Sylvia Johnston (nee Hnatiuk
When I heard that the La Vallee School had been destroyed by fire on Dec. 10, 1999, I felt sorry for the family that had lost their home.
But to myself and many others, we lost much more. Even now, when I drive out on Highway 11/71 going to La Vallee, as soon as I see the pine trees that still stand around the school yard, a flood of memories engulfs me and I still get misty-eyed remembering.
Yes, I remember the smell of varnish and linseed oil that would greet us on our first day back to school. The classroom glistened because of someone’s care and repair during the summer months.
The year I started school, only one classroom was open. There were eight rows of desks so we had Grades 1 through 8. Mrs. Margaret Lichtenstein taught us that year.
The next year, she moved to Fort Frances to teach. The picture I have is of her last class at the La Vallee School, and I am sure it will rekindle a lot of memories.
In the years that followed, we had Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Alex Ogden and Mrs. Jean Jack, Mrs. McQuaker, and others as our elementary teachers. How can we forget Mrs. Jack reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to us after lunch.
Oh yes, and remember Mr. Hickey who would come and tell us Bible stories—and he used pictures on the flannel board.
Let’s not forget Paul Johnson and the films! Remember going to “Film Night” at La Vallee School, and our moms would bring sandwiches and cake.
I can still remember the smell of coffee perking while we watched the films.
The school served as a town hall for many various meetings, too.
I remember running down the little lane at recess to the flowing well (it was an artesian well that flowed summer and winter). Someone had put an elbow on the end of the pipe and we would sip water from the cup that the elbow formed.
There would be moss cascading down from the pipe, and we would wipe it away and drink the sweet water.
There were always little toads that the boys chased the girls with. Yes, Allan McTavish, Doug Young, Gary Miller, and the Caul boys (the gang!)
You boys were naughty—especially chasing me with snakes!
Just to the north of the well was the janitor’s cottage. Mrs. Jacobsen and her daughter, Monhill, would watch us through the window as we came to the well. We would wave at them and they would wave back.
In the winter (and back then, winter was really winter), dear Mrs. Jacobsen would come into the schoolhouse and stoke up the old furnace to keep us warm. How good that warmth felt.
Then we had to bundle up and trudge the long way home. Often, though, Mr. Geary would come with his green truck, and we would pile onto the back of the truck and huddle together to keep warm on the ride home back to the village.
Other children had parents come with sleds and horses, but many children simply had to walk. I always felt sorry for the Galbraith kids—they had to trek straight north about two-three miles past Johnny Canuck’s store.
When there was no transportation, we all walked and, of course, in the winter, everyone took shortcuts—through Soucy’s field and through the woods, which also involved crossing the river and then on home.
Winter activities were low-keyed (40 below was too cold to be out). We would have our lunches and we would colour in our colour books. I always loved to colour with Shirley Logan because she was so good!
Or else, the kids would go down to the school basement and play hopscotch, dodgeball, or do mat tumbling.
Spring was anxiously anticipated as then we could go outdoors and play. On the north side of the school yard, protected by the pine trees, was a perfect playing field.
That was where our soccer, baseball, and sporting events took place.
I’m sure that to this day, whenever the wind blows through the pines, there will always be the echo of children’s laughter.
Spring always meant flowers! There was a huge lilac bush on the west side of the steps going up to the building. I remember every teacher we had used a bouquet of lilacs for art class.
We all loved for our school to look good!
Come Arbor Day, we would clean and plant around the school yard. I still remember the time we whitewashed rocks to put around the flower beds (Ethel Truelove and I used our bare hands to dip the rocks into the lime).
Boy, did our rocks look good—almost ate away our hands, though.
Yes, I’m sure that many former La Vallee School students could add pages and pages of their memories to this.
I would like to thank my sister, Irene (Hnatiuk) Doty, for sharing the picture of Mrs. Lichtenstein’s class.