High school meant grades 10 through 12, viagra and for me it meant living in the town of Oak Lake. In those days, the 7 1⁄2 mile journey was too far to consider doing on a daily basis, especially by horseback. I boarded in town but came home to the farm when the roads were good, i.e. in the fall and spring. In winter I stayed in town. I boarded at the home of an elderly Scottish widow, Florence Williamson. She and her handicapped son, Alistair, had a home about 3 blocks from Oakwood High School and I had a bedroom upstairs. Mrs. Williamson, a wonderful lady, had the maiden name of Corbett. One day I mentioned the name “Gentleman Jim Corbett” to her. I remembered reading about Corbett as the last of the bare-knuckle 19th century fighters and a world champion at one time. “We dinna talk aboot that in my family!” she declared. She brobably was related.
A young man in his 30s came to Oak Lake and started a third grocery store when I was in high school. We already had Wallace Bros. and Anderson’s at each end of Oak Lake’s main street, but apparently there was room for one more. Schmaus’ Red and White store was near the post office and smaller than the other two grocery stores. Mr. Schmaus was musical and started a band – or maybe just took over as leader of a moribund brass band as I am sure there were bands in earlier times in Oak Lake. Certainly there were instruments around and I ended up with a cornet, a compressed kind of trumpet. We had band practice on a regular basis, mostly playing military marches but also learning the odd waltz as we were often called on in the winter to play at the skating rink. We seated ourselves on the second floor of the rink’s waiting room and opened the big windows to let out the sound which, unfortunately, also let in the cold. If it was a -30ºF evening, the skaters were scarce and sometimes the valves on my cornet would freeze.
Our high school principal, Clarence E. “Curly” Heapy was a wonderful teacher. First of all, he demanded respect. Actually, he never had to “demand” anything. It never crossed our minds to challenge him. Mr. Heapy had a Grade 12 education and had taken teacher training but not at a University level. But he was a “natural” and could teach a wide range of subjects. He often mixed subjects in a most creative way. I remember one day when he was teaching geometry and asking our class a question and receiving blank stares, he said: None, Brutus, none. Then none have I offended – a Shakespearean quote that fit the situation. A bit of Julius Caesar with your geometry. On another occasion, when we were discussing the concept of pressure in science class, Mr. Heapy asked Telfer Scott to come forward. “Sliver”, said Mr. Heapy (Telfer was skinny – hence the nickname “Sliver”)… stand up on my desk”. Telfer, quite taken aback, complied. “Now, Joyce”, Mr. Heapy continued, “draw a one foot square around Sliver’s feet”. Joyce (Strong) did as she was bid. “How much do you weigh, Sliver?” asked Mr. Heapy. “About 130 pounds, sir”, stammered Telfer. “Well, there you have it! 130 pounds per square foot!” I have never forgotten that example or the way it was taught.
The Oakwood schoolyard was ringed with trees – mostly Manitoba maples and cottonwoods. At the far north-west corner of the grounds stood an old cottonwood tree, a tree Mr. Heapy passed every morning on his way to school, every noon hour when he went home for lunch and returned, every school day after 4:00. At the base of this tree was a pile of pipe ashes – ashes from “Curly” Heapy’s ever-present pipe. But he didn’t allow smoking – by anyone – on the school grounds and he knocked the ashes out of his pipe on that old tree.
Today’s high school graduations are elaborate affairs. By contrast, on the morning of my last grade 12 exam in late June, 1949, I finished up the questions, threw my baseball glove in the back of Stuart Taylor’s 1940 Plymouth and we drove to Fairlight, Saskatchewan, to play in a junior baseball tournament. That was it – no mortarboard cap, no grad dance, no photographs.
Gordon Newton, my best friend to this day, moved to Oak Lake in 1947 when I started grade 11. I had other good friends too, like Mr. Heapy’s son, Gerry, but Gordon and I finished grade 12 together and he went on to take Science at the University of Manitoba, staying in the University residence. I stayed out a year, harvested in the fall of 1949, took the train to Flin Flon… but that’s another part of this story. In the fall of 1950 I started University – the Faculty of Agriculture and Home Economics and spent two years in room 239 of the Men’s Residence with my friend Gordon Newton. My last 3 years at University I boarded at the home of my classmate and good friend Carson Whyte – out in Norwood, a Winnipeg suburb.