By Spuro Sourtzis
Many people comment today about the nature of teenagers, and how bad they are. But if we look at stories of teenagers, once told by Mrs. Sybil Willard, Tom Leach and Jock Ferguson, we can see that kids are just kids and teenage behaviour has not changed over the past 100 years.
When Sybil Willard attended secondary school in Dryden, the school was located in a church building on the north east side of Van Horne Avenue and Princess Street. Teachers and students operated in two rooms separated by a flimsy partition with cracks large enough to encourage one class to poke those of the other class with their rulers while they working on the blackboard. On one occasion, classes were dismissed for the day because of a smoking stove. Later, it was discovered that some boys had stuffed their socks into the stove pipes.
Tom Leach, who passed away two years ago, has also recounted his experiences at the high school. Tom mentions “Dad” Clarke, the custodian who lived in the basement of the school. Tom, along with other students would often eat their lunch in the company of “Dad” Clarke. “Dad” would tell stories about the “good old days gone by”. When “Dad” was away, the boys played a very dangerous game. One boy would remove a light bulb from a socket and then place his finger inside the empty socket to get an electrical shock. The game did not end there. The student would then hold the hand of another student who would get an even worse shock. This continued with more students hand-in-hand each receiving an electrical shock. The last boy holding on was considered to be a hero if he did not let go. “Dad” Clarke, upon learning of this game, discouraged the boys from continuing to play it.
When “Dad” Clarke passed away, it was a very sad time for the students. For many students, it was their first time attending a funeral along with their first time viewing a dead body.
Jock Ferguson has recalled a number of stories while he attended high school during the 1930s. In the basement of the school, there were separate lunch rooms for the girls and boys. One Friday afternoon, a number of boys were standing at the top of the stairwell that led down to the girls’ lunch room. The boys had been planning to throw Jock down the stairwell. In the mild mannered scuffle that followed, Ted Adair tripped over George Hatch’s foot and fell down the stairs.
The following Monday, Principal J.D. Smith, summoned all of the boys together in the office, seated each and proceeded to tell them about how dangerous their prank was. He then asked those involved to stand and accept their responsibility. However, only Jock, Morris Howe and John Saskoley stood. The more culpable ones did not stand to face the punishment. The three boys who stood were then suspended until the next board meeting, which fortunately was only three days away. Jock remembers spending those three days walking around town and basically not doing anything. The boys were allowed to return to the school after the issue was further discussed at the school board meeting.
Jock has recounted other shenanigans the boys played while in school, particularly during warm weather. While class was in progress, someone would ask for the door be opened to cool the classroom. Then, George Hatch, having collected pocket change from the other boys, would crawl out of the classroom and go to Mum’s Cafe to purchase a number of cold drinks. He then slipped back into the classroom and shared the drinks with the others, all while the teacher was still in the classroom.