Spencer celebrates centennial Saturday

Carla Sumarlidson’s entire history as a student and then a teacher at Herbert Spencer school is captured in a display of class photos outside her classroom. - Mario Bartel/NewsLeader
Carla Sumarlidson’s entire history as a student and then a teacher at Herbert Spencer school is captured in a display of class photos outside her classroom.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

Carla Sumarlidson was a good little girl when she attended Herbert Spencer elementary from 1966 to 1973.

Every once in a while, though, she’d be sitting in class and a rush of guilt would come over her when she heard the clicking of metal echoing across Spencer’s hallway walls. They were coming from the Blakey’s shoe protectors worn by principal O.B. Elliot as the big bear of a man with a booming voice marched down the hall. To the students the sounds were synonymous with fear because it often meant someone was about to be punished with the strap.

“I was deathly terrified of getting into trouble. I didn’t do anything wrong but I was terrified,” laughs Sumarlidson, who now teaches at Spencer. “He was a soft-spirited, kind-hearted individual, but he had this massive persona.”

The school that sits kitty corner to Queen’s Park will celebrate its 100th anniversary Saturday. Elliot played a huge role in the school, first serving as a teacher in 1941 and then doing two stints as principal before retiring in the late 1970s. His son is expected to attend the celebration.

Sumarlidson’s role hasn’t been as grandiose as Elliot’s, but it’s still fairly significant in length. She went to Spencer from 1966 to 1973, and then returned as a teacher in 1992. Sumarlidson didn’t realize how much time she’d spent there until the beginning of the current school year when she was adding to her collection of class pictures on the wall and her students asked, “How many years have you been here?”

“Well, why don’t you count them,” she replied.

They didn’t stop until they hit 19.

“So that means this is my 20th anniversary year teaching here, boys and girls,” a shocked Sumarlidson told her students.

“You really don’t look that old Ms. Sumarlidson,” they told her.

“They got a good chuckle because it was a surprise to me how long I had been there,” says Sumarlidson.

Fear of the strap

Beside the pictures of her classes are ones from her own Grade 2 and 5 classes. In both she is sitting at the far left end of the front row, prim and proper with her hands in her lap.

Despite her fear of the strap, Sumarlidson had lots of fun at Spencer. It’s where she got her first taste of art education from Miss Yip, which is the subject Sumarlidson teaches at Spencer.

So when the job opening came up and she got it, she was “ecstatic, super excited.”

“I really wanted to work here,” she says.

On her first day when she walked into the staff room she saw many of the same faces that had taught her a couple of decades before. Soon she knew how they felt because several times she’s seen familiar faces from the past in another form.

“I’ve taught a lot of children of people I used to go to school with. I’m just waiting now for the grandchildren to come,” jokes Sumarlidson.

Sumarlidson isn’t the only one with two lives at Spencer. Principal Tracy Fulton started there as a student in 1962 and met her husband there as well. They’ve even stuck around the neighbourhood, raising their kids across the street from the school. She became principal 12 years ago after her children had left.

The Fultons had a front-row seat when the original structure, which had a major renovation in 1963, was taken down after the present state-of-the-art building was opened April 15, 1993.

“My husband and I were very sad,” says Fulton. “It was hard to watch. What was hard to realize is at the end of the week it was gone.”

Spencer alumni now on staff also include Emily MacLeod and Jessica Dietcher.

The school’s most famous student is Victoria Cross recipient Smokey Smith, who attended the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies at the school prior to his death in 2005. The school’s gymnasium is also named after him.

While the present students will celebrate the centennial with a special assembly today (Friday), everyone else is invited to come Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to swap stories and treasured memories.

“I do live in the now. I don’t go back in the past, but I do enjoy the memories,” says Sumarlidson, who is looking forward to finding out who will show up Saturday. “I know I’m going to be surprised. That’s part of the fun.”


Some memories of Herbert Spencer Elementary School’s 100 years from former students:

I think it was early in the 1935-36 school year when I came to Herbert Spencer. Mr. Ashworth, the school principal, was our main teacher and I know he taught spelling at least, because one day he took me to his office and gave me three limp slaps of the strap for misspelling two words. That was the old-time teaching method—for him anyway. Mr. Ashworth also gave out report cards. He rated me 4 for conduct—that was the lowest. I got very good marks for the other subjects however.

One day we were climbing the stairs on the way to library when I either stuck something in a girl’s hair or pulled it. She reported it to Miss Bowell who took me to the front of the library and gave me a couple of weak slaps of the strap. She was a very kind and gentle lady. It probably hurt her more than me. However a male teacher must have heard about the incident so he decided to administer his justice. He took me to the front steps of the school and gave me five hard ones on each hand. I didn’t like that.

What I most remember is that we were a happy school. No fights or bullying or bad language or rowdiness in the halls. And we all mixed together easily. On the playground we had great fun playing softball, the catcher with his back close to the old cedar tree and fielders trying to catch a ball without tripping over the rough ground.

– Graham Campbell


My girlfriend Norma and I once got a detention from Mrs. Lloyd for laughing so much during class. We stayed after school for the detention but Mrs. Lloyd forgot about us so we finally left after about an hour. She was a nice teacher but we just got carried away.

I remember Mrs. Smith because I had a big nosebleed in class and she helped me. The blood ran out all over a pretty white-with-tiny-red-polka-dotted-dress that my mother had just made for me. Another time I had a nosebleed while I was in the girls washroom in the basement. Mrs.Smith had me lay down on the tile floor and there was a circle of girls standing around me watching. I felt quite embarrassed.

I sure remember Miss McKaskill because she taught us how to handwrite. She told us to hold our pencil between our thumb and forefinger and to cup our hand around an imaginary golf  ball. I used to practise my handwriting at home remembering to sit up straight with both feet planted correctly on the floor, and slanting my writing at a 45-degree angle. I used to parrot her words when I was teaching my own students to write.

I had to stay in after school to work on some long division which I just could not understand. Mrs. B was just as frustrated as I was and got so angry she took a ruler and hit me over the hand. I think I cried so she sent me home. As I was putting on my coat, I swung it over my shoulders, hitting a potted geranium that crashed onto the floor. It was an accident but I got scared and ran home. Many years later when I was teaching math and someone was having problems, I made sure I explained every step carefully so there would be no problems. It turns out  Mrs. B. was my husband’s best  friend’s  aunt.

I remember the playground vividly.  There was a boys side and a girls side. We had a small undercover area to play in when it rained. In the southeast corner of the girls side were tall cedar trees under which we played hopscotch and What Time Is It, Mr  Wolf? I  remember  sweeping  the  area  clean  with  a  fallen  cedar  branch.

– Rose Marie Kopfensteiner-Butterworth


I attended classes between September 1947 and June 1952 and have many wonderful memories—playing Red Rover in the trees at the corner of Sixth Avenue and First Street, playing In and Out the Windows in the inside basement, reading Nancy Drew books in the lovely library at the top if the stairs, collecting newspapers and clothes hangers for drives and of course all the May Day preparations—to name a few. But I believe The Hobby Show was probably the a truly unique experience.

It was held in the spring in the gymnasium and I think it was probably on a Saturday. Prior to the show, students attended craft classes after school in the homes of volunteer parents. I particularly remember attending a class in Mrs. Lawson’s home (mother of Terry) where we went on a nature hike in Queen’s Park and returned to her home to make a craft with our leaves , cones and seeds. Another year I attended a sewing class in the home of Mrs. Highstead ( mother of Sherry) where we hand sewed a skirt and blouse. My mother (Rhoda Sarginson) gave classes in shell craft and nylon flower making. We were all thrilled to present our crafts in the beautifully decorated gym for our parents and teachers to view.

– Sylvia (Sarginson) Cannon

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