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 spread over an entire city block on Wallace Street.

I was in Grade 4 the year I remember Christmas most clearly. The school took in students from over a large area in the east end of the city. Several social classes were represented, as were many newly immigrated children.

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

The ever-present Think-and-Do books, 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. A Christmas Carol, despite its power to bring on tears over Scrooge’s mean-spirited treatment of Bob Cratchit, was a favourite.

Untrained voices accepted

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 of paper plates and recycled rolls. These were decorated with tempera paint, brightly coloured stars, tissue paper, ribbon, and string. Macaroni was available for painting and stringing for wreaths and swags.

We thought our creations were beautiful. Our teacher chose some of our decorations for the school halls and for our classroom 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.

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.

Jumped and whooped and hollered

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, 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.

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