Alexander Manitoba My Hometown
Alexander School Memories
I was in grade 3 in 1974 when I was dragged off for my first day of school in the “new” Alexander School which was built in 1967. The architect who designed this school must have studied the designs of Nazi Fortification from World War 2 because all he used was concrete and more concrete. The windows were set back in the walls by about 10 feet so the view was very limited on what you can see as you day dreamed at your desk. The school even had huge wooden grates hung at the edge of the building to protect the windows that were set so far back. In this area, they cemented in rocks from the farmers fields so if you tried to escape from class through the small sliding window it was hard on your ankles then on your back as you slide under the big concrete beam that held the wooden grates up. All the entrances to the school had huge concrete blocks pour as step ends or hand rails. As young kids we would sit on the concrete blocks during recess to watch the world go by plus we thought we were cool too. Now being middle age I blame my wasted youth for sitting on those concrete blocks for my hemorrhoids. Another reason I believe the design is based on the Nazi Fortification is because the of spacing of all the concrete steps. The spacing of the steps does not appear to be the standard Canadian spacing because they are not easy to walk up and down. The spacing the steps and especially to the small school house to the south of the main building were made to make you do the Nazi Goose Step. Yes no matter how you did the steps you had to stretch out your legs to make the next step no matter what your age was.
The layout of the school was simple by walking in the front door in the middle of the building as long as you did not trip on the Goose Step spaced steps. To the left was a small office for the school secretary which you passed through to get the principle office.. If you were bored and needed something to do as a student, just visit the office and they would put you to work turning the hand crank on the ink copier machine. Next you walked forward to the main hall way that went left and right. Straight forward was the gymnasium which was of terrible design. The architect decided on a sloped roof design which works great by not for a gymnasium. One side of the gymnasium has a low ceiling where the volley ball hits and ricochet every where but where it is to go. The other side has a high ceiling so the volley ball can go high and come back down where you want it. When playing sports you had to remember which side of the gymnasium you were on. This did not matter to me because I was not very good at sports and almost never got picked to be on any teams. I just sat on the bench against the wall watching the clock that seemed to be in slow motion for gym class to be over.
The gymnasium had a room on the south side that stored all the equipment and it had a lock door knob. The teacher had the key to open it and once opened, the door was propped open because if it closed then the teacher had to come back to open the door. I spent a lot of time in this room waiting for the teacher to come and find me when putting the equipment away because the door was closed with me inside the room. I never knew there could be that much wind in the gymnasium to blow the door shut all the time. Beside the storage room was the pull out folding stage for the Xmas concerts and end of the school year awards. This stage was of poor design and would not lock tight against the wall that is was sunken in to. When running around the gymnasium because the teacher thought that having us do laps around the gymnasium would improve our listening skills. The stage would be sticking out of the wall a few inches and someone would clip the stage while running past. This meant gym class was now over for that person and off to get a few band-aids from the school secretary.
At the other end of the gymnasium off to one side was the school canteen with a roll up door to serve the students in the gym part. Once a month there would be a hot dog sale for lunch hosted by the older classes. Once we became the older class we got to make and serve the hot dogs. The only thing good about the small canteen was the trap door to the crawl space under the complete school. The teacher would leave a few of us to clean up the canteen after the hot dog sale with instructions when finished return to your home class. Once the canteen was clean, we would open the trap door and be in the crawl space exploring. The teacher would check on us in the canteen and we would be no where to be found. We did not want to be found because it would mean back to class. Once it was almost time for class to end we would re-appear in the canteen and then head to the next class. I’m sure the teachers must have figured it out where we went.
On the high ceiling side of the gymnasium was the climbing apparatus that folded against the wall. It was state of the art back then and rarely ever used because it was so dangerous. On the 3 occasions that we did get to fold it out from the wall and set it up was a learning experience. It was very complex and things had to fit just right for assembly to be complete. Once again I credit German Engineering. The high ceiling of the gymnasium also created the second floor of the school at the south end. This was used for the utilities of the school but this room also acted as the art room. Yes the school was full to capacity with our parents being baby boomers after WW2 and we were the products of them falling in love. The utilities room was great for us to use as an art room because we like how things worked and could study the working of the school heating and electrical. There was few times when they were playing basket ball in the gymnasium and the lights went out which made the gymnasium a very dark place. The sounds of basket ball being played turned very quickly in to yelling for some reason. Of course we were all laughing in the utility-art room because it only took one flick of the power breaker to make it very dark in the gymnasium.
With a high number of kids in the Alexander School they made us attend classes in the small 1 room school building that was moved in just to the south of the main building. Not sure of the history of this school and where it came from but I spent grade 3-4-5 in the building which was a time capsule. Since is was a quick walk outside back to the main school we had to have our jackets on. Then we would be in the gymnasium for morning assembly with our jackets on getting a little warm and sweaty. Then after the assembly we walked back to our class room in the small school. Of course the Nazi Fortification steps where the maximum distance apart for the best Goose Step of an adult. Some one always missed a step and wiped out every single day rain or shine. At lunch time the lunch cart would come to the south entrance of the main building then we all went from the small school to the entrance to buy our lunches. Then carrying the lunches back over the Goose Step steps, some one would wipe out and spill their lunch. The only thing good about the small school was all the windows on the west side so we could sit and watch the world go by. Once we moved to the main school the lack of view from fortifications is what we missed the most. The small school was cold in the winter and we would wear our jackets to stay warm. The wind would blow through the windows and move the blinds that the teacher had lowered in an attempt to make us pay attention. Then in the summer the small school was like an oven and we just roasted at our desks. I did not jerk any tears when my dad sent me pictures of the small school being torn down. It had served it purpose.
Every morning we would arrive at school and go to our home classes. Once the bells all went off to let everyone know that school has now started. We then walked in a group to the gymnasium to stand for morning announcements and to sing Oh Canada. My sister got to play the un-tuned piano to accompany us in singing. There were may times when the keys of the piano did not work because of thick paper placed in where the little key hammer hits the strings. My sister got so used to this problem she just played on so we had to find other things to make the morning assemblies fun. This usually took up 15 minutes of our boring day at school. Then we returned back to our home room classes for school work to begin. The school days were laid out very simple and boring and you always looked forward for lunch time. At lunch time this short lady with short hair would push a small cart room to room to sell soups and drinks in styrofoam cups. She would add the hot or cold water and you would go back to your desk and eat or drink what was in the cup. This lady always started at the younger classes and finished with the older classes. There was 150 kids eating lunch and she control us all with respect. When the short lady was done with the little lunch cart she put it away and then went room to room to dis-miss us for going outside for the rest of the lunch hour. If the class was mis-behaving or garbage on the floor then you had to wait until she came back to dis-miss the class.
Once outside for recess there was the cattle pasture to the north of the school which had an electric fence at the edge of the school yard. This is how we learned all about Nikola Tesla because one person touching the fence only gives a small jolt of electricity. But add up to 7-10 people and the last person to join hands got the shock of their life that would set them on their ass. Then when we got older the electric fence was boring and we took up smoking to be cool like the teachers. Except for one recess that the cigarette butt was not properly put out and the farmer’s pasture caught on fire. The Alexander Volunteer Fire Department at the time was based on who ever showed up and helped out. It was a fun afternoon working on putting the grass fire out with the fire department. Our clothes smelled when we got home and our parents knew what we were doing. I think that is when our parents decided it was time the school got a play ground since the flat school yard was so boring. Everyone volunteered on a few Saturdays to set up the play ground equipment which was old big tires dug in to the ground and lots of rail road ties to climb on. In today standards of raising a child in a non toxic world compared to what we got to play on gave us a good immune system. With all the fun playground equipment installed in the school yard some of us just sat on the concrete blocks used as hand rails on the Goose Steps to watch the world go by.
The teacher’s lounge was better known as a Chicago Speakeasy from the prohibition era because it was so secretive. The main entrance to the Speakeasy was in the hallway across from the only water fountains in the school. Yes we all drank the water from the fountains and even licked the chrome part to upset the person behind you. The water for the fountains came from a well on the school property which never seem to run dry or create problems that would have give us a day off from school. With the water fountains right by the entrance and everyone making noise, the teachers would never hear you knocking on the door because there was a long hall wall to the teacher’s lounge part. Once again I base all these long halls ways, small connecting room and terrible designs on the Nazi Fortification designs. It always seemed like 20 minutes of knocking on the Speakeasy door before some one would answer. When they answered the door they usually only opened it a little bit and peaked around the door and ensured that the view behind them was blocked. This is the way they open the doors at the Chicago Speakeasy so no one could see what was really going on. The person who answered the door was usually the student teacher who had to do all the meaningless tasks. While the other teachers enjoyed their break from teaching by having a smoke and enjoy a coffee which had to be spiked with Rum to put up with us for 6 hours a day. You never knocked on the Speakeasy door and opened a bit to ask for the teacher when you got tired of waiting for it to be answered. The repercussion from this action was worst then talking in class and getting the chalk brush thrown at you to bounce off the side of your head. In all my years in this school I think I was only in the teacher’s lounge maybe twice because it was a forbidden place.
The music class is something I could never figure out why we had to take it. The instruments that they made us play never really help me in my adult life because hitting a wooden key with a stick with a ball on the end is something I use everyday. The only thing music class proved was some of us have no rhythm and can’t dance or sing in older life. With the non used wooden keys on the instrument removed and all we had to do is hit the wooden keys that were left while in front of everyone on stage at the Xmas concert we would screwed that up. Then they made us “buy” a plastic tube instrument called the recorder. Yes this thing is a small Canadian version of the bag pipes because there is only one song you can play on it. With the whole class playing on these noise instruments it was the same as everyone running their finger nails on the chalk boards for the sound that sends chills your spine. Plus the recorder instrument has no re-sale value in later life.
It was not till we got to the older grades did music become fun. The school always got student teachers that put in the hours of class room work to get a teaching license. My dad did the same thing when Alexander had the 2 story brick school house which was before this new one was built which I attended. My dad did his time as a student teacher and once he was a licensed teacher he went on to become an auto mechanic. Having his teaching license paid off in 1974 when he was ask to substitute teach auto mechanics at the collage which lasted 33 years. The new music teacher that drove out from the city of Brandon twice a week to teach us music was Mr. Allan. He was normal person and talked to us as normal people because he was not really a teacher, he was a musician. One day in music class he was trying to teach us guitar but the whole class could not understand these stupid notes and cords on a guitar. We were used to the wooden key instruments you hit with a stick with a ball on the end. Mr. Allen was getting upset with us for not listening and putting effort in to learning. That is when Mr. Allen played American Woman by the Guess Who as if he was in concert with the band because it was the #1 song in Canada and the USA at the time. He chose to become a teacher and taught us more then any music teacher could teach us,,,,never judge a book by it cover. This also went for English class and teaching us poetry. Poetry is boring when it is the book form by Shakespeare but sung as a rock and rock hit then it makes sense.
The little things of the Alexander school when growing up was only 2 phones in the school and you need permission by the Queen of England to use one for a good reason. Everything in the school was done with respect and you listened when told to do something. The teachers came and went because a job in the city of Brandon paid better and no traveling the 15 miles to Alexander to work. Mount St. Helen blew up and we watched on TV in 1980 and the volcanic ash soon arrived in Alexander. Writing and drawing “Kilroy Was Here” on your least favorite teacher’s car in the volcanic ash meant you got disciplined for some reason. Also I live in town I was always sent home to get something when needed. When the space shuttle exploded on take off in 1981, I was sent home to get my 12” TV so the class could watch the news and the replays of the accident. Only problem is I’m colour blind so the class got to watch it in B&W because why would I save up my money to buy a colour TV for others to enjoy. A snow day at the school meant us town kids headed to the school for a day of fun with no teachers. That is about the only time school was fun.
For grade 7&8 they sent us to Brandon during the lunch hour to attend shop and home economic classes one day a week. This means the school bus pulled up to other schools in the city of Brandon and dropped us off. Then we would have to find the class inside these big buildings. Plus we were only a small group so we had to join others in these shop classes. This is where country kids and city kids don’t fit in. We had to take the mechanics shop class which we thought was stupid because we all worked on farm equipment or heavy equipment growing up. The course was geared for a city kid to get dirty and take apart a greasey motor on lawn mower. We did not part take in the class because we had on our best clean clothes for going to the city. Plus why would we want to take apart a lawn mower when we just changed the head on a classmate’s dad’s D8 Caterpillar bulldozer on the weekend. The teacher was getting upset for us not partaking in the class but just sitting there watching the city kids being stupid. We tried to explain to the teacher this is below what we do on the weekends and we can’t get our good clothes dirty or we would be in big trouble. For some reason we all failed this course but oh well we didn’t get our clothes dirty.
The school buses were great fun and it all depended on the driver. The best drivers were the ones that looked in the mirror to see a bunch of mis-behaving kids and pull the bus over to have a smoke and watch in the mirrors as the kids realize we are going to be late getting home to watch the reruns of Gilligan's Island. Then you would have a bus driver that would stop the bus and give us lectures for 20 minutes about life then report us to the principal. Then the principal would have that whole bus in the gymnasium for a lecture on how to ride and act on the school bus. Which was pointless and that bus driver learned to pull over and have a smoke and relax which worked out better for everyone. Since we were involved in autos and finding a good FM Radio back in the early 1980s to mount in the school bus for our enjoyment was hard to come by. We acquired a good FM Radio and speakers and the bus driver let us mount the radio on the weekend in school bus. The goal was to have FM Radio in the school bus for when FM Radio station in Brandon switch from boring elevator music to rock and roll. Of course the radio station did it the same way the TV show WKRP with rock and roll first thing in the morning. The kids riding the school bus got to hear the station switch over while us at home listen on the FM Radio in the house. Then we all met at school to chat about the rock and roll music. Then on the days we rode the bus to Brandon, the FM Radio made the trip not as boring.
We also got to go to Brandon to swim in the big pools at the YMCA and Sportsplex because there was no swimming pools around Alexander. My coming of age was in the early 1980s when the girls wore bagging tee shirts and sweaters. With these clothes being baggie it was hard for us boys to tell if the Breast Fairy was making nightly visits until we went for the swimming lesson. That is when we got to see the girls who had lots of nightly visits by the Breast Fairy showing off the cleavage in the bathing suits. Of course to this day I still can’t swim and afraid of water too. I guess I liked being saved from drowning at those swimming lessons by the girls with cleavage.
One of the best trips the school buses took us on was to Sioux Valley since ¾ of the school population was from there. We would all ride the buses to Sioux Valley for the 5 treaty days and return back home at the end of the school day. We learned a lot and listened to the elders speak which was always in a quiet soft voice. Not like some of the teachers we had that yelled at us for some reason.
The school buses were simple and had no computers to screw things up. If the bus broke down we could usually get it fixed or working enough to get to the next farm where there was a phone. If the bus blew a tire on the dual wheels on the back we all sat on the other side of the bus to take weigh off the broken side plus keep going. The school buses were used as taxis for us town kids which we just hopped on and told the bus driver where we were going. After school during the harvest times we would ride the bus to the farmers field where a loaded grain truck was waiting for us to drive and empty. The bus driver would drop us off and he would continue on while we usually worked till midnight or later. Being 14 years old and able to drive there was lots of work after school. Now days there are so many rules and regulations of the school bus the fun days are over.
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