Christmas memories of a school long gone

From our December 2013 issue

By P. Gail Harrod – Ottawa, Ont.

In the late 1940s, Wetmore School in Regina was a large, well-built school and was spread over an entire city block on Wallace Street.

I was in Grade 3 or 4 the year I remember Christmas most clearly. The school took in students over a large area in the east end of the city. Several social classes were represented, as were several new immigrants.

Soon after Halloween, plans and activities for Christmas took over class time. As Christmas drew near, the atmosphere became more relaxed and a bit more fun.

The ever-present Think-and-Do books, our grammar, and spelling texts faded in importance in the students’ minds even while we continued our important daily lessons with them.

Stories and readings became focused on the holiday. Bible stories and tales by Dickens with happy endings were popular, especially A Christmas Carol, despite its power to bring on tears over Scrooge’s mean-spirited treatment of Bob Cratchit. Even the short weekly CBC programs beamed into the classroom were of a happy nature.

Art class was geared to a production line of knickknacks, many of which were used as decorations or gifts for parents and siblings. Teachers seemed to have an endless supply of raw materials – paper plates and recycled rolls, which would be decorated with tempera paint, brightly coloured stars, tissue paper, ribbon, and string. Macaroni was available for painting and stringing for wreaths and swags.

All untrained voices accepted

We thought our creations were beautiful. Our teacher chose some of our decorations for the school halls and for our classroom Christmas tree. If we were lucky, our parents indulged us and made space for the rest of our art at home. My parents encouraged this.

Music classes were devoted to preparing for a concert and a school day that began with each class singing carols in the school halls in the weeks before the holiday. All of our untrained voices were accepted. It was a magical time for me and I hope for others.

We never had quite the same kind of fun at home. There was one event, perhaps a tradition, but I only remember this happening one Christmas. The last day before the holiday break the teacher announced that the classroom tree wouldn’t be left alone at school to wither away.

She asked that any student who didn’t have a tree at home put his or her name in a bowl. Only one name would be drawn but that person would have the class tree to take home for Christmas.

Father had already brought a tree home, as was his habit, so I was merely an observer. Several classmates put their name into the bowl.

I will never forget the winner. Our classmate Bobby’s name was drawn. His expression was one of pure joy. He could barely contain himself as he jumped about and whooped and hollered. Under any other circumstance this wouldn’t have been allowed. He may have even been disciplined, but it was Christmas.

Wetmore School no longer exists. In its place on Wallace Street is a residential area. My sisters, brother, and I discovered this on a visit to Regina in 1997.

My sister, Carroll, loved Wetmore School. She was in tears as we visited the neighbourhood and viewed the change.