Harlan: The Old School House – Chapter 1 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on September 2nd, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


harlan-school-harlan-sk.-1949

Photo (from Web): The  Harlan Shool House sits today as it did in the ’20s,’30s and ’40s. That could easily be my cousin Stan and I standing by the school.

Link to Next Post: Interesting History
Link to Last Post: A Final Farewell  (The last of Part III)
Link to Family Stories Index

Early Spring, 1949

We arrived at the school early that morning, but dad stayed in the car. Getting the kids enrolled was a job better suited to women and mom seldom choose to question dad’s decisions. As for me, there was no question I was more than a little scared, as I had never before set foot inside a schoolroom. All the kids at the school had been in class since last fall, were nearly finished for the year and were looking forward to the summer holidays. Other than Betty and Stan, Louise and I did not know a single person.

Five minutes later, my worst nightmare came to pass. I was assigned to Grade 1. “What in hell did I do to deserve this?” I am eight years old and they are putting me Grade 1 with all these little kids, even with my baby sister and she is not even supposed to be going to school yet.” This was definitely unfair.

The only thing that salvaged the situation was the fact that all Grade 1 and 2 students sat in one row, Grade 3 and 4, the next, 5 and 6, the third and so on all the way to the five or so senior students who occupied the last row. In total, no more than twenty students and one teacher.

Miss Hardnose, I don’t remember her name, took turns teaching the students row by row. Stan was in my row, but in Grade 2, and Betty, a couple of rows over, closer to the windows of course, in grade 5 or 6. She was always such a smarty pants!

Mom patiently explained to the teacher that while I had not completed all the formal curriculum in Alberta, she had been teaching me all the requirements for Grade 1, 2 and 3 for the past three years. The teacher remained skeptical.

Mom politely asked: “I wish you would just give Harold a few tests. I think you’ll find he really does have his basic reading, writing and math down pat. He is certainly well past the grade one level.”

Without further adieu, Miss Hardnose responded:  “I’m sorry Mrs. McNeill; we must strive to maintain high standards here in Saskatchewan and in the past we have found students from Alberta are seldom able to meet those standards. The rules direct that your son start in Grade 1. If you had some documentation from Alberta, that would have been most helpful, but I can assure you I will watch his work very closely and see how he progresses.”

“Watch his work very closely, watch his work very closely? That sounded more like a threat than a promise to help. This was not going to be an easy two months.

Miss Hardnose got up, excused herself and went about other business making it clear there was no room for further discussion. The only concession she had made was to allow Louise to attend the Grade 1 class even though she was not due to start school until that fall.

“Well mom, that didn’t go very well did it?”  I stated as we left the school and returned to the car where dad was waiting. Mom told me I simply had to work hard to prove myself. I agreed, but thought I should have used one or two of the terms Uncle Tonnie and Cousin Reggie had taught me to explain my feelings. That teach Miss know-it-all, a lesson she would not soon forget. Dad was also upset and was going to go in and ‘explain’ the facts of life, but mom was able to dissuade him. Getting kicked out of Grade 1 on the first day of school would not look good on my record.

Our reason for being at this school is simple. Dad and mom were headed out to southern Alberta to work on road construction and had arranged for Louise and me to stay with Aunt Liz and Uncle Warren on their farm in Harlan as Betty and Stan were already attending the same school.

On the trip over, and for the several days in Cold Lake, I had been sullen and withdrawn after having had to leave my buddy Shep at Marie Lake. I knew Mr. Goodrich would take good care of him, but the pain of leaving him behind was almost more than I could bear. Going to a new home, to school for the first time and having Miss Hardnose for my first teacher, did not help.

There was an up side however, that was coming to live with Aunt Liz and Uncle Warren. We would again be with cousins Stan and Betty with whom we had become such close friends while living at the Smith Place three years earlier. Besides, Uncle Warren was a happy go lucky guy and Aunt Liz, although more strict than Uncle Warren, was a wonderful person who always treated Louise and me as one of her own – spankings and all.

A day or two after our arrival, dad, mom and Aunt Irene, who was traveling with them, were getting ready to hit the road for southern Alberta. After eight years for me, and five for Louise, of being so close to mom and dad in isolated areas of Saskatchewan and Alberta, it was a painful, tearful parting. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for mom to leave behind her two little kids behind, not knowing when she might see them again. We hugged, kissed, waved good-bye and they were off in a cloud of good old Saskatchewan dust.

Louise and I settled in much quicker than expected and were even able to adapt to the regular routines of school. Although I was more used to working at my own pace, I found it great fun having a lot of other kids around to play with. Ms. Hardnose held fast to the rules which stated I had to complete the Grade 1 before moving on, but it appeared she was gradually beginning to warm to my winning ways.

One day I started talking to her about our lives living in the bush – fishing, trapping, running a mink ranch and other things that Louise and I had done. She slowly became interested and, I think, by the end of school year she even liked me a little bit. I was really glad I did what mom had encouraged me to do and, I guess, I needed to prove that just because we were from Alberta, did not mean that we were stupid, after all, we had both been born in Saskatchewan and that should count for something.

It was not long before she granted that I could actually spell, read, do math and short passages that were at least as good as most Grade 1, except, that is, for my baby sister.  Louise, the diligent little soul she was, and who was not even supposed to be starting school, was already well beyond the rest of the kids in our Grade 1 class.

Then, just as school was ending, came the shocker. Mom came with me on the last day to speak with Miss Hardnose who explained that as I still had not completed the full Grade 1 curriculum she could not advance me to Grade 2.  Mom was really upset but nothing she said could get the teacher to change her mind.

In September, only a few months from my ninth birthday, I would again be starting Grade 1 with my little sister who was not yet 6. At this rate I was on tract to finish high school sometime in my late twenties – which, as it turned out, was not going to be far from the mark.

Harold McNeill

Link to Next Post: Interesting History
Link to Last Post: A Final Farewell  (The last of Part III)
Link to Family Stories Index

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  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.