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Pieces of Our Past: A history of Pelham high schools

Sketch of Pelham District High School. PELHAM HISTORICAL SOCIETY IMAGE

 

As surrounding villages grew, so too did the schools that served their youth

BY VILMA MORETTI
Special to the Voice

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the teenagers of Fenwick and surrounding area were forced to commute to Smithville if they wanted to continue past Grade 8 for a secondary school education. Rural children were being denied an opportunity easily available to urban boys and girls because of a lack of a facility. It was because of this factor and the fact that money was made available through school grants that a secondary school became a reality in Fenwick.

In 1922, offering lower-school subjects only, the Continuation School began with an enrolment of seven students and teacher Miss Margaret Bonis. Classes were held in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall, above Yager’s Green Lantern (now the Grill on Canboro), in Fenwick. In 1924, an extra room was added, and middle school subjects were available. Miss Mildred Metler then joined the staff.

The Board of Trustees for the school were G. Kappler, M. Stirtzinger and N. Swayze. In 1925, Mr. W. Julian began a term of service which was to last until 1950. The following year, Mr. W. Boyes began his first year in a series that was to last unbroken until he retired in 1947.

The Continuation School Inspector, Mr. Mills, officially informed the board in 1926 that the department could no longer approve the temporary quarters used by the school, especially since enrollment was at a high level of 48 students. A public meeting was promptly called “for the purpose of considering a Continuation School Building and securing site for same.”

There was opposition, of course, but after a series of public meetings, polls, court orders and other delaying tactics, the opposition was finally out-maneuvered and on September 16, 1926, the cornerstone was laid in a downpour of rain.

A new problem came before the board in September 1927, when the new school was about to be opened. Seventy-two students arrived, yet staff numbered only three and there was a demand for Upper School subjects.

Miss E.M. De La Mater was engaged for this reason. The staff was now composed of F.H. Hicks, principal; Miss M. Metler, Miss J. Bell, and Miss De La Mater. The latter was one of Ontario’s first Latin teachers and she stayed at the school until 1948.

In a very short time, the new Pelham Continuation School was firmly entrenched in the community.

The first extra-curricular activity (1928) was a school orchestra led by Percey Beckett. A new principal —W.G. Spencer—arrived a year later, and commercial subjects and an agriculture class were added. This struck a strong responsive note in the community as the school was situated in an agriculture area.

A fifth teacher was required by 1931, Miss Culp. Now a complete upper school was offered at PCS—sufficient for senior matriculation or entrance to Normal School.

By 1932, a choice of 12 to 13 papers could be offered—all this from only five teachers. The first scholarship to university was won by Walter La Rose in 1931.

Mr. E. L Crossley came from Princeton in 1932 to succeed Principal Spencer. He was an English, History and Agriculture specialist, and he brought the school close to the community by showing that agriculture was of value just as subjects leading to law and medicine.

Agriculture continued to be of great importance through the ‘40s and into the ‘50s and ‘60s. Crossley’s leadership evidenced itself in other directions, also. He introduced the name ‘Pnyx” to the school yearbook; he set up an excellent sports programme, as evidenced by the girls’ basketball team winning the COSSA Championship in 1934 and the number of winners in track and field in both SOSSA and COSSA, and Tribune Tournament Champs. There was a sports team for every interest—from volleyball, basketball, track and field, to badminton and football. Cheerleaders were at every sports event to cheer the team on. Societies and clubs were formed—Pnyx staff, potato club, the school orchestra, bugle band, student council, boys and girls athletic societies, camera club.

A highly anticipated yearly event was the Pelham Review. Students did everything from deciding on the theme, to holding auditions, doing makeup, making sets, rigging audio, setting up the gym, and directing guests to their seats.

E. L. Crossley was very encouraging in all aspects and allowed students to do “their own thing.” During all this time he kept academic standards at Pelham very high.

In 1939, the Cadet Corps was formed, and many graduates served in the armed forces during World War II. A building program was also a focus of attention with a new shop, home economics, and agriculture shop being added.

The year 1949 brought a close to the name Pelham Continuation School, and the beginning of the Pelham District High School, which brought students from ten school municipalities across Pelham Township, Fonthill, Wainfleet, Gainsboro, Lincoln, Thorold, and Welland.

The staff numbered 40, and various departments of the school showed its true composite nature—Guidance, Science, Math, History, Moderns, Classics, English, Shops, Commercial, Agriculture, Home Economics. The cafeteria provided homemade lunch for anyone to enjoy.

In 1950, a new portion of the school was built. This included classrooms, office space, shops and a new gym. PDHS expanded so much that by 1957 there were over 1,000 students attending. It was felt that an additional school was necessary.

In 1958, the new Thorold-Fonthill High School was built. The school soon reached its capacity of over 400 students and the board was faced with either adding to it, or adding to PDHS, or building an entirely new school. Because of monies made available, the new school won out. E. L. Crossley Secondary School opened in 1963.

In 1965, Edgar Ker took over as principal at Pelham District High School. Pelham still held many students, but by the 1970s enrollment was declining, and many unhappy factors led to the closing of PDHS in June 1974.

From 1926 through 1974 the school at the corner of Canboro Road and Balfour Street, Fenwick, saw thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and support staff walk down its halls. Today the building remains, turned into apartments.

Mr. Ker, principal at the time of closing, wrote in the last edition of the Pelham Pnyx, “But we may be sure that, in any event, as long as there are descendants of its students, the influence will continue for generations.”

Through March, the Maple Acre Branch of Pelham Library hosts a display on the history of Pelham District High School.

 

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