Personal Memoirs: Memories of the Provincial Normal School (1950-1951)
by Duane Duff
The Normal School was located in the affluent Winnipeg community of Tuxedo in the southwest part of the city. Abutting the grounds on the north was the Assiniboine Golf Course. Beyond that was the large Assiniboine Park, extending across the Assiniboine River to Portage Avenue, the principal east-west thoroughfare, leading to downtown to the east and to the airport to the west. Across the street to the east and also to the west of the school were undeveloped areas covered by trees.
The country to the east for under fifty miles (eighty kilometers), to the south, and to the west is prairie. Being low-lying against the rivers, especially the Red River, was a problem in the spring. Since the Red River flows north, ice floes would back up the water and cause flooding. In 1950, the year before I attended school in Tuxedo, there was a very bad flood which caused much damage in some nearby areas. We were told that students from the Normal School helped with the sand-bagging at the time.
Winters could be very cold for a long period of time. I froze my nose once while I was there, and once during each of the other three years that I lived in Manitoba. Likewise, the summers could be very hot. There was a hot spell shortly after I arrived for Summer School in 1949. The high temperature outside was 104°F (40°C), while in the classrooms (south side of the building) in the afternoon, it reached 93°F (33.9°C). The principal advised the physical education teacher to go easy in our classes.
Winnipeg Electric Company – Across the street from the canteen was a city bus stop, where #3 Wireless buses came. To ride one cost ten cents. However, three tickets could be purchased from the driver for twenty-five cents. Unless a person was going to a point on this route, one would ask for a transfer ticket. From here, a rider had connections to any point in the city served by the system. Just before crossing the Assiniboine River, there was a connecting electric trolley terminus for Academy Road. The other terminus for this line was downtown. The transfer ticket was the fare. Instead of changing at Academy Road, one could stay on the bus and cross the river to the Polo Park stop on Portage Avenue. Here, one could go west by streetcar toward Stevenson Field, the airport, or east to downtown and on to St. Boniface. On either Academy Road or Portage Avenue, the rider could show his transfer, not deposit it in the box, if it were necessary to make another change, as was the case when we went to our schools during practice teaching. Since the streetcar tracks were in the centre of the street, it was illegal for motorists to pass a stopped streetcar during loading or unloading. There was good service to and from the Normal School.
Canadian National Railways – The station was located on Main Street, south of the junction of Portage and Main. CNR trains departed for many points in the province, as well as for such other cities as Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper, and Vancouver (to the west); Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal (to the east); and Duluth, Minnesota (to the southeast).
Great Northern Railway – From Canadian National Station, there was a daily overnight train for Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota (to the south).
Northern Pacific Railway – From Canadian National Station, there was a daily daytime train for Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota (to the south).
Canadian Pacific Railway – The station was located on Main Street, north of the junction of Portage and Main. CPR trains departed for many points in the province, as well as for such other cities as Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, and Vancouver (to the west), and Fort William, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal (to the east).
Soo Line Railway – From Canadian Pacific Station, there was a daily overnight train for Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota (to the south).
Greyhound Bus Lines – There were daily buses to many points in Manitoba, as well as to points east, west, and south, as with the railways.
The main building was a long, narrow stone structure. Inside the front door were the main office area on the left and the auditorium or chapel on the right. Four classrooms lined the left side on two floors along the hallway. At the opposite end to the right were staff offices and the library. On the left were more staff offices and the science room. Above this room on the second floor was the art room. From there to the hallway were more staff offices. Above the library and on the third floor at this end were female student quarters. Above the front entrance was another classroom, known as the Quiet Room. Through this room were entrances to the projector room and the balcony of the auditorium. Above the main offices were other rooms not used for classes.
Outside the back door was a former Air Force building that was being used as the canteen. Just beyond that was another large stone building. This housed a large dining-hall for the students, a smaller room for staff members, a much smaller room where the local RCMP officers and students dining-hall workers ate, and a large food preparation area. The second and third floors at the back of the preparation area were male student quarters, where I lived.
Beyond the back of the dining-hall were three long Air Force buildings. Two were female student quarters, and one was male student quarters. To the south of these were a few other such buildings that housed various families. A little distance to the north of the canteen building was the large drill hall. This is where physical education classes were taught and where indoor sports were played. To the left on the way to the drill hall was an outdoor skating rink and the infirmary. To the south side of the main building was a house where the principal and his wife lived.
Just across the street from the main building on the side where the drill hall was, there was a small two-room school for children living in the area. The Normal School used it as a model school. I remember once when Mr. Clarke took our class there for observation.
At the entrance to the grounds was an RCMP office and barracks building. I was in there once with my friend, Constable Alvin Leavitt. Every other Sunday night, he was off-duty. We would go in his car to church service, as we were of the same religion. One night in May just before his transfer to another detachment, he arrived at our church at the end of a midweek service to take me back to the school. He took me in his patrol car while he checked through Tuxedo as he was on duty that evening.
There were three classes in the forenoon and three in the afternoon. Each was about forty-five minutes long, with a break of about fifteen minutes for changing classrooms. We met with each teacher once in each half-week. The first period each Wednesday afternoon was an assembly under the direction of the principal. Sometimes, he had a guest speaker. There was also a short assembly each morning for brief daily announcement and the singing of a hymn. Each class also spent one period per week in the library. Since the student body was divided into nine groups, or classes, each teacher presented a lesson nine times each half-week. The subject areas are listed with the names of the teaching staff below.
Over the year, the assignment load was not heavy. However, much preparation was necessary during our practice teaching period. During the winter, half of the student body was assigned to schools throughout the city for three weeks. Then, the other half was assigned for the next three weeks. I was assigned to Pinkham School for two weeks for elementary school experience. My staff counsellor, Mr. Chidley, made arrangements for me to go to General Wolfe School for junior high experience for the last week. Shortly after our group’s three weeks, the primary teachers of the city had a convention lasting two or three days. All Normal School students were assigned to a class of grades one, two, or three. I went back to Pinkham School to a grade three class. We were on our own, with no local teacher or teacher or staff counsellor in the room. I would like to thank the reference staff of Winnipeg Public Library for verification of the name of a school.
One interesting assignment that each class was given was to write, produce, and present a historical play. Our class prepared one dealing with a slave uprising on a Kentucky plantation. In addition to the script, there had to be a backdrop scene, a period dance, and an appropriate song. Our song was “My Old Kentucky Home.” My role was to operate the light switch board to produce the appropriate lighting for what was happening on stage. This was presented one evening by all the classes. It was actually a competition as each class was being graded. Mr. Lightly graded the historical aspect. Mr. Turner graded the dramatics. Miss Pilling graded the backdrop picture. Miss Carscallen graded the dance. Miss Douglas graded the singing. Although our group did well, we did not obtain the highest score. The following evening, we performed again. This time, our audience was teachers from the Winnipeg schools. All went well for everyone on both nights.
An assignment that Mr. Heron gave us was to collect weed leaves, press them, and mount them onto firm sheets, and make a book out of the collection. One forenoon, a fellow classmate, Abe Friesen, and I went into the wooded and grassy area across the road at the entrance to the school. We completed our assignment. My collection was still intact in 2000, forty-nine years later; but I had to leave it, along with our library, and other possessions in Mexico as we could not carry much back to Canada with us.
On another occasion, Miss Ring made arrangements for two students from each class to go on a field trip to the Winnipeg sewage disposal plant. Gwen Georgison and I represented our class. I found the experience very enlightening and more pleasant than I had expected. Each class had to be given an oral report by the representatives. A student from another class drew a diagram of the plant on the blackboard in Miss Ring’s classroom. This was very helpful for all.
For one hour in the evening, we were supposed to be in our dormitory room studying. However, that was not strictly enforced. We had to write a complete set of midterm, and, I believe, second term examinations. I particularly recall the midterms, with fourteen papers in two weeks. On the second Friday night following the last one, a classmate, Abram Friesen, and I went to a theatre downtown and saw the film “King Solomon’s Mines.” The examination period had taken its toll on us. Some of the teachers gave us occasional quizzes.
This was a nonsense dress code day in which several of the classes participated. The students of a class would decide collectively what they would wear. I cannot recall what the girls of our class chose. However, I remember very well what the boys chose. We would wear our shirt backwards, thus buttoning down our back. Our tie, likewise, would be on our back. On our head was a girl’s kerchief or bandana. Tied around our waist at the front was an apron. Our trousers were rolled up to just below the knees, similar to knicker pants. They were tied with coloured crepe paper or ribbon.
At the morning assembly, Mr. Moorhead, our principal, made a complementary remark to those who participated. During the noon hour, I and the other students who had been on the field trip met with Miss Ring. She commented on my outfit, making an amusing remark. When the meeting was over, we had to rush to the Wednesday afternoon assembly where Mr. Moorhead had a guest speaker. When I entered the auditorium, it was packed with students, with Mr. Moorhead and his guest standing on the stage. I tried to sneak into a seat as I walked down the outside aisle. No one would let me in, closing any opening. I finally located a seat in the front row. As I looked up at Mr. Moorhead, I noted that he did not have a smile on his face. This was a very embarrassing and humiliating experience for me.
Living in Residence
In the dormitory where I was assigned, Frontenac Hall, there were two students to a room, except for our house leader. My roommate was Jake Enns, who was also a classmate. Another classmate, Abram Friesen, was my barber during the year. We slept in double-decker bunks. Basically, the rooms were comfortable.
When we went to class, we were able to go down to the basement and follow a tunnel to the main building. This was beneficial when the weather was unpleasant. Students living in the low Air Force buildings did not have that luxury. Nor did we have it when we went to the dining hall for meals, unless we were working there for one meal, or when we went to physical education class in the drill hall.
We were provided with three meals for each of the seven days of the week. Meals were usually good, given that this was an institution. I believe that the principal insisted on a reasonably good nutrition plan, as was acceptable at that time. However, no meat was served on Fridays. We were assigned specific tables, except for the weekend. Before the meal was served, the student president would offer the blessing. If he were absent, someone would be called by the matron to do it. I had my turn on occasion. Girl students were waitresses, who brought food to the tables. When I worked at the following Summer School session in the kitchen, I was appalled with the amount of food that was thrown out after a meal, such food as toast, jello, and milk puddings. Potatoes and meat went into shepherds’ pies for the next meal.
Students could apply for paying work in the dining hall for one term during the year. These persons ate early and worked during and after the rest of the students ate their meals. The main jobs were waiting on tables, sorting used dishes in the washer room, drying flatware and glass tumblers after they came out of the washer, and carrying away the plates to the kitchen. I worked during the first term at the last job mentioned.
We were responsible for our own washing of clothes. For boys who could afford it, there was a coin machine in the other dormitory. In our dormitory, we had a small tub and a washboard in the washroom. We did the drying there, too. I always had trouble making the collars of my white shirts clean. We could also press our shirts and trousers there. There was no such thing as perma-pressed clothes.
One evening, a number of the boys of our dormitory and of another one became overzealous in having fun. They engaged in a water fight, creating a wet atmosphere in both dormitories. The next afternoon at a specially-called assembly for all boys, Mr. Moorhead, our principal, made it very clear that this type of behaviour was unacceptable and that it was not beyond him to terminate attendance at the school for anyone who misbehaved.
I had two particular friends when I was at Normal School: RCMP Constable Alvin Levitt, whose office was on the campus. and Isabel Lepesko, a Normalite from Winnipeg. I was last in contact with Alvin in 2007 when he contributed his story to our book I Have a Story to Tell. I was last in contact with Isabel about 1961. After I left Manitoba in 1953, I had very little contact with my former colleagues until briefly with a few in 1995 and then in 2008 when I was preparing our book After School: Lives of Manitoba Normalites, Class of 1950-51. When I was preparing the book, I learned that Isabel was deceased. At the 2009 class reunion, no one was able to give me any information about her.
There was a severe teacher shortage in Manitoba. In my last year of high school in Aylmer, Ontario, our family came across information regarding the Manitoba Department of Education current policy of allowing students who had either grade eleven or grade twelve education to take a six-weeks summer course at the Normal School, then teach during the following school year. After that year, it would be necessary to go back to Normal School for one year in order to be a certificated teacher. Then one year of teaching in Manitoba was required to keep the certificate valid. We decided that I would do this. Although it was not easy, I accomplished the requirements. That is why I have in my records a year of teaching prior to my going to Normal School. The Department set the salary for the year at $1,000 for grade eleven graduates and $1,100 for grade twelve graduates. Having grade thirteen in Ontario qualified me for the higher salary. Although this figure looks to be very low, I actually did very well since I was single and paid only $40 per month for room and board to a very considerate landlady.
In the summer of 1951, following our year-long Normal School classes in Winnipeg, our principal, Mr. Bruce Moorhead, gave me a job in the kitchen for the next six weeks. Prior to my reporting to work, I made a quick trip home to Ontario to bring my brother Robin back with me as he would be attending Summer School. Because we missed our train in Chicago, we had to spend the night in St. Paul, Minnesota. Thus, we arrived in Winnipeg one day late.
Like the other kitchen staff, I was issued two white uniforms – one with a short sleeve top and one with a long sleeve top. My first duty was to take over the washing of the huge pots and pans from the regular man while he was on vacation for one week. After he showed me what to do, he left me in charge. It was an all-day job as there were three meals with pots and pans from each. They never seemed to end. I was scrubbing and rinsing and then placing them in their proper places so that they would be ready for the cooks when needed. I survived and left for other duties.
The regular kitchen staff, in addition to the man whom I relieced, included the following: the chef (Mr. Cartwright), the assistant chef (Johnny Rouseau), three main course cooks (Bert Dimes, John Shaw, and one other whose name I have forgotten), and Johnny Hoosha (the dessert cook). Johnny Hoosha was the former prisoner of war about whom I wrote in The Forces and the Faces. The student staff included Carl Braun and me.
My principal responsibility was to prepare the vegetables for the cooks. Thus, I spent much time in the vegetable room down in the basement. I cannot recall all of the vegetables, but carrots were among them. My most vivid memories are preparing potatoes. It was necessary to remove any marks on the outside with a paring knife and place all of the potatoes into a machine that peeled them. My predecessors had interesting times in this room peeling potatoes. I do not remember whether I had to take the peeled potatoes upstairs or if the cooks came for them. The big meal was at noon when there would be about 525 students and staff eating. This required the peeling of three bags of potatoes. Any leftovers of this vegetable following the meal were placed in the cooler for a later meal of shepherd’s pie. Carl Braun made the comment that he never wanted to eat shepherd’s pie after our year at Normal School.
Since each staff member worked for eight hours, there was an overlapping of a few hours at noon. Each one served one morning shift and one afternoon shift. There would be a morning and afternoon break for all. I often joined this group.
Another occasional job that I liked was working at the servery when the students came with their plates for food at the meal hours. One time, about four male teen-age students were excessively hungry. After the customary first helping, they returned three more times. This was not pleasing to the chef, Mr. Cartwright. He directed those of us on servery not to issue more than one helping thereafter. Although we thought that he was being too severe, we complied. After a time, he relaxed the order.
There were at least two occasions when I experienced unfavourable situations. In both cases, I was working with John Shaw in the overflow diningroom down near the dishwashing room. Once when a half grapefruit was on the menu for breakfast, I started cutting the grapefruit too soon. John stopped me, telling me of the negative effects of the exposure of the open fruit with the air. Thus, I stopped until the appropriate time had come. The other occasion occurred after a supper meal. I was transporting the unused food on a trolley up the ramp to the main diningroom and on to the kitchen. At the top of the ramp was a big bump. Instead of pushing the trolley from behind, I pulled it from in front. As soon as the wheels hit that bump, a container of gravy slipped off. Can you imagine a gallon of gravy on the mat of a ramp? We had a cleanup job to perform before anyone could walk on that ramp.
I started the summer sharing a dormitory room above the kitchen with two student outside workers. However, after about a week, I decided to move to the little school across the lane with Carl Braun and two other outside workers. It was not as comfortable, but I liked the association better. When it was all over, the four of us paid a visit to our principal at his home on the other side of the classrooms. I had not realized how ill that man was. He received us with appreciation. In two months, he passed away.
It was a learning experience working in the kitchen of this size. What impressed me probably the most was the waste. I saw large containers of dessert and many loaves of toast being discarded if too much of these items had been prepared. Leftover meat and vegetables were placed into the cooler to be used for shepherd’s pie. Ever since then, I have been concerned about the discarding of food. It is too precious to waste.
Students (* those who transferred in or out during the year)
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