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Monty Robson’s Memories of Attending Fenelon Falls Continuation School in the 1920s

March 26, 2024

Mossom W. (Monty) Robson at Rotary Park, Fenelon Falls (the Ball Park), the beginning of the Rotary Club in Fenelon Falls, 1940s

Later renamed Fenelon Falls Secondary School

My early secondary education was doled out in the grey stone two storey school building still standing on the school site. It has been used as the meeting place of the Masonic Order for many years. As our school, it was utilitarian in design and was very well built. Fancy theme decoration was not yet practiced. It was kept clean. A periodic super housecleaning meant that the floor was scrubbed, dried and re-oiled. Some paint and varnish cleaned up the worn places on the wood trim and plastered walls. There was no water works of any kind in the building.

Each day the caretaker saw to it that the fair sized container on the shelf in the hallway was filled up with water from the neighbour’s well across the street. It was called a drinking fountain because it had a push tap at the bottom. A drinking cup on the shelf was used by everyone, and, as I remember, there was no break-out of disease among the students. We were a hardy group. There were no washroom facilities in the building. To answer nature’s call, it was necessary to go outside and follow a wooden walk around the building to the back where an unheated frame building served as lavatory. It was primitive but serviceable. In the winter, it was very cold. It is understandable why there was no loitering in the lavatory. To those questioning minds I can say that the girls leaving from the front door went around to the back along the opposite side of the main building. Once leaving the front of the school there was no way of observing who was going back to the opposite side of the frame building behind the school. The builders had seen to it that proper decorum on the part of both sexes was preserved.

Each spring the School Board would contract with some local farmer, who had a good hardwood bush, to provide firewood. It would be cut in two foot lengths, split and delivered to the side yard. The green wood was piled outside so that it was in the sun and wind all Summer and Fall, so it would be dried well. Each school room had a large grey painted wood box near the big box stove. The box stove had a partial enclosure of galvanized metal which kept students from getting clothing or flesh burned as we huddled close to the stove particularly on a Monday morning in cold weather. We had another reason to be close to the stove then. Over the weekends the fires were not kept on when there were no students in attendance. Pens and ink had to be used for making all notes in our notebooks. Rather than waiting for the room to warm up sufficiently to thaw frozen ink, numerous bottles were placed on the top surface of the hot stove. As the ink thawed and a head of steam built up in the corked bottle, you will guess what followed. The cork, accompanied by some ink, blew to the ceiling with a resounding crack.

Rows of seats with desks were screw nailed to the floor in both rooms. Ample black-board were all across the front wall in each room. The teacher’s desk and chair at the front completed the furnishings. There was one exception. In the upper classroom, where the ‘third formers’ studied, along the sidewall, under the windows, there was a wood work surface built in with drawers and cupboard doors below. This was the science department. Numerous simple experiments were carried on during science classes. Even though the science department was pretty primitive, the ability of good teachers whetted our appetites enough to make us want to expand our knowledge wherever and whenever we could.

I recall we discussed how everything could be reduced to certain elements. There was some suggestion of the possibility of cracking the atom and how tremendous atomic energy would be released. There was dreamy talk about how cracking a tiny atomic structure would release energy sufficient to power a steamship across the ocean. In the twenties, Charles A. Lindbergh was planning to fly the Atlantic. Finally, it really happened in 1927 when he loaded himself and all the gasoline he could carry into the single engine monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. He flew from New York to Paris, France, a distance of 3600 miles in thirty-three and a half hours. How things have progressed. Now the Concorde lists off from New York with a passenger load and arrives in Paris a couple of hours later. The only thing that comes to mind that hasn’t made a similar improvement in service is Canada Post. Looking at the envelopes containing school documents received, I note that the postage was three cents and the delivery was very good. Now at a postage rate of forty-three cents, the service has slowed up a great deal.

In the twenties we were not long over the effect of the terrible 1914-1918 war. The ‘powers-that-be’ thought it best to keep us mindful of that struggle, so the National Defence Department shipped some boxes of Ross rifles (firing pins) removed) to the school. A Cadet Corps had been formed and with the uniforms and puttees supplied we looked like quite a formidable group when each cadet shouldered a Ross Rifle and became part of a rather respectable marching unit. Our small army was composed of two platoons. During my experience the platoon commanders were Lytle Johnston and Milburn Kelly. Douglas Welch was the Commanding Officer in charge. Orville “Bucker” Barry was the flag bearer, and I beat out the marching tempo on a snare drum. When the officer from the District Command of the regular militia came, we went through a thorough field inspection. Coming through that event with a good grade which the visiting inspector assured us was in order. An orderly march over town to the ice cream parlour took care of our needs. My first experience with the Corps was when we had two lady teachers, Mary E. Watson and Verna Adams. Someone thought that our detachment could benefit by having the instruction from a recently returned war veteran. Alex Northey, fitting that qualification, volunteered his services to help us polish up the performance on the parade ground beside the old school. Our performance on inspection day benefitted a good deal from his guidance.

We also had a Rifle Club operation under the auspices of the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association (DCRA). The target competitions were well managed. I recall principal Earl Miller handling one. Medals were provided by the DCRA. I was thrilled when I won the Strathcona Trust Gold Medal in 1927. The medal came from Birks-Ryrie in the traditional blue box and the back of the medal had my name engraved along with the year of competition.

In the twenties, the student body was mainly made up of students living in the village. We went to class at 9 am. There were brief recesses in the morning and afternoon. Village students went home for lunch at 12:00 and were back in class at 1:30. Quite a few students from the rural areas around Fenelon Falls came to what was referred to as ‘High School’ in the village. Roads were not ploughed in the winter, automobiles not yet being very common, so a number of the rural students came by horse and cutter. There were two hotels operating north of the river. One, the Henry Brooks hotel (now Wilson Motors), was south of the river near the school. Being the hotel closest to the school, some students stabled their horses there. There was never any shortage of help to go to the barn at noon hour to give the horses a drink and a forkful of hay.

During the years when I was in high school, the student body had guidance from a variety of teachers. They were all very conscientious and helpful and each impressed on us something to carry with us into our lives. Many of my old classmates have reflected, in their outstanding later achievements, the solid educational foundation built up in our early school experience while we were in the hands of those helpful teachers.

It would be an error not to admit that there was an odd occasion when our faith in our teachers was shaken a bit. One Christmas holiday, we were checking on the return of our teachers to the village for the school day following the holiday. Ed Crosley was one of the staff and he boarded at the Mason home on Francis Street East. The only way to return was by train. Having carefully checked the Mason home we were assured that Mr. Crosley had not returned on the Saturday train.

We rejoiced at the prospect of the holiday being at least partially extended to noon on Monday when the noon train would have arrived. Monday morning, to our amazement and consternation, Crosley turned up at school at regular time. The rascal had arrived late in Lindsay on Saturday. His great respect for duty prompted him to use a nice Sunday walk from Lindsay to Fenelon Falls in order to be on duty. That devotion to responsibility almost made us lose any respect for a teacher who would do such a terrible thing. It took quite a while for us to realize that even in this incident, Mr. Crosley was really teaching us something important.

There were many happenings and school experiences that one might recall but we will rest our case with the foregoing evidence. It has been a delight, though, to look back.

Monty Robson born in Fenelon Falls in 1910, son of W.T. Robson. He became proprietor of his father’s long established farm equipment and supply business in 1947, then bought Max Brandon’s insurance business from the latter estate in 1955. Monty was appointed registrar for Deeds for Victoria County in 1962, and retired at age 65 in 1975. He Served on Water, Light and Power Commission of Fenelon Falls for many years, lately as chair, and was also a member of the school board. He was a founder of the Fenelon Falls Businessmen’s Association. Monty was a Charter Member and Past President of the Rotary Club of Fenelon Falls. Monty Robson served on Board of Directors of several local fairs and is well remembered as the emcee of many public events, particularly fairs.

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