Sunday, 5 July 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 11 - Finishing High School

Widdifield Secondary School, North Bay Ontario
In my previous entry, I talked about the families move back to North Bay, my Dad's last posting in the Canadian Forces. As I recall, there was no house-hunting trips back then as there are nowadays. For the most part, families moved from military housing on one base to military housing on the the next. Buying homes off-base was the rarity, not the norm as it is now. So when we arrived in North Bay in the summer of 1972, we already had been allocated a PMQ and just had to wait for our furniture to arrive so we could move in. While we waited, my parents had to find a high school for me to attend. Schooling wasn't a problem for my younger brother, John, as he was still young enough to attend the Junior school on the base. The Canadian Forces still had public schools at all of their major bases and students who weren't going to High School would still attend the base school.

I was in a different situation. When we got to North Bay, I still had two years of High School left before I went to university or just finished with school and started working. I did plan to attend university but didn't really know what I wanted to take there, so I was hedging my bets somewhat. I wanted to continue with languages, so we started off checking out the local high schools that taught as many languages as possible. The first place we went was Scollard Hall, the Catholic Secondary School, an all-boys school, taught by the Catholic brothers. It turns out the only language it taught was French, so needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed. Besides, I don't know that I wanted to go to an all-boys school. (Having said that, John later attended Scollard when he hit High School age and I think he enjoyed it).

The next school we checked with was Widdifield Secondary School, located at the bottom of Airport Hill, on Ski Club Road. At Brookfield Secondary School, in Grade 11, I had taken English, French, Spanish and German. Widdifield, unfortunately, didn't offer German, but it did offer Spanish. So even though I was disappointed, it seemed the best solution and I was registered there.

Class 12B - My First year at Widdifield
So I was now prepared for Grade 12, my second last year of High School. Once again I found myself in this strange situation of entering a school in the middle, in a classroom of people who, for the most part, had gone through public school and the early years of high school together and, so were familiar with each other and comfortable with the school. I won't say they weren't friendly and that they didn't make me feel immediately at home, but I often found myself wandering around in sort of a twilight zone, a stranger in a strange and, so to speak.

The rest of the class
Each day started off the same; I'd get on the bus at the base (a service contracted by the military for those kids who went to school off-base), head down to Widdifield with the base kids who attended Widdifield. (There were other high schools they could have attended, of course, Scollard or its counterpart St Joseph's for the girls, Chippewa or Ecole Algonquin, if you wanted a French - based education). Then I'd go to my locker, get my books for the morning, put my bag lunch in my locker and meet my classmates in the lunchroom, while we awaited the bell for home room. There was a group of us that hung about together; Robin Harkness, Mike Larochelle, Doug Meikle, Alain Normand, etc. We didn't necessarily take all the same classes throughout the day, but the day started off in homeroom. Our homeroom teacher and English teacher was Mrs. Fahlgren and even though I loved reading, English was never a favourite subject of mine. I liked to read, not necessarily talk and write about the books I read. (Remember this statement when I get to my university courses.)

Mrs Fahlgren in top right, as is Mr Southcott, Grade 13 English
 I enjoyed Grade 12 and my follow-on year as well. I took the basics, English, French, Spanish, Phys Ed, Chemistry (I think I had that as my science class in Grade 12), a Math Course. I had a full course load of 8 subjects, but I can't remember the others. Maybe that was the year I took Man in Society and Business Finance. I do remember visiting a local business as part of one of my courses; in fact, it was the local funeral parlour (I think I thought it would be shocking). There were no bodies on display for me, but the degree program I was told about interested me for about an hour or so.

My main school activity in Grade 12 was the curling team. We won the North Bay schoolboy title and got to represent North Bay in the Northern Ontario Secondary School Association (NOSSA) championships, which were held in Espanola that year. Mr Morton, our chemistry teacher, was the team's coach. As you can see, we made the local newspaper, especially noted was the shot of the year made by our skip, Paul Hector. We did not win the NOSSA tournament, had we done so, we would have represented NOSSA in the national championships.

Grade 13 - Final year!!!
Needless to say, I did graduate from Grade 12 with honours and after a summer of fastball and helping Dad at the base theatre, I moved on to Grade 13. Ontario was the only province which had a Grade 13. The rest, with some twists by Quebec and Newfoundland, basically only went as high as Grade 12. Grade 13 was a bit like a preparatory 1st year university. (As a point, Ontario has joined the rest of the country in recent years by stopping Grade 13). There was a credit program throughout high school and depending on how many courses you took in the first 4 years, it gave you options on how many classes you needed to take in Grade 13. Because I had taken a full course load each year in the previous 4 years, I technically only had to take 6 classes in Grade 13. But once again, I was hedging my bets because I had no idea what I wanted to take in university. I was pulled in two directions (neither which I ultimately followed), one being taking Pharmacy, the other taking Languages. So in Grade 13, I took English Lit, French Lit, Spanish, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Phys Ed.

Mr Wilson, Spanish and M. Perron, Fr Lit
Our home room teacher and English Lit teacher was a ball of fire by the name of Mr. Southcott. He loved English and loved teaching and his students, whether they liked English or not, were bound to feel his passion and want to do well. I actually enjoyed my last year of English very much, still remember buying an album of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung music due to his influence and still remember a couple lines of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock due to his enthusiasm. Consider his quality of teaching at one level of a scale and I'd lump in Mr Wilson, my Spanish teacher, and M. Perron, my Fr Lit teacher, in that group, with Mr Stickle at the bottom end. I don't know how many times he wasn't there to teach Biology, unless we were dissecting a foetal pig or a yellowish rat, but instead just told us to read so many pages. It was hilarious. While I enjoyed chemistry, my lack of interest in Biology and Physics lead me to a pretty quick decision that Pharmacy wasn't going to be the program for me at university. I only passed Physics because all of the exams were open book and we could write all of the formulae in the inside pages and also because before each test, we practised with the last year's test. :0)

Once again I was on the Widdifield team that participated in the local schoolboy championships. Unfortunately, our arch-enemies, Chippewa won the local tournament but because two teams from each district got to go to the NOSSA finals, we were still able to move on to the championships, that year held in Sudbury. It was a huge curling club and we played beside teams that were competing the Northern Ontario Seniors championships. Once again, we didn't advance beyond this competition, but it was still a great experience.

Once a nerd, always a nerd. :)
One of the nice things about being a Grade 13 student was that we had our own break lounge where we could relax away from the unwashed masses of junior students. Just kidding, I think most them were washed. I enjoyed my two years at Widdifield, it was a nice way to finish off high school. As you can see, I tricked them into giving my good enough marks to be considered an Ontario Scholar.  One of the nice things was getting a cheque for $100 as a reward. (I'm sure I spent it pretty quickly on books and records)
So my High School years were finished and I had some decisions to make. During my final year I had visited Ottawa, as part of a Professional Development week, checking out Carleton University and also the Department of External Affairs as I thought if I continued taking languages at university, it might stand me in good stead if I applied at External Affairs. The thought of working at Canadian embassies was appealing. I was somewhat discouraged by my appointment at External Affairs as he wasn't at all encouraging about job opportunities.

While I'll get into this more in my next entry, over the summer between finishing high school and starting university, I applied at Carleton University, School of International Politics, University of Toronto, the Bachelor of Arts program and I think also at University of British Columbia. I also started the process of applying for the Canadian Forces Regular Officer's Training Program (ROTP). Because of my Ontario scholarship, I could have attended North Bay's Nipissing University with free tuition and lived at home for free, but I was ready to try and experience the world a bit by then. Of course, the other option I considered was taking a year off school and working for awhile. I was burned out from my full course load and thought maybe a year's sabbatical might be a good idea. My fear was that if I took a year off, I wouldn't want to go back to university and that would be the end of my formal education.

So, that summer, I worked as a desk clerk at the Continental Hotel (night shift) and also as a cleaner at a local kid's daycare during the day and awaited my fortune. I bet you can't wait to find out, eh?

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