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Williamson Road hits 100th

When Olivia Forrest had to find old stories for her school’s 100th birthday, all she needed was a big family dinner.

Starting with her grandmother Lois in the 1940s, Olivia’s family has had someone at Williamson Road Public School every decade or two.

“Well, you know, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to leave,” said Lois, laughing on a couch with her granddaughter.

Artist and Williamson Road parent Ersa Pletsch watches as students paint a centennial mural for their school on July 26. Inspired by the landscapes of Willy alumni Doris McCarthy, the mural will feature a timeline of people, places, and events that students chose to capture the history of the school and its neighbourhood. “So far, everything was done by students,” said Pletsch, who started organizing the mural two months before. “Every single student in the school has come up with a design showing what they like about the school. It’s been an honour.” PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Artist and Williamson Road parent Ersa Pletsch watches as students paint a centennial mural for their school on July 26. Inspired by the landscapes of Willy alumni Doris McCarthy, the mural will feature a timeline of people, places, and events that students chose to capture the history of the school and its neighbourhood.
“So far, everything was done by students,” said Pletsch, who started organizing the mural two months before. “Every single student in the school has come up with a design showing what they like about the school. It’s been an honour.”
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Before the summer break, Olivia’s Grade 5/6 class was asked to find Willy alumni who could fill them in on a theme from a given decade. Olivia got sixties’ pop culture.

Kelly Carter, her second cousin, told her all about Audrey Hepburn, pageboy hairdos, and how excited she was to get a transistor radio. She remembered Glen Ames, which opened in 1961, as the new school next door.

It was good material for Olivia’s class project – preparing decade rooms for Williamson Road’s big centennial party on October 25.

But sitting with her grandmother, Olivia stumbled onto a much tougher historical question: which students did the most horsing around?

“I remember we lined up two by two to go in and out of school,” said Lois. One door was for girls, the other for boys.

During the war, Lois’ future principal, Major C. Vickery, was big on military drills for all students, girls included.

“Girls as well as boys drill at Major Vickery’s school – and they love it,” reported the Toronto Daily Star in 1941, noting how “a gang of pig-tailed misses” swung by the Major perfectly in step.

But military rules of the time prevented girls from joining Major Vickery’s rifle classes. He told the Star what a shame it was.

“Girls nowadays are just as interested in shooting as boys, just as they are interested in driving automobiles,” he said.

Some of that discipline was still around in Lois’ day, even when she and her 40-odd classmates got to go on field trips.

“We used to go on the streetcar with one teacher, and nobody acted up,” she said. “No one thought of a bus.”

“That wouldn’t work for us,” said Olivia.

Today, Olivia said students sit in groups, not in rows like her grandmother did. And the dreaded strap is long gone.

But Olivia isn’t totally convinced that kids today get into any more mischief than her grandmother did.

Asked if the ink wells in her 1940s classroom didn’t spell trouble, Lois was quick to fess up.

“You’re right,” she said. “Sometimes people’s pig-tails went in, if you got mad at the girl.”

And not all the old-school discipline stuck like teachers meant it to.

“If you were bad in class, it was into the cloakroom,” Lois said.

“But then some of those kids would go through other kids’ pockets,” she added, laughing. “When you’re in there you’ve got to do something!”

Whatever she got up to as a student, Lois Forrest more than made up for it in the years she volunteered with the Williamson Home and School committee.

That tradition is continuing this year as parents, staff, and teachers volunteer time towards Williamson’s centennial celebration.

So far, they are inviting more alumni to share stories, building a website full of old photos and yearbook scans, bringing the school’s tree count up to a symbolic 100, filling a time capsule, and helping with the students’ own centennial mural in the school yard.

But parents hope the biggest centennial legacy will be a new sports field behind the school.

“It’s exciting,” said Olivia, who enjoys track and cross-country running.

“Right now, when you do track and field practice, you start on the chips, and then you run through the sand, and then you run on cement, and then the grass.”

“I want them to do it so there’s a nice track.”

The fundraising goal of the legacy project is $175,000, which would allow for the new track as well as long jump pits, a soccer pitch and baseball diamonds. For more information or to donate, visit williamson100.ca.

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