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REMEMBER THIS: Memories of Newmarket school days mostly sweet

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod looks back on younger days, as former students prepare to attend the 100th anniversary Stuart Scott School on June 10

As I prepare for the 100th anniversary of my alma mater, Stuart Scott School on June 10, I have noticed that more and more I am reflecting on my school days, my memories of life as an 11 and 12-year-old.

I hope that some of my memories spark in you the same longing for a simpler time when we viewed our lives with a mixture of both excitement and trepidation.

I have discovered that the best way to write about my childhood memories is to close my eyes and travel back freely. It is not always a happy trip as there have been bumps but a trip well taken. 

With the beginning of September 1966, I would find myself preparing for my move from King George school, my educational home since I had started kindergarten in 1959 over to the big school on Lorne Avenue near the park. Whether you are five or 65, the start of September is almost certainly associated, through distant memories, with the return to school. For some this may bring a sense of warmth, excitement and variety of new possibilities, while for others it brought a sinking feeling of gloom and dread.

Because Newmarket was a small community back then, I had virtually the same classmates stretching back to kindergarten and so I remember feeling a sense of security, a feeling of continuity. Oh, there was likely some trepidation, of course, but I do not remember any significant degree of foreboding. In hindsight, I remember the usual highs and lows that accompanied returning to school in the 1960s.

Ms Evelyn Denne, who lived just down the street on Queen Street, who was a friend of my mother, had regaled me that summer with stories of Grade 7 and the excitement inherent in this next level of my educational journey. She was to remain a defining figure in my life from that year forward.

Given the years of attending school with the same ‘crowd’, my classmates were friends and that brought a sense of belonging that I craved.

One of the things I recall vividly was the routine of lining up, the expectation that we would organize ourselves into that appropriate straight line in the playground and wait in silence for the call to enter the school building. This was my first indication that I was a poor follower of rules. I would look up at the fire escape and think how cool it would be to slide down it during fire drill. We had had a similar one at King George, given that Stuart Scott was the sister school in design to both King George and Alexander Muir.

My homeroom teacher in Grade 7 was Ms. Kennedy with Mr. Cummins in Grade 8, two very different personalities. While most modern classrooms today are warm, colourful places, with groups of tables, every inch of wall covered in bright, stimulating displays and modern technology on hand to support interactive learning, the 1950s and '60s classroom saw rows of single wooden desks still with inkwells, if you can believe it, and the teacher stationed at the front next to a dusty blackboard.

Much of our learning was done by rote and the chant of times tables could often be heard spilling out of our classrooms. We learned, as well as reading and writing, the art of perfectly neat handwriting, the wonders of the world around us through science with Mr. Karahan and my favourite, history with Ms. Denne, particularly our local history.

PE, which by that time involved more organized games of soccer, hockey and baseball, were continued at recesses and before class.

I remember poor Ms Peckover and Mr. Nash trying to instill an appreciation for music and movement and I must admit it constituted a memorable feature of my school experience. In fact, I remember Ms. Peckover encouraging us to “sway like a tree in the wind” while we listened to the music or sang. It was at Stuart Scott that I first appeared in a choral reading competition under the direction of Ms. Denne. I was chosen, along with Larry Greer more for my height than my ability. We needed to look balanced as a group.

Recesses were taken outside, and in many cases, regardless of the prevailing weather. We were serious about our ‘competitions,’ as I recall, regardless of our individual athletic prowess. The cinder track had been laid down prior to my arrival so we all could demonstrate just how fast we all were. 

The school experience, done well, brings a variety of young people together as one, financial, physical or intelligence realities put aside. Done wrong, it can nurture a very lonely place indeed.

Back then, discipline was non-negotiable; it was not unusual for a child who didn’t conform to receive a whack across the knuckles or the palm of the hand with a ruler or worse, feel the pain and humiliation of a belt. Master of this approach at Stuart Scott was Ms. Denne but it seemed that all my teachers held this in their educational toolbox. Today, it is the students who carry the offensive objects.

Before leaving our primary school, the process of forming children’s futures began with the provincials, a series of tests and exams measuring our reading, writing, mathematics and verbal and non-verbal reasoning. The results would determine whether a child would head off to Newmarket High or the newly opened Huron Heights for their secondary education years. 

This channelling was, and still is, a system that still prompts a divided opinion. Many people felt ‘pigeon holing’ a student so early into a projected future developed a mindset and that was very difficult to shift. In my case, this channelling separated for the first time many of my friends from my educational experience and I still remember it with a degree of sadness.

Simple things can hold grave meaning when they are from their childhood days. I remember those days as relatively free of complexities and full of innocence. Hence, they remain so close to heart.

My school days certainly conjure a powerful mixture of emotions, laying the foundations for what would be my future. Whatever winding routes I may have taken along the way, there is no doubt that my early years and school days formed me and continue to play a significant role in who we have become.

When I encounter an old classmate around town, I am transported back to being that 12-year-old again, the same joys and sorrows surround me.

On June 10 at the reunion, I think we will all rediscover that child deep inside every one of us. I find that in my case it would come out suddenly at some stage in my life or be expressed every day in the little things that I enjoy doing. Our inner child is especially observed when we meet again our childhood friends.

Regardless of how grown up we think we are, we go back to being kids the moment we are with old friends. Memories also take up the bulk of our conversation when we meet old friends after many years.

The trip down memory lane is bittersweet as we long for a time we will not ever get back, but we also cherish its joy. Some may be excited about seeing the old fire escape, reminisce about buying candy at Art’s Variety, while some may act like a child when they see classmates. The reason? We are all reminded of our school day memories.

I sense there will be quite a bit of ‘regression’ taking place on the 10th of June. I would remind you that I will be at the pre-reunion get-together on the 9th of June at ‘The George’ recording interviews with those who wish to recount their Stuart Scott memories. On the 10th, I will have a booth where I urge you to stop by and record your memories if you did not make it out to The George on the 9th.

I hope to see all my fellow Start Scott alumni back home at Stuart Scott. Be sure to stop by and record a memory.   


Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with NewmarketToday, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.

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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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