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Happy Days at King Street Public School

by Jean Gove-Carbone

All photos courtesy of Weston Historical Society

It was September 1935 and I was about to start school for the first time! I was very happy and excited about this, and I can clearly remember the anticipation even decades later. King Street Public School did not have kindergarten, and so I was to go straight into first grade with Miss Hassard. As it turned out, I actually jumped one grade further, starting in second grade with Miss Love as my teacher instead. This was because my mother had home-schooled me the previous year, and the administration felt that I had already learned all of the first grade material. King Street Public held grades one through eight. There was no middle school at that time, and when students finished at King Street Public, they went straight into ninth grade at Weston Collegiate and Vocational School, the local high school, where they remained until they had graduated after grade thirteen.

King Street Public School, formerly situated at the corner of King and George Streets, Weston
H. J. Alexander Community School now occupies this site

Once I started school, I loved it! I found it very exciting to anticipate the upcoming school year over each summer break. A new school year meant a new home room, a new teacher, new books and new subjects. Speaking of books, the place to go for school books was Squibb’s on Main Street. In the days before school started, Squibb’s was always a beehive of activity. Books were piled floor to ceiling everywhere inside the shop. All the kids were there with lists of required books. Mrs. Squibb and her son Gordon were very busy stacking up books and making displays and piles on top of piles. Mr. Squibb, who always appeared frail, sat right inside the front door and smiled at everyone who entered, often speaking with the students as they entered and exited. It was a grand time, and I loved this autumn ritual.

Starting with my first year at King Street Public School, the routine never changed. The school bell rang daily at 9 a.m., and the children lined up for their various classes at that time. The higher grades – fifth and above – were on the second floor of the building, while the lower grades were on the first floor. A piano was located in the first floor hall, and Miss Hassard, my almost-first grade teacher, often played a rousing march as we all entered single file and went to our assigned classrooms.

Once one was inside the building, there were two wide staircases available, one at the front of the school and the other at the rear. The stairs themselves were wooden, as was most of the rest of the building. For example, all of the classrooms had wooden plank floors, as did the hallways both upper and lower. These wooden stairs had deep depressions and grooves where countless feet had trodden up and down for years on end. The floors creaked when walked upon, which was especially noticeable in the hallways. I remember those creaky planks very well when walking back to my classroom from somewhere else in the school and trying to be very very quiet. The creaking made that impossible.

The students in all grades started each day by standing beside our desks and reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.” After that, it was “God Save the King,” changed eventually to “God Save the Queen.” Then it was down to business. We used pencils a lot – rarely ink pens – and there was always a constant stream of students heading up to the pencil sharpener which was fastened to one wall of each classroom. When we did use pens, they were the ‘straight’ variety and required a nib and an inkwell. Glass inkwells were at each desk and fitted into a hole made to fit them. When pens were used, a lot of them were dropped which ruined the nibs each time. This resulted in the teacher complaining about how many nibs were being wasted, and for everyone to use more care. Very few students had a Waterman’s fountain pen. These were most desirable but cost a dollar or two each – a near fortune – so not many students had one. The Waterman’s pen had a rubber reservoir inside the shaft to hold the ink, and therefore it had to be refilled repeatedly. The ink supply might last a day or so depending on how much it was used. As you can see, pencils were just simpler and cheaper to use.

Every morning of second grade, Miss Love walked up and down the aisles of our classroom to take the milk count. Milk arrived in very small glass bottles and cost three cents for each. Milk came in regular and chocolate, with chocolate being that chosen 90% of the time. The bottles arrived mid-morning and were handed out to those who had paid earlier, during the break. Those kids without three cents just went without any milk.

An early photograph of KSPS students on their way to the Weston Fairgrounds (now Lion's Park).
They are crossing the intersection at Main and Dufferin Streets (now Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue).
The "Eagle House", a popular Weston hotel (left), and original Bank of Nova Scotia building (right)
are pictured in the background

We stayed in our home room all day. A bell rang in the hall for the change of subjects. Recess came at 10:30 a.m., and the boys went to the back of the school where there were large playing fields. The girls stayed in a smaller area in the front of the school between George St. and the school itself. What we did never varied – hopscotch or jumping a double rope or playing with very hard beige colored India rubber balls. These balls were a luxury and cost several dollars each and were very carefully looked after, as a loss meant almost certainly no replacement.

Vaccination was the only mandatory pre-requisite for attending school in 1935. Still, seasonal ‘bugs’ made the rounds, as they do today. If a student did not feel well, he or she would be sent to the office. I had just a few of these occasions over the seven years I was at King Street Public. When I was sent to the office feeling ill, after very brief questioning, I would be told to go home. The school did not phone home, maybe because few if any mothers worked outside the home at that time, and thus they were always there for the kids who returned early. When this did happen to me, my mother was always very surprised to see me walk in the front door, since she knew how much I loved being in class. On my occasions in the office I was also asked for the name of one of my girlfriends. That student would then be taken out of class to walk home with me. But this was not special treatment; rather, it was a common occurrence for all.

None of my classmates came to or left school in cars. Cars were not that plentiful. Some families had a car, but most families had none. Transportation was by streetcar, or by walking. While I was at King Street Public, the principal was H.J. Alexander. Some of the most daring boys would call him “HJ” behind his back, but never within earshot of any teachers. This, if detected, would have constituted a major offence and worthy of “the strap.” The strap was mentioned with great apprehension by students, and it meant a couple of hard whacks on the palm of the hand with a leather strap. In my seven years there, I heard of a few boys, maybe three or four, getting strapped, but that was all. Just the threat of it was usually enough.

Girls going to King Street Public were required to wear a navy blue tunic with a white blouse. With the tunic went navy blue pants. In retrospect, I think this was a great idea since all the girls in the class were dressed the same regardless of how ‘well off’ their families were. Knee high stockings and sturdy shoes in a dull tone completed the outfit, and we all looked neat and tidy. School let out at 3:30 p.m. each day. Those students who had to serve detention stayed until 4 p.m. to make up work not done, or else for general misbehavior.

In an annual ritual, KSPS students In parade formation make their way from the school
to Weston Road

In June of each year, as the school year wound to a close, there was always much suspense, and every student had a single question: "Did you pass?" Unlike today when, sadly, many students are ‘socially promoted,’ this did not happen in the ‘30s. If you did not complete the required work satisfactorily, you did not progress. Not everyone went on to the next grade, with those held back joining the incoming class behind. Effort was made to help those who were in danger of not passing – there were extra classes and tutoring available from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily – but despite this, one or two students each year would not make it, and the rest of us moved on.

In closing, I am pleased still to have my first book from King Street Public School, "Mary, John and Peter", and I remember how happy I was to be able to read it on my own. Although quite a few decades have passed since my KSPS days, the memory of my seven years there remain very vivid and most pleasant.

Jean Gove-Carbone is the youngest daughter of James Gilbert Gove, the stonemason
who built Weston's Humberstone walls and memorial Cenotaph.

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