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The old school


On Remembrance Day, as I walked past the Beaumont Hamel Armory towards the Memorial Grounds, I glanced up at the old school's peak and was taken back to see the barely visible lettering - Grand Falls High School - the original name of 1935.

I was more accustomed to the old school as Grand Falls Academy Elementary, where I was employed as a half time teacher-librarian (other half at GFA Primary) 1975-1998.

Grand Falls High School, and the fort like building on the south side of Bank and Church Roads, were built by a German engineer. My dear father said "he must have been practicing for the war. A bomb wouldn't budge them."

Having seen the old school's basement structure numerous times, I can vouch for my father's assessment. The massive concrete walls and beams have the look of a bunker; not your typical basement. It won't be a picnic busting it apart!

I had recent dreams about the old school. In one, I was in the library with a $2000 budget, even as it was being demolished. In the other, Art Bull, my first principal, had built on an ultra modern extension, including a pool. It was kept secret until Art gave us a tour. When I told that dream to Merv Baker, my second principal, he drolly said "Art would do something like that."

But it wasn't a dream the time Merv and I were near the library and talking. As Merv spoke, he fiddled with the fire alarm to the point of accidentally pulling it. The look on his face was priceless, an everlasting laugh for me. The upside for Merv was catching the teachers off guard with an unplanned fire drill.

The old school had a rich 63 year history. Former teachers and students have enough memories of the place to easily fill a book. Thus, a column hardly does the place justice. But as I once heard said about something else,"You do what you can do."

One such memory for me is the day I took a very expensive set of maps down to the mill; marched right into machine shop and had it touched welded by Gord Oldford. What a service!

Unforgettable is the a grade eight class of 42 students - wall to wall desks and bodies. Innocently, back then, I taught a group, including girls, how to load film for development in a pitch black darkroom. Do that these days? Not on your life!

Over the years the many dedicated, hardworking teachers caught my attention. Here are but a few tidbits: visit Derek Smith's industrial arts class and see him gong a bell and everything stop, pronto; walk by Emily Stoodley's, Gerald Day's or Eric Perry's class and see the students working away, quietly; be in the library as Allied Youth met with their ever patient teacher advisor, Al Hawkins; and see, mainly Les Percy, and at times Dave Wells, give up their lunch time break and gladly conduct inter house sports.

Students at the school for sports, choir, confirmation classes, assembly practice, or unable to go home, often ate a hot lunch made in the basement cafeteria. That smooth, efficient, clean facility was run by the lady in charge, the unflappable, calm, gentle, and kind, Betty Granter; and her student assistants.

Many a day was made brighter with the quiet humour of another principal, George White, and his office sidekick, the motherly, school secretary, Marion Lake. Her wooden desk along with two framed pictures of the Seine in Paris(from the library) and other memorabilia I rescued from the dumpster and have at home.

Absolutely unforgettable is the time I went upstairs and entered the dimly lit corridor only to encounter a monstrous creature flopping towards me at a good clip. My near heart attack scare subsided once I could see - decipher - that it was the huge iguana from Jackie Thompson's class, on the loose, again!

The old school's teachers and support staff are either retired, or have moved on. Some are dead. Others, such as Al Hawkins and Susan Sullivan have resurrected as politicians. Other than being a humble scribe, I am still, lovingly, in a library now at the College of the North Atlantic where I began teaching in 1971.

As for former students, here and everywhere, they are doing it all - be it engineering, medicine, law, business, nursing, retail, pharmacy, policing, military, trades, oil and teaching. And a pleasure it is to hear about the dark horse student doing marvelously well. Death though, spares not even the young.

And where are those two students who stopped me in the corridor years ago? One had a question, the answer, I did not know. But I directed them to a source. Like you would. As they walked away, the other said, "See, I told you, he doesn't know everything!"

The old school's features such as the large windows and high ceilings I really liked. And surely, the adult badminton club must miss the gym with its very high ceiling and hardwood floor.

As for dreams, maybe I was tuning in with the last owner of the place, the lowly Californian who had more interest in our past than many living here. He told me his vision of the then sadly cannibalized school - revitalized, as artist studios. Silly notion! Tell that to Zita Cobb with a similar vision for Fogo where millions are being spent for new facilities from scratch.

By the time Remembrance Day rolls around again the old school will be gone. Carpe diem - seize the day - was its motto. Most unfortunately, another fine building connected to the town's history wasn't seized, preserved and refurbished. What a boost it could have been for our economy and civic pride! 

We are to be pitied! What's next on the wrecking list? Grand Falls House?

Andy Barker at


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