This small community is located in Dereham Township (as it was then known), County of Oxford, Province of Ontario, Canada. The southern limit at the New York Central Railway is just under two miles north of the Elgin-Oxford county line. About another mile south of this line is Corinth, where I lived. Just over four miles to the east of the community is Highway #19, at the north end of Tillsonburg. About thirteen miles north of the community is Ingersoll.
The school was located on a few acres of land on the east side of the main north-south road through Brownsville. Along the street in front of the building was a stone wall and arched entrance.
It was basically a two-storey brick building, although the classrooms were on four levels. Inside the front door (which was not used by the students) were a few steps to the first landing. Immediately to the left and to the right were two teachers’ cloakrooms. Also on this level on each side were two classrooms for elementary grades. On the wall just outside the north classroom was a gong, which was used to summon students at the end of a recess. Directly in front was a wide stairs leading to the next level. On each side of this stairs were a few steps downwards, leading to the washrooms and the two backdoors (used by the students).
At the end of the wide stairs was another level. The door here led to the science room, which was directly over the washrooms. The north and south walls had large windows, but there were no windows on the east wall. All science classes were held in this room. Also at this landing were stairs to the left and to the right.
Just around the corner of each landing was a cloakroom – one for the boys and one for the girls. We boys ate our lunches as we sat on the benches in our cloakroom. Sometimes, we played checkers as we ate. Just outside each cloakroom was a door to the Middle School classroom. The desks faced to the north. The west wall had large windows, from which we could see the street in front of the school. Blackboards were on the north and east walls. On the south wall, a doorway had been cut. It led up to a classroom which was vacant for the first three years that I attended school here. Beside one of the seats in the row closest to the windows was a floor to ceiling metal tube in which was the rope leading to the bell on the roof.
Back out at each stair landing was another short flight of stairs leading to a classroom. At the landing to the north was the Lower School classroom. There were large windows in the west and north walls and blackboards along the south and east walls. Desks faced to the east. At the landing to the south was the vacant room mentioned above. Below the windows on the south wall was a small door. From here, students could enter the fire escape, a long metal tube, and could slide to the ground. There was not one of these in the Lower School room on the other side of the building.
I do not recall the basement area where the heating unit was located. Pipes from here carried hot water to the radiators in each classroom.
The Ontario high school had five grades – 9 and 10 (Lower School), 11 and 12 (Middle School), and 13 (Upper School). Our school did not have grade 13. Also, it was a small rural school with only two teachers. Students desiring to obtain grade 13 would have to go to a centre which had it, for example, Tillsonburg.
This is a list of my teachers during the four years when I attended.
- 1943-1944 E. H. Barnhardt (Principal) and Isobel Kirk
- 1944-1945 Isobel Kirk (Principal) and Vi Van Luven
- 1945-1946 Isobel Kirk (Principal) and Vi Van Luven
- 1946-1947 Isobel Kirk (Principal) and Jean Barnby
Other Teachers and Associated People
- 1943-1947 La Belle Phinn (Music)
- 1943-1944 Ruth Spring (5-8) and Miss Reach (1-4)
- 1944-1945 Ruth Spring (5-8) and Miss Joliffe (1-4)
- 1945-1946 Ruth Spring (5-8) and Miss Joliffe (1-4)1946-1947 ???? (Senior), Ruth Spring (Middle), Miss Joliffe (Junior)
- 1943-1944 Mr. Sands (Caretaker)
- 1944-1947 Mr. Mason (Caretaker)
- 1946-1947 Les Jacob (School Bus Owner)
- 1946-1947 Joe White (School Bus Driver)
- 1946-1947 Mr. Moffatt (School Bus Driver)
In Lower School, both grades offered English literature, English composition, mathematics, agriculture, French grammar, history, and geography. Grade 9 also offered art, and business practice. Grade 10 also offered Latin grammar. I cannot recall which subjects were combined in the two grades. I believe that history was alternated between modern and Canadian.
In Middle School, both grades offered English literature, English composition, mathematics, agriculture, French grammar, French authors, Latin grammar, Latin authors, and history. The two grades combined for mathematics, agriculture, and history. In mathematics, algebra and geometry were offered on alternate years. In agriculture, it was chemistry and physics. A portion of each year would include sections of agriculture. In history, it was ancient and medieval.
Because the school was small, any subjects considered optional in large schools had to be considered mandatory here.
There was a softball diamond that was frequently used by the older students. One year, we had a grass tennis court. For playground equipment, there were swings, a pair of metal rings at the end of two metal link chains connected to a bar above, and a metal trapeze. One day as I was swinging myself up onto the trapeze, the bar swung back before I was ready. The result was that I turned a somersault in the air and landed on my back on the ground below. Although no apparent injury occurred, I did have a sore back for a few days. There was very little organized activity outdoors. Occasionally, we went to Corbett’s store, at the main intersection.
I do not recall many indoor activities during non-class hours. When the upper south room was vacant, the girls sometimes danced. There was an old gramophone that could play 78 r.p.m. wax plates. To keep the turntable in operation, it was necessary to rotate an arm on the side to wind it.
In my last year, one of the other two boys obtained permission to bring a portable, miniature billiards table so that we could play in the Middle School classroom at noon. The three of us would take turns playing each other. My very low percentage of wins attested that I was not a billiards player.
The “At Home”
This was an annual concert put on by the students for the parents and general public early in December. It was held in the Middle School classroom. The student who was the president of the Literary Society chaired the event. The Society was responsible for interclassroom programmes during the year. When I was in grade 12, I was the president as a result of unsolicited campaigning for me by the other boys. Although being in front of an audience was a fear for me, I apparently came through the event well. I can recall only a few numbers of the three times that I was able to attend.
When I was in grade 9, we six boys sang a popular song of the day, “Paper Doll”. In grade 11, our class built a small stage, created marionettes, and put on a short skit. I pulled the strings for a puppet dressed as a sailor. In grade 12, I was in a skit, the subject of which I have forgotten. One thing that I do remember is that sitting on the teachers’ desk was a framed photograph of a handsome young actor. His name was Ronald Reagan. A particular favourite with the audience was a club drill performed in the dark by five girls. Since the clubs were covered with luminous paint, they created an interesting effect. When the act had been completed, the audience asked to see it again – this time with the lights turned on.
At the farewell programme for Mr. Barnhardt at the end of my grade 9, there was a film presentation of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Although it was several years before I became interested in classical symphonic music, that film made an impression on me.
One year, we were taken to Woodstock, the county seat. We had a tour of the Sentinel-Review, the local daily newspaper. The one thing which I remember was a huge vat of molten metal used for making type. We were told to keep our hands away from it as it was very hot. At the end of the tour, each student was given a thin metal piece with our name cut into a narrow end of it. Thus, we had what could be used as a name stamp similar to the metal used in type-setting. We also visited the courthouse, where we attended a session of the county council. The councillor for our area officially welcomed us. We also saw the jail and where an executed prisoner had been buried.
In my last year, we went by school bus to visit the Ontario Agriculture School, in Guelph. I can remember being there, but have forgotten any of the details. On the way home, the bus had a flat tire. Mr. Jacobs stopped at a garage in Mt. Elgin for repairs.
National Film Board Presentations
A number of times, we went to the United Church hall for a showing of documentary films by Mr. Skillings, the county representative for the National Film Board. The event was a pleasant break from classes. This was before the days of television. Several years later when I showed NFB films at Harlowe, I met Mr. Skillings again, as he was then the representative for Frontenac County.
For the first three years, there were no buses in operation. I used my bicycle or rode with others who had access to cars. Beginning the 1946-1947 school year, van service for Corinth students to go to Aylmer High School was arranged, with bus service thereafter. The Brownsville School Board placed into service two buses to bring in grades 7 to 12 students from the local area, as well as from Delmer, Ostrander, and Culloden. Because of subject timetable problems at Aylmer created by my grade 10 year, I was obliged to go to Brownsville for my grade 12. Since my bus came only as far at the last farm prior to the Oxford-Elgin line, I had to ride my bicycle or walk to that farm. The bus made its first stop morning and afternoon at this farm. Occasionally, I rode my bicycle all the way.
Because of the use of buses to carry Corinth students to Aylmer, I have the distinction of being the last student resident of Corinth to attend Brownsville Continuation School.
In January of 1945, the most severe snowstorm for many years blocked the first mile of road north of Corinth for a few weeks. I did not go to school that winter as I had missed the months before because of illness. The other two Corinth students were able to board in Brownsville for the winter.
One morning following a freezing rain storm in 1947, I skated on the gravel road to the farm to meet the bus. One afternoon when the buses could not operate because of a snowstorm, all bus students were billeted to the homes of local students. Our principal would not allow any of us to walk home.
Daylight Saving Time
During my first year, Daylight Saving Time was observed during the whole year. To counteract the early morning darkness, classes would commence at 9:30 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m. Thus, the afternoon would conclude at 4:30 p.m. instead of 4:00 p.m. It was during the war (WWII) that daylight Saving Time was introduced in Ontario.
Farm War Effort
During the war, the Ontario Departments of Agriculture and Education introduced a programme which allowed students with a certain level of marks to be exempt from the final examinations and work on a farm for three months. When I was in grade 9, Mr. Barnhardt persuaded me to take advantage of this offer. Thus, on D-Day in Europe, I set out on my bicycle to look for a job. It was my grandfather who offered me one. I spent the three months working for him, finishing at the end of the week preceding Labour Day. I was given a diploma signed by the premier and the two ministers to commemorate my assisting in the war effort.
My Grade Ten Year
After one week of school in September, I became ill and missed the next week. Shortly afterward, our doctor diagnosed rheumatic fever. Although I had some of my school books, I was unable to understand some of the concepts and eventually progressed little. It soon became evident that I would be unable to return to school before Christmas vacation. After Christmas, because of the severity of the winter, I was unable to find a way to go. Thus, I gave up on the idea of returning all year.
However, in the spring, Miss Kirk prevailed upon me to return after Easter vacation. She suggested that I take all subjects except agriculture and Latin for the balance of the year. Between the efforts of her and Miss Van Luven, I was able to salvage the subjects which I carried. The next school year, I carried the grade 10 agriculture as an extra subject and began the Latin, being one year behind. It had been a difficult year with studies plus ulcers, but I succeeded. After grade 11, I was behind in Latin only. This situation prevented me from taking my grade 12 at Aylmer. I caught up with the Latin the next year when I took my grade 13 at Aylmer. Miss Kirk followed my progress throughout the rest of my time at Brownsville, then at Aylmer, at Normal School, and as I became a teacher.
I have always been grateful for the faith that those two teachers had in my ability at that time. I had given up until they prodded me along. This is very personal to me, but I would like to pay tribute to numerous teachers who have helped me, but particularly to Miss Kirk.
Graduating Class of 1947
- Duane Duff
- Ruth Kern
- Barbara Kyte
(This page was updated in October 2012.)