Ben Dalby Remembers Fenelon Falls’ North Ward School
January 23, 2024
Fenelon Falls Public School, circa 1900
By Jennifer Dettman
Originally Published in the Visitor, September 26, 1990
Many people driving through Fenelon Falls probably don’t realize that the large grey and white building sitting on the village outskirts was once the public school. Fenelon Falls resident Ben Dalby is one who remembers this school. He was the principal of the school for many years. He saw many changes happen to the Fenelon School in the 27 years he was principal, watching it grow from a staff of five to a staff of 15 when he retired in 1976.
In 1949, Mr. Dalby moved from Smooth Rock Falls to Fenelon Falls to take over the position of principal. At that time, Smooth Rock Falls had been a very prosperous village. The school was modern, built with many luxuries. The Fenelon school had not been modernized at the time. Mr. Dalby says there wasn’t even indoor plumbing. The move was quite a change for him, but one that he quickly adapted to.
Fenelon Falls was very different at the time. There wasn’t a town water or sewer system. As well, the school was heated by an old wood furnace located in the basement. The caretaker of the school was in charge of cutting up the wood and keeping the fire going. The caretaker’s wife was responsible for all the school’s cleaning.
In the large school house, four of the rooms were used as classrooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. Mr. Dalby says that there was a problem of space at that time and remarks about the school, “we were always cramped for size.” The two other classrooms were in the building that was called the Brandon House, located where the public school [was in 1990—now Sugarbush Villa]. A teacher by the name of Hazel Graham was responsible for the teaching of the preliminary grades in that building. The back half of the Brandon House was used as Mr. Dalby’s living quarters.
In 1952, the school board tore down the Brandon House and began to work on a new public school for the town. In 1953, the project was completed. During his years at the public school, Mr. Dalby was not only the principal, but he also taught full time. “It was just par for the course that the principal would teach the grade seven and eight class,” he explains. Unlike today, the school board did not hire secretaries for principals, which made the job much more demanding.
Another change in the schooling system was with the students’ duties. Back in those days, the country schools made more use of their senior students. The senior students would hear students in the lower grades do their work,” he says. The Fenelon Falls Public School has been changed and will change again in the near future. Despite the changes, Mr. Dalby believes that it still runs on the same principles now as it did in 1949.