John's Canadians

School Days

In 1928, Patrick bought 779 Jessie, across the street, where the family spent the rest of its Winnipeg years -- his first grandson Pat kept the place alive and raised his children there as well.  St. Ignatius school, three blocks away, became an annex to 779.  As well as scholarship itself, it provided an opportunity to sing in the children's choir, a lighted skating rink in winter, tennis courts and sports in summer, and, at least for the four boys, service as altar boys that made them feel privileged and enriched.

As each child advanced through the grades, his unhappy successor heard the same nuns compare them to the paragon gone before.  The Sisters of the Holy Names tended to be tough-minded farm girls who kept effortless discipline with abiding warmth.  All of us counted them among our friends as we became adults.

The huge church basement bustled with activity during the season with Cubs and Boy Scouts, bazaars when we were given a small coin and allowed to stay 'late' to watch the games of chance and to sample some delight or another, plays and presentations. Mother and Dad always attended those school functions, sports and plays that featured their children.

Mother was always at home; she had endless washing, starching of shirt collars and ironing. Like Dad, we all came home for lunch -- to stay at school for lunch was the rarest of treats, usually in connection with some project or cause.  Mother did not bake bread or spend time pickling and canning but she made great cakes with boiled icing, unbeatable shortbread fingers, and her specialty, delicious Irish soda bread. 

In those days, Mother bought much of the family's supplies from vendors with their horse-drawn wagons.  Every service seemed local: our bread and cakes were made in the Bryce Bakery factory down the street and delivered by van, and the Bryce family lived down the street; we went to the funeral of Tony Delapanto, the Italian 'vegetable man' whose horse we fed and knew by name; the Arctic Ice delivery man went to St. Ignatius Church.  The children of Mr. Ringer, the druggist, went to school with us;  Mr. Locke, the butcher, and Wilf Bease, the grocer, kept accounts which Mother paid periodically, and we picked up the orders.  All of them knew us by name and reputation. 

Mary recalls,"I don't remember Mother accompanying Dad for social affairs connected with his business; she was shy about this or not interested in a certain social class. She was always ready for a good chat with neighbours and went to bridge parties and church teas.  Although there was an atmosphere creating a sense of God's immediate presence, holy pictures and frequent references to doing the Holy Will of God, there were few overt manifestations like saying the Rosary together in the home.  Apart from obligatory Sunday Mass, there was Sunday Benediction and the Rosary at church during October and May, as well as special novenas and often daily Mass especially during Lent. All of us were encouraged to go to confession frequently. "

That the children all attended Catholic schools tells of the importance to the parents of education in the faith.  The financial sacrifice must have been great; there was a time when the burden was threefold: provincial taxes which went only to public schools, fees at the private schools, and the contributions to the semi-monthly collection at church supporting St. Ignatius Parochial School.  As well, private-school students had to provide their own text books, although in time the family accumulated enough books to operate its own respectable reference library.  Reading had high priority.

Another memory:  we entertained each other in a variety of ways.  We ate together at every meal;  being together for dinner was important, especially on Sunday, and we traded stories about our individual exploits and chatted about shared interests.  Homework had to be finished before sitting down to dinner, so the evening could be spent together.  There were always good plays or music on the radio or the phonograph.  On occasion, Dad would show a film projected on a white sheet hanging from the arch between living and dining rooms (we got special delight from films run backwards!);  after a film, Dad would rig a plank from the dining table as a narrow stage so we could take turns alone or in pairs in the glare of the projector, having our silhouettes cast on the sheet, inventing plays or making strange creatures of our shadows.

Perhaps these improvisations led us into public performances of one kind and another;  we all took part in school plays and debates.  About 1930, Ted and Des had roles in a Catholic play, based on the Acts of the Apostles, presented first on the St. Ignatius stage and then at a larger theatre downtown:  Des was cured by Peter at the Gate Beautiful, Ted was a Greek selling idols of Diana.  At St. Paul's high school, Des acted in "Riders to the Sea" and "Grotesque in November" and in a funny review in which he and Paul Allen, as a girl on a swing, sang "If you were the only girl in the world..."  A crowd pleaser.  Mother became expert at sewing costumes, and accompanied us to Malabar's, the theatre store, to choose wigs and face-paint.  Mary had opportunities to act in high school, as Creon in "Antigone" and Mrs. Malaprop in "School for Scandal."  John and Frank joined their talents in 1946 in a major presentation at the Walker Theatre of "The Song of Bernadette" sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization.  John began writing radio plays in high school instead of studying.  In all this, the school and church gave us a wide circle of friends with much in common, friendships that lasted beyond our schooldays.  And Dad and Mother were always in the front row, applauding.  Dad would frequently leave congratulatory notes on the newel post for latecomers.

Both Dad and Mother were active at St. Ignatius Church and St. Paul's High School and St. Agnes Priory (Good Shepherd Home) during the Thirties.  Mother served on the Board of St. Paul's Women's Guild.  Dad wasn't a joiner although he had an arm's length connection with the Knights of Columbus, mainly, one suspects, for the insurance package that went with membership;  outside of family, church, school and university bonds he devoted himself to the engineering profession.

As an aside, all the boys served Mass at the church and at St. Mary's Academy at early hours (with breakfast of steak and eggs with the caretakers.  Each Friday morning a nun would count out three 25-cent coins for our services), and all the children sang in school choirs through the years.  Dad, in particular, had a great fondness for classical music and the house frequently rang with recordings of some kind of music.  Despite lessons, only Mary showed her mother's talent for piano;  none of the others mastered an instrument, other than Ted's ukulele.

All the children took active parts in the Boy Scout/Girl Guide movement.  We have a photograph of Ted in the regalia of an Eagle Scout, covered with merit badges.  Through the Scouts in those days, John participated in YMCA activities and developed his interest in photography.  And the boys went camping in trips organized through school and Scouts, often borrowing tents and equipment from Scout headquarters to camp on the Seine River at St. Norbert on the monastery grounds.

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