The Fifties
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Halbert in the Fifties
By Jean Harper Hilliard, April 2001

Mud, mud, mud -- these are my first memories of H.A. Halbert School in the early fifties! I remember a schoolyard that necessitated boots to navigate up the hill from Lowell Avenue to our classroom. When sodding finally took place, I recall many spirited sports days. Teams were chosen and events such as high jump, broad jump and races of all kinds always found me without one of the coveted ribbons given for first, second or third place! Competitive games were the norm in the fifties and I always dreaded those days! Oh for a ribbon -- any ribbon!

Report cards (not computerized) were taken very seriously in the fifties. Both parents’ signatures were required and days absent and late were recorded. Terse summaries of progress such as "Jean is a hard worker but a slow learner" would not sit well by today’s standard where affirming the student’s sense of self worth and self esteem take priority. Hey Mr. Peterson, give me a break too!

Singing was of the activities I enjoyed the most at Halbert. Mrs. Olive Morrison, my grade 8 teacher, spent many hours helping us prepare to perform for Mr. Bissell, the superintendent of music. She loved music and I believe she is in large part responsible for my love of music today. She would encourage us to sing pieces that we particularly enjoyed. She was a wonderfully spirited pianist.

Mrs. Morrison also holds a special place in my Halbert memories as she invited me to be the class valedictorian at our Grade 8 graduation. I recall being terrified at the prospect of such a daunting task. I was supported and encouraged by my family, by Mrs. Morrison and by Ollie Joyce, the father of one of my good friends, Carolyn Joyce -- so I went ahead. In the end, it turned out to be a great learning experience for me.

The social mores of the fifties were such that each child belonged to a two-parent family. Mothers stayed at home and school children came home for lunch. In Grade 8 I recall preparing lunch on a regular basis for a boy in Grade 1 whose parents had recently divorced. His mother had returned to work and was not home at lunch time. I recall how unusual this was at the time and the discussion that took place in my home around the divorce and this mother returning to work!

Parent support was essential to the running of the school. Each year the grade seven mothers would prepare the sit-down meal for Grade 8 graduation This was a lovely feast for all students, their parents as well as the teachers and their spouses. It was held in the gym. I still have my place card for that graduation in 1958 -- a construction paper flower work of art lovingly crafted by one of our mothers!

Another area of parent contribution was the school library. It was staffed by parent volunteers - always mothers! My mother, Marie Harper, worked alongside Mrs. McDougall, of McDougall and Brown Funeral Home on Kingston Road. Who would have believed then that in 1998 we would be celebrating Mom’s too short but special life in that very funeral home along with many life-long Scarborough neighbours.

Puberty in the fifties brought special challenges for me especially in Grade 8. Square dancing was "de rigueur" as a physical education activity. I remember feeling mortified as I, at 13 years, was always much taller than any of the boys I was partnered with.

My first (but not last) love is in the Grade 5 and 6 class pictures I’ve unearthed from the basement. That love, a very one-sided affair (mine), blossomed in many "rec room" parties on Oakridge Drive and McCowan Road at the Joyce, Raymer and Roberts homes. Parents were always present. "Spin the bottle" was the game of choice! We danced to that wonderful music of the fifties which I now listen to on the Saturday night CBC program "Finkleman’s 45’s" Thanks for the memories, Wayne Roberts!

My Dad, Jack, and brother, David, continue to live in our Oakridge Drive family home. When I visit them I often walk their dog up Lowell Avenue to the Halbert schoolyard. I peer in the class room windows and enjoy a great nostalgia trip recalling much of what I have just shared. Certainly, "those were the days"!

Congratulations H.A. Halbert on your 50 years of service and education to the children of Scarborough. Keep up this good, necessary but challenging work.

From The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #2