The Bill and Nancy McCowan family (Bruce, Barb and Ruth) lived in the old McCowan farmhouse at Stop 20, Kingston Road, in partial view of the Principal's office. The Bob and Marion McCowan family (Janet and Doug) lived on McCowan Road, two doors north of the H.A. Halbert driveway. As kids, Bruce and Doug went back and forth between the two homes probably at least a thousand times a year -- almost exclusively using the "hole" under the school fence...
Robert Douglas McCowan and the School
There was a sturdy wire fence about seven feet high separating our place from H.A. Halbert School -- and we were told by teachers and parents alike that we should never climb that fence. I don't recall them saying just what evil things would happen if we ever did, but the "law" had been laid and that was that.
It made little sense to walk all the way up the Kingston Road, around past Cliffcrest Church and down McCowan Road to go to school -- hence the "hole" under the fence beside Dad's garden. I doubt if any kind of a deal was made with the school for us to have "right of passage" through the hole. It seems odd now, but I really don't think too many kids came through the hole to run over to the store on the other side of the Kingston Road for hockey cards or gum. Perhaps the teachers told the students to neither use the hole nor climb the fence to trespass over the McCowan garden. Or maybe kids back then had some respect for property after all.
In any event, the hole was "ours" to use at will, climbing the fence was a criminal act, and Bob so-and-so, on one occasion when I was about 8, had no respect for my pal upstairs, David. David was quite worried one damp winter night because Bob was about to "kill" him. The defence plan went into action -- to secure the fortifications, we must plug the hole with big rocks. With the hole plugged and climbing the fence firmly entrenched in Halbert culture as an indictable offence, David was surely safe for the night.
The next day, of course, demanded my presence at school. Normally, I held my books in my right arm and rhythmically swung myself under the fence using my left without so much as stirring the dust with my coat. But now these rocks had become frozen together. I managed to squeeze between the rocks and the bottom of the fence by removing my coat. At twelve o'clock, I returned home for lunch. My usual speed and style was severely compromised -- I grumbled "these rocks gotta' go". So I went into the garage for the sledge hammer. I was just about to take the first swing at the frozen rocks when David started up the fence. But then -- Miss Treloar, the near-retirement Principal, came absolutely tearing across the schoolyard, her arms absolutely flailing. She had caught David red-handed. "Did you climb the fence too?" she scowled at me as she, no doubt, noticed the stones blocking the hole. I knew it was hopeless to try to explain the murder conspiracy, the defence plan, the rocks, the freezing rain, the sledge hammer laying on the ground and the fact that I really did squeeze through that sliver of a space! -- I was probably too numb to say anything!
Miss Treloar made us walk all the way around the fence through the hotel property (any other time this would have been an offence too), through the school yards, up McCowan Road and down Kingston Road to the house. For a few months after that brush with the law, I walked to school the "long" way -- somehow I concluded that I had now lost my right of passage through the hole even in spite of my innocence, albeit unproveable. I rather think that it was only because Miss Treloar left Halbert shortly afterward (in 62 I believe) that I took to using the hole again on school days as soon as I did.
Doug and I were more like brothers. I can't think of any other reason for us to ever climb the school fence except for the fact that those rocks were still frozen in the hole. It was a cold Saturday and we were on one of our many treks from his place to mine. I was up over the fence first. Doug didn't quite make it in one piece. His mit was hanging on the sharp end of the stiff wire seven feet up and he had a deep hole in his hand. At the end of it all, I was rather jealous of his five stitches -- my run-in with the big electric pump on the well some years before had only qualified me for three or four (still got the scar).
At least we now knew why we weren't supposed to climb the school fence.
From The Scarboro Heights Record V8 #1
The Flail is an implement of considerable antiquity, and of very extended application. Till about 80 years ago, it was the sole implement employed in Britain and to this day is nearly so over a great part of Europe, for threshing out the grain from the straw. (Henry Stephens, Book of the Farm, 1844)
An illustration in When The Ground Fails: An Economic Watershed