fellas.

When I finally did reach Grade 13, the principal told us in an assembly that there would be no further Initiation Day “festivities” in order to avoid the degradation which would otherwise be inflicted on the “lowly Grade 9ers”. Callow young fools that we were, we booed. Upon reflection, he was right, however. Not every lesson is taught in a classroom.

This column has been a little more disjointed than usual, as there’s so much I that want to write about the old school, but only so much space.  This week I stumbled across a scan of my Grade 10 yearbook, and the memories are flooding back. I shared a couple of pictures to my timeline, much to the amusement of my rocker pals. We all looked like we had the world in the palm of our hand.

Last Saturday, I watched a 25 minute video going through ODCVI. I must confess, my eyes got a little moist at times. Funny the things you see. At one point, the photographer walks into Room 208, 13)walking right across the very spot where I stood to give my class presentation on “The Dambusters”. He pans one side of a hallway, past the classroom of Mr Hoogen 14). If he had panned on the other side of the hall, I’d have seen my very first locker 15). A very interesting look at the whole building, including areas I’d never seen before. I was carried back in time during his shot looking out onto Borland St, remembering being on my way to class. Fond memories of the cafeteria and the library also returned.

They have discussed some uses for the old building such as housing for seniors and the like, but I do believe that they are going to tear it down. She’s provided shelter and a base for a lot of people while they got the education they needed to get a good start in life and I know she doesn’t owe us anything. (I don’t usually wax this emotional over an inanimate object, by the way.)

I have run across some of my classmates since finishing school, and am lucky enough to have a number of them as Facebook friends. Great people from a great time, and I think that we did alright in the greater scheme of things.

So farewell, ODCVI, and thank you for helping me begin the transition from my parents’ little boy to the adult I eventually became 16). Thank you for introducing me to, and this is just a few off the top of my head, Mr Holloway, Mr Lytle, Peter MacLean, Leo Broere, Mrs McKerrow, Mr Packer, Mrs Masterson, Laura Smith and so many more great people, who all had something to teach you, if you were ready to learn.

I’ll finish off with two ODCVI alumni. (Don’t worry, loyal reader, more great contemporary music in next week’s effort. Today I’m saying good bye to a “friend”.)

Lisle came out with this lovely tune in 1973. “Shelly Made Me Smile” made me smile. It’s nice to see that they back working on new material. Watch this space!

Let’s finish off with “I’m Not Supposed To Care”, by Gordon Lightfoot. What else needs to be said?
1) St Bernard’s School, my “alma mater” until Grade 8.
2) Colloquially known as “Orillia’s Dumbest Collection of Vicious Idiots”, at least in my day. 😉
3) We also had North Street East and West and West Street South in Orillia, as well as plain  East and South Streets.
4) My dad, a secondary school teacher, hated the “Hall-Dennis Report” with a passion. In one of Life’s great ironies, or perhaps just proof that God has a sense of humour, one of the report’s authors, Lloyd Dennis, is buried in the same cemetery as Dad.
5) “Among other things” Latin
6) Cut me some slack, it was a long time ago and the store is long gone. I do have fond memories of buying my first model of a De Havilland Mosquito, my favourite piston engine aircraft, at that store. I was ecstatic when I saw it on the shelf.
7) A day when first year students had to dress up in weird outfits and be ordered around by Grade XIII students.
8) A harbinger of rush hour on the Toronto Transit Commission, had I bothered to think it through.
9) Credit to original author. I first read this line about 48 years ago and it still makes me chuckle.
10) The recollection of this exchange is obviously not word for word, btw.
11) The other high school in Orillia for many years, and our rival on the field of athletics. As my dad taught there, I learned to keep my good natured jibes about the place under my hat.
12) Although with a name like that, a footnote is almost superfluous, it was a strip club.
13) Why do I remember that, yet have to look down to see if I’m wearing a shirt?
14) His homeroom class called themselves “Hoogen’s Heroes”.
15) As I shared a bedroom with 2 brothers, my school locker was literally the only place that I could call my own.
16) The adjective “responsible” is optional in this case.
See you soon.


9 Responses to “Peter Recalls His School Daze ….”

  1. Michael Benoit Says:

    Well spoken Peter….Pat.(Osborne) Benoit and I loved it…Cheers!

  2. Marcel Rousseau Says:

    Thanks Peter. Great story , Had to share it. Hope you don’t mind. Marcel

  3. Darrell Walker Says:

    Wow wonderful real joy to read as I read on I could have been standing there as well wakes up a wonderful time, nice you added my film thanks.

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thanks, Darrell. High praise indeed from someone else who was “there”. My editor added your video, and it fits perfectly.

  4. Catherine Hammond Says:

    Peter M. I remember you from high school. I always thought you were the most intriguing person in my class. Too shy to even say anything. Great article?? Do you write books, contribute to newspapers. Very good and enlightening. Thanks PS maiden name Cathy Hucker

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Hi Cathy, I just saw this! Thank you for your kind words, writers rarely get ovations. I write for this blog, and enjoy it a great deal. I found in high school that I lacked most of the essentials needed for success on the field of romance such as a car, money and self confidence 😉 , however, things did change over time. I remember you as well, we were in many of the same classes. So nice to hear from you!

  5. Bob Lekic Says:

    Hi Peter,
    I wonder if you remember the time when we had a substitute teacher named Miss Hayes. Not sure of the spelling. She was not Catholic but stood in for a teacher when Mr. Canning had to be away. She filled in like a champion and all seemed to enjoy the day. Next day Mr. Canning asked how Miss Hayes did in taking care of the class. Greg Thompson who sat near me said, ” ole lady Hayes was all right”. Them Mr. Canning grabbed Greg and his chair at the same time and rammed both him and the chair against the side blackboard saying ” If I let go of you, I will kill you”. I kept saying to myself, don’t let go. Etched in my mind to this day. How about You?

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