Larry Sims Remembers his mother, Ruth Sims
March 11, 2023
Ruth Honey (Sims) as a Child
By her Great Granddaughter Sophie Kaloudas
From the time she was a little girl, Ruth (Honey) Sims knew she wanted to be a teacher, and this calling led her to become a vivacious, trailblazing instructor, who wanted to ensure that all of her students had the opportunity to achieve an education, and live up to their true potential. Born into an age when most young girls could not expect to pursue a professional career, she had the courage to stand up for an equal place for women. She took her career seriously, but she also knew how to have fun, and was devoted to bringing music to Fenelon Falls Continuation School, LCVI and I.E. Weldon.
Ruth Honey was born in Newcastle on August 18, 1918, an only child in an era when large families were the norm. Her parents, George and Harriet, owned an apple orchard just east of Port Hope, where they also kept a few cows. She enjoyed living there, and had a happy childhood, even though she lived through the Great Depression. Growing up, there were not many luxuries–the family didn’t get running water until 1944.
Being an only child, Ruth’s family doted on her. Her aunts often came to visit, including her mother’s sister, Edith Campbell, who was a missionary and teacher. Her Uncle, nicknamed ‘Stash’ due to his large moustache, would also come from Toronto to see his niece and help George on the farm. Her family was religious–her Grandfather was a Methodist minister, who didn’t approve of drinking or dancing, when he raised Harriet and her sisters.
Ruth attended a One Room Schoolhouse in Newcastle. As a youth, Harriet taught her piano, fostering Ruth’s lifelong love of music. She then attended Newcastle Continuation School, as high schools were named in those days. There were no buses then, so she had to walk every day to school. Luckily, the school wasn’t very far from her, but her first cousin had to walk 5 miles each way to school, day after day. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher, so she studied Math, English, History, Geography and Latin, all while still learning Music from her mother.
Just as the world was descending into the Second World War, Ruth set off to attend Victoria College (University of Toronto). Back then, women were encouraged to stick to women’s work, like teaching, nursing, hairdressing, textile work, being a secretary, or a devoted mother. Most students did not finish high school, and attending university was exceptional, especially for young women. Though many women taught, they typically did not attend university first, and were expected to retire from teaching once they had a family. As she majored in history and studied music at Victoria College, Ruth demonstrated unusual devotion to her future career.
University life in those days was much more serious, respectful and studious than it is today. The partying and courtship practices of modern students would have been scandalous back then. Students were not permitted to say anything out of line to their professors, and discipline was much less lenient. Ruth lived at the dormitory and played on the Women’s Hockey Team.
When Ruth convocated, her parents and aunts made the trip to attend the ceremony. She secured her first teaching job in Port Colborne, on the shores of Lake Erie. When she arrived, she was struck by how different the opportunities were for girls than boys. The social expectations that girls would grow up to become mothers seemed particularly strong in that community, and Ruth wanted to ensure that they saw education as an option.
Ruth was not afraid of creating a stir, and decided to found a girls’ hockey team. Local girls were eager to join, but the boys’ teams were not eager to play against them. Since there was no other league for them to play in, Ruth advocated for their admission to the boys’ league–it took a lot of courage for a young woman to bring about social change. After many discussions, her team was admitted to the league. When they couldn’t find a goalie, Ruth strapped on the pads herself.
When she was teaching in Port Colborne, one female student showed great potential. Ruth went to the girl’s father to suggest that his daughter should attend university. Though the father was reluctant, Ruth was relentless and eventually persuaded him to send his girl to university–a substantial investment in those days. Like Ruth, her student attended the University of Toronto. A few years later, after Ruth had moved on to a different school, she received an invitation to attend the pupil’s convocation. In the end, the father was pleased to see his daughter become a university graduate.
After a brief stint teaching in Eastern Ontario, Ruth applied for a job opening at Fenelon Falls Continuation School. When she arrived in Fenelon Falls, she was struck by what a friendly, clean village it was. She taught Music, History, and English, while becoming lifelong friends with many of her co-workers. Ruth appreciated the local Salvation Army band, which inspired her to create the school band. She also led a school choir.
When she first moved to Fenelon Falls, Ruth boarded in an Oak Street house, owned by blacksmith Dick Bulmer–a legendary local trickster. His daughter, Freda (Kelly), became a lifelong friend. Every day on her way to work, she would walk past his shop, located in the old livery stable of the McArthur House Hotel (Fenelon Falls Brewing Company). A young man named Clarence Sims was working there on a buck rake (a set of wooden poles that lifted hay onto a wagon or into a mow) and asked Dick who was the pretty young lady who walked by every day. Dick replied that she was a teacher at the highschool. One day, Clarence summoned the courage to approach Ruth, told her that he thought she was pretty, and asked if she would like to get an ice cream cone together, next door at the Fenelon Dairy. Clarence and Ruth went on to enjoy a54-year marriage.
Clarence and Ruth moved to a farm north of Cameron where they raised their family. Ruth took a couple of years off teaching, but then decided to go back to work when her two children were toddlers. Clarence’s Aunt Minnie, or Clarence’s father would care for them during the day while Ruth was at work. Ruth drove herself to school everyday—in an age when many women did not drive. Ruth believed that women should be able to have a career like men, and her family supported her.
Ruth became one of the memorable teachers at Fenelon Falls Continuation School–in 1956, the school had just ten teachers, a secretary and a principal. Her community especially appreciated the school musicals that she put on. During rehearsals, Clarence would come over after school and help paint backdrops for the sets, one specific backdrop looked like a rural street. Memorable productions included the Pirates of Penzance and Oklahoma. With all the enthusiasm of the community’s student performers, “the gym was packed.” Ruth and Clarence also volunteered at school dances. When students were too nervous to begin partner dancing, Ruth and Clarence would start the dancing to make students feel more comfortable.
After gaining some experience as a teacher, Ruth went back to the University of Toronto to earn her specialists in music and history. She returned to teach at the Lindsay Collegiate Institute in 1961. (It became LCVI in 1963). Back then, the school was not as large as it is today–many youth did not complete high school–but Ruth enjoyed teaching there. When Jack Staples became principal–nicknamed ‘Happy Jack’ for his upbeat manner—and told Ruth “I’m Glad you’re here, I hope you’ll stay for a long time.” Ruth appreciated this since she was glad to be valued by school administration, and knew her time in the classroom was appreciated.
When I.E. Weldon Secondary School opened in 1971, they were recruiting teachers, and Ruth was hired to help establish the new school. She had previously taught with the new principal of I.E. Weldon at LCVI, and got along with him well. Weldon was a brand new school, and did not have a big student population, but it grew quickly. At Weldon, Ruth earned the nickname of ‘Gallopin’ Girt,’ since she would walk very quickly down the hallways in high heels, carrying her books. Within a few years, I.E. Weldon’s student population had grown so rapidly that Ruth found herself teaching in a portable classroom–which was not as pleasant as being in the main building.
By 1979, Ruth had taught for three decades, and it was becoming apparent to her how much the world was changing. By the late 1970s, students had very different expectations of decorum and discipline than they had when she began in the 1940s. Though she really loved being a teacher, the time had come to move on. When Labour Day came, she knew she had made the right decision. She loved to keep in touch with her former students, and encourage them to be the best that they could.
Once they retired, Clarence and Ruth lived in a small house on Louisa Street in Fenelon Falls previously owned by Ruth’s parents who bought it in 1952 to be close to their daughter. They enjoyed spending summers in Fenelon Falls or at the family cottage on Cameron Lake, and winters in Florida. They travelled to England and Portugal twice, as well as Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece. Ruth loved spending time with her grandchildren, and remained a devoted member of Immanuel Baptist Church, spending a lot of time with friends like Monty and Beulah Robson, a beloved Fenelon Falls couple. Clarence and Monty were best friends in their later years, and Ruth and Beulah were close as well. Ruth also spent a lot of time with Freda Kelly.
Freda and Ruth had a lot in common. Two energetic ladies, determined to make the most of life, who sincerely wanted to make things better for everyone they encountered. Both had become teachers, and walked their own unique path, appreciating all of the new freedoms and opportunities that women were now able to enjoy. Their parents had grown up in an era when, out of necessity, women devoted their lives to domestic work just so their families could get by. They really appreciated living in an era when women could have a career and enjoy a retirement, cherishing their grandchildren and travelling with their families.
Ruth passed away in 2009, but the family tradition continued on. Her three granddaughters followed in her footsteps and became teachers as well, one working at Fenelon Falls Secondary School where Ruth taught decades before.