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This article first appeared in the October 5, 2011 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Seventy years and counting...

Wakefield school's 70th b-day rings in old memories

By Lucy Scholey

Clarence Hamilton is 83 years old, but the memory of the incident seven decades ago still rings a bell.

The traditional schoolyard signalling device of the day, a giant bell, sat atop the two-storey, yellow wooden building that housed the Wakefield school, and it dangled a rope that teachers could pull to ring up time for class.

Wakefield Elementary School
Wakefield Elementary School in 1984. Photo courtesy the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

But when someone gave the rope an over-enthusiastic yank, the bell toppled from its support and crashed onto the schoolyard. No one was hurt, Hamilton remembered, "but it sure scared the hell out of us."

Hamilton can't exactly remember the date. At 83, he said he's "not as sharp" anymore, but the incident would have occurred more than 70 years ago.

The bell crashed before students packed up and moved to the new building, what is now called Wakefield Elementary School.

In the year of the "new" school's 70th anniversary, Hamilton's memory was still sharp enough to recall the days when he went to class across the La Peche River from Mill Road.

It was back when boys could bring jackknives to school and chalkboards and leather straps were the norm.

It was "Wakefield School" then, not "Wakefield Elementary School."

And he remembered moving to the new location. In spring 1941, the students and teachers packed up their supplies and walked up a trail to the new concrete school.

"It was quite the event," said Hamilton, from his Wakefield home. "Like the Stone Age into the Space Age."

Students had to take off their shoes at the back door, so as not to truck mud across the new fl oors.

Construction was still underway, but pupils were still in awe of the fresh paint, bigger windows and the yard big enough for a baseball game.

While before they used to hang their coats on nails, they now had new hangers. Running water, inside toilets, a library and an assembly room downstairs were novel for the students.

Instead of sharing a desk and a bench with a classmate, each student had an individual desk with a drawer underneath for books and an inkwell on top.

Lawrence Cross said the varnish and new paint burned his nose.

He was from Farm Point, where they closed the school to consolidate with the Wakefield facility.

Another busload of students coming into Wakefield meant bigger class sizes.

Wakefield Elementary School
CHECK OUT THIS WINNER: (From left) Linda Rathwell, Judy Geggie, Joanne Fletcher, Jane Earle, Joy Stewart, Wayne Mahon and Jane Kingsbury pose outside Wakefield Elementary in 1968. The students won a public speaking contest and are showing off their prized trophy. Photo courtesy the Gatineau Valley Historial Society.

Since then, the school has been growing. During the late 1940s, students from surrounding communities would venture into the village on Sunday evenings and stay in a rented room until Friday because there was no bus service. About 150 students attended the school at that time.

In 1968, Philemon Wright High School was built, and Wakefield School became an elementary school, and cut back its grades to six.

When Debbie Dunn-St. Jean went to school in the 1970s, there were about 80 students in total.

"As each year went on, the community got bigger. I'm sure the school got bigger as well," said the third-generation graduate, who now has two children at Wakefield Elementary.

With two portables added in the 1980s and 1990s, plus a new building set to open this November, the school is trying to accommodate its 260-and-growing student population.

It has applied to the West Quebec School Board for an expansion that would include 12 classrooms, a full-sized gymnasium, a daycare, a computer lab and a new classroom for the K4 pre-Kindergarten program.

"We're growing at a much higher rate than the school board average," said Amanda Dexter, the La Peche commissioner for the West Quebec School Board. The future years won't be any slower.

"We're basically growing by a classroom every year for the next 10 years," she said.

As Wakefield grows as a community, so, too, does support for the elementary school.

On Oct. 1, more than 70 people gathered at Edelweiss Golf and Country Club for the school's 70th celebration gala, where past met the present.

Former principals, students and parents of current students were indistinguishable from one another. Mingling, glasses-clinking and signing up for items on the silent auction, the crowd was partying for Wakefield Elementary School - or Wakefield School.

"There's a blend of both new families and old families," said Diane Carman, one of the gala organizers. "And an event like this is good to bring everyone together."

Wakefield Elementary School
Classmates stand on the front steps in 1950, nearly a decade after the new school was built. Photo courtesy the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.
Wakefield Elementary School
A class of younger students sit outside in 1960. Teacher Catherine Moore stands in back. Photo courtesy the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.