Helen Blackburn’s Grade 8 reminiscences

 In Opinion

The parade of Nottawasaga Creemore’s Grade 8 graduation, June 24, was the highlight of my week. Indeed, it was the highlight of my life since the virus hit.
Watching the excited and happy young people made me feel happy and excited, too. It put me on a high that saw me through an hour and a half in the dentist chair the next day. Congratulations and best wishes to all.
Since then I have been thinking about my Grade 8 days in Creemore. That was 70 years ago. (I don’t mind if you figure out how old I am because there is no sense trying to keep a secret in Creemore.)
Grade 8 was called The Entrance. The Entrance to what? High School. Thinking back, I think The Entrance had the importance of a university degree today. The Department of Education set examinations in all subjects. On the two days of the examinations pupils from the one room rural schools came to larger schools. In this area they were Singhampton, Creemore and Stayner. I don’t remember what the passing grade was, nor do I know when the examinations had their beginning. Then at one time it was decided that only students with an average below 70 per cent needed to try the examinations. It was my good luck that they were abolished two years before I got to Grade 8.
There were not many highlights during the year but there were some. In the second or third week in September we had the School Fair. On that day the schools in South Nottawasaga gathered in Creemore. With the help of parents entries were made in vegetables, flowers, grains and poultry and were set up in the Town Hall which was the building on the north side of today’s 100 Mile store. About 10:30 the doors were closed so judging could begin. We all went to the park for races.
After lunch everyone assembled for a parade from the school on Caroline Street to the park. There, lined up in supposedly straight lines, we were put through something called the Strathcona exercises, a sort of military drill. Atten-ShUN. Stand at-EASE. Arms-UP. Arms-DOWN. From the waist-FULL BEND. Afterwards some important dignitary said how wonderful it was that we were receiving physical training. Of course, they were never done again until the next year.
The afternoon was filled with contests such as public speaking (we stood on a picnic table), board sawing, spelling, sock darning and the judging of calves and lambs. Finally, back to the Hall to see if we had won any prizes.
In early October we had the track and field meet. Most of us had been practicing since someone dug up the pits. We had standing jump, running jump, high jump, triple jump, ball throw and races. I went barefoot as I believe almost everyone else did. I had one pair of sturdy shoes for walking to school on gravel roads. There was not enough money for an extra pair of running shoes.
We had Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day off, and in December our days were turned into practicing for the Christmas Concert held in the Town Hall. Plays, operettas, choruses and recitations made up the program. The Grade 8s traditionally put on a play. Orneva Bates and I were cast as twin sisters, probably because we both had the same red dress ordered from Eatons the previous spring.
Come January we started the long slog to the end of June, relieved only by Easter vacation and the long May weekend. We had no trips, least of all an overnighter. The one bit of excitement was a ball game with Dunedin school at 3 o’clock one June afternoon.
I could tell you other stories about our life in Grade 8, Creemore. How my favourite game was Hog the Ball, a game we made up akin to tackle football. How spring saw us arriving at 8:15 to get lots of baseball in before the 9 o’clock bell. How my friend, Norma, and I quit doing our homework and got caught, though not for a long time. How I got into trouble for calling our teacher Old Elmer.
We had no celebrations at the end of the school term. No parties, no ceremonies, no pretty dresses, no awards. On the last day we weren’t called in to our classes until 10 a.m. We were each given a bottle of pop, which was a big treat then, and finally our report cards were passed out. No one in our class was in danger of failing. We ran or biked home free as the birds. I was able to pick strawberries and raspberries on a local farm to earn much needed money. We spent long hot afternoons in the swimming hole and looked forward with happy anticipation to the day when we would climb the stairs for our first day in Grade 9 in Creemore school.

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to the Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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