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POSTCARD MEMORIES: Looking back on a lifetime of teaching (14 photos)

Lylia Gwendolyn (Bell) Culbert passed away earlier this year, marking the end of an era for a well-known local family

Postcard Memories is submitted by Jim Culbert

Lylia Gwendolyn (Bell) Culbert.

Lylia passed away peacefully at the Simcoe Manor in Beeton on May 30, 2022.

She was the first child of Mabel (Hill) and Harold Bell of the 14th Concession of West Gwillimbury. It was in the afternoon with Dr. Campbell of Bradford and Mrs. Hill of Coulson’s Hill in attendance.

The day was Sept. 4, 1923.

Mabel and Harold, with their little one on the way, bought a wicker carriage from the Bradford Basket Factory in Bradford. Many years ago now my sister featured it in her new store “Nancy's Nifty Nook” and a well known Bradford man, Mr. Tom Fuller Sr., dropped in and told us it was highly likely that he made that carriage as he worked there in the factory. It is now in my possession (Jim) and has gone through three generations of Culberts and Gilmores.

When mom was born, she had to spoil her, her grandparents Bell and Hill and her great grandmother Bell and great grandfather Hill.

In 1926, Lylia became a sister when Helen Lenore was born on Feb. 16.

In 1926, Lylia's first recollection was going to see her grandfather Bell in his bed shortly before his death. She went into his room and crawled up on the bed. He reached under the pillow and pulled out a peppermint for her. She remembered her grandmother Bell baking in the pantry.

In later years, my father, when he heard the story said, “he must have lured your grandmother into bed with a peppermint!” as they had 12 children!

Mom said they had no hydro, no indoor bathroom, but they had lots to eat and lots of fun.

When mom was very young she went missing and after searching they found her curled up under the rail fence between two posts!

The Bells once had two hired men – Frank Reid and Bert Withinshaw. Every once in a while Frank would “go to the city to see the sights” and would see his girlfriend Rose. Mom was not sure if he really did or not.

In the kitchen there was a mirror where the boys would shave. One day Bert was shaving and Frank told him to stop looking at him or he would cut himself. Bert, you see, was cross-eyed!

One day, mom's aunt Dot (Dorothy) was visiting and announced that she was “going hiking” to the Ritchie farm next door to the east. Mom asked my grandmother why she had to go to Ritchies to “go hiking." That was their special saying when if visiting they had to use the bathroom!

One of mom's highlights each year was maple syrup time. They had maple trees up the lane. They would tap the trees by drilling holes for the spigots to go in. The spigot had a hook on it to hook the pail on which would collect the sap.

They had a stone boat pulled by a horse. In the boat was a barrel to collect the pails full of sap. There was a fire lit west of the house and the sap would be poured into a large iron pot hung over the fire.

Back then it would take about 40 litres of sap to give you one litre of maple syrup!! Mom remembers one such spring sitting by the fire and her great uncle Touse Bateman being there and he would play the bones and sing songs.

When the sap became syrupy it was taken into the house and put in a boiler on the wood stove to “finish it off.”

Mom said there was always music in the house. Her dad played the violin and her mom played the piano. He also played the drums and when he was young, he played in the Bradford Band. He and Gerry Roberts would play in the old country halls for dance nights.

Christmas were always spent in Elmvale with her grandma and papa Hill. They had a general store so the whole family would go up a few days early and her parents would help in the store.

Mom remembered on Christmas Eve, with her sister, going to bed early and imagining they could hear Santa's reindeer on the roof.

Of course, the two “girls” were the only grandchildren so they were spoiled once again. One year she remembered Santa visiting their house and bringing them a little table but only one chair. It was later found in a snow bank in the yard! Helen and mom loved going to the store. The cookies were in an open box and they were allowed to snitch one! Once in Bradford, at Jessie Sutherland's store, mom snitched one and when her mother noticed it, she made her give it back. Jessie said she could keep it but her mother said “No that she had to learn!”

I remember helping count the money at days end. Of course I got the pennies to count!

“In those days, aeroplanes were very few and if we heard a motor everyone was out looking. One was forced down between our place and the Ritchie farm. I can still see a parachute in our back kitchen and some other gear.

We were discussing it at Bob Sturgeons 80th birthday and he said it came down on the boarder of our farm and Ritchies. Bob remembers it being in May 1929 just before we started school. Bob said that we went in May just to see how school would be and that he and some boys skipped school to see the downed plane!

School days (In mom's words)

"I began my schooling at SS#14 Steele's Corner in May 1929. I was upset when I heard that Miss Hunt had resigned and that we had Miss Irene Taylor as my first teacher. It was her first year teaching and we thought she was beautiful. She had two special dresses she wore – one pink and one blue.

She taught two years and then married dad's cousin, Doug Kneeshaw. They became life-long friends with mom and dad and when their daughter was born they went over all the girls she had taught and could not find a name so they started on second names and called her Gwendolyn (my second name) and Marie first name of Marie Moriarity.

I remember the first time I saw her. Helen and I had gone to bed and they called us downstairs to see her. Funny how life works - many years later Gwen married Jim Thompson of Bond head whom I had taught in grades 7 and 8 in Bond Head school.

Whenever we didn't get a ride to school the Moriarity's, Sturgeons and us would walk. We were warned not to play in the ditches when there was water in them. One day on the way home from school I “walked” the fences too far and couldn't cross the ditch.. As fate would have it my dad came along in the car and I knew I was “in for it.” I had to “walk the fence” across a field before I reached Ritchie's. Needless to say I received deserved punishment when I got home and rightly so. Never was I that foolish again and it was the one and only time my dad spanked me that I remember. It was always mom who disciplined me.

We always had Christmas Concerts at school and relatives and friends came mostly by sleigh or horse and cutter if there was a lot of snow. I remember when I was older being in an “Alice Blue Gown” skit and dance and my partner was Harold Cronan. We girls had blue paper dresses I believe. Years later I was in the same skit in high school and Carrie Neilly was my partner. There were no electric lights but some parents brought Coleman lights. Of course Santa came and was always the highlight of the year.

The Moriaritys lived at the top of the hill on the 14th overlooking the Hollows (Norbert and wife Gertrude, children – Bill, Lou, Marie, Irene, Mary, Connie, Margie.)

Going east was Sturgeons (Bill and wife Valletta, children – Florence; Bob; Dyce; Jean; and Margaret.) Next was our farm (Harold and Mabel, children – myself and Helen.) Next was Linwood Surgeon, wife and daughter Mary. Finally the Ritchies.

Before my grandmother Bell died, I fell against the open 'back kitchen stove oven door' and that was how I got the scar on my forehead. She thought in time it would heal itself. In those days you went to the doctor only if absolutely necessary!”

Back in the '30's, if your parents had passed on, it seemed that the oldest son of the parents became the patriarch of the family. Uncle Roy Bell, according to my Dad (Harold) thought Highway 11 was becoming busy and Ernest and Iva (Stewart) Bell, along with their children Bob, Andrew and John should buy our farm on the 14th. and we should move to the 50 acres we owned on Highway 89.

(John stayed on the farm with his mom. On Oct. 28, 1981, they sold to aunt Iva and uncle Ernest's grandson Jim Bell becoming the third generation of that part of the Bell family to own the land. Aunt Iva was so proud that Belcroft would stay in the family.)

So the moving began! We were moving out and uncle Ernest and aunt Iva were moving in. I can still see young John in a cot in the bedroom where mom and dad slept.

Dad had already owned 50 acres on the town line of Innisfil. He always said it produced more grain etc. on that land then most 100-acre farms! This is where we headed to.

There was an old frame house on the property, but we did not have time to fix it up so we lived with uncle Roy and aunt Mary on the farm just west of our 50 acres. The old house was a frame building with need of repairs. Dad started to scoop out a basement with the aid of a horse, just south of the existing site. I remember the day the old house was rolled up the incline and put on the new foundation.

I know Dick Saint and Lew Neilly did some of the work but not sure what. The inside was plastered and the outside walls were cemented.

There was a dining room and front veranda added on at this time.

Dad was working on the roads as an overseer and the carpenters asked mom if she wanted a room above the dining room. They said there were only a few sticks of wood needed as the roof was already planned for. She agreed and the room was almost built when dad's uncle Touse Bateman came along and told them to take it down and put the roof on as planned. Back then you didn't question your elders!

There were cement steps up to an area off the north kitchen door and we put an old cabin on the cement where we had a couch and a bathtub for summer use! We were in heaven! A bathtub even though we had to warm water on the wood stove and take it to the tub. It wasn't the Ritz, but a start. In later years it was closed in and a nice sun room was enjoyed.

There was a good barn there. On either side of the upstairs floor was a place on the left for the grains and on the right for the hay. In the middle implements were stored when not being used and at harvest time the threshing machine would be moved in. During this time, the grain would be piped into the granary and the straw was blown into a stack outside and brought inside when needed to “bed down” the stock.

I remember well that day in the late '30's early '40's when I was “driving the slings.” Dad was in the mow and had just started down the ladder when he missed a step and fell down backwards his head hitting every step! Was I scared. We helped him to sit on a hay bale and I went to the house to call the Doctor. He told us to take him to the house, have him lie down, but not to let him sleep for very long at a time. Thankfully all was well in the end.

Downstairs, the horse stalls were on the east side and the cattle on the west side. In between we stored grain and straw for the animals and it was also home for the swine.

Cows were milked by hand. At first, the milk was separated (milk and cream). The milk was used in the house and the rest went to the calves and the swine. (mixed with chopped grain). Sometimes young calves would not take to their mom so dad would dip his finger in the milk and feed the calf all the time coming closer to the mother and the calf would finally take to its mothers teat.

It was a good day when we got a milking machine and shipped milk to the local dairy.

My teaching days

After receiving my teacher's diploma at Toronto Normal School in 1942, I was hired to teach at Craigvale School (east of Stroud) for the sum of $950 per year and $50 extra if I was suitable. My salary was $1,000 that year. I spent two years there at a school built the same as SS#4.

My first morning, at around 9.30, there was a knock at the door. When I answered, a very tall young man asked to see the teacher and was surprised I was “her." I enjoyed two years there and throughout the years still saw some of my pupils. Four of my pupils were children of a lovely lady who worked in my grandfather Hill's store in Elmvale and I was very fond of, Jennie (Greenlaw) Neely. Another pupil, Reta (Mooney) Ham, at one time owned a bakery in Bradford.

Her sister Blossom married (Fred Switzer) and lived in Bond Head. And when I began teaching again in 1960 at Sir William Osler school I taught her son Gary Switzer in grade 6. Small world. A grade one student Norma (Givens) Smurthwaite I see often at curling dos or card parties with the IODE.

Ross Wallace was not able to attend school until Grade 8 (my final year) and I would go to his home once a week with work for him to do in Grade 7 and take his homework home to mark. Of course, I always had a wonderful meal ready by his mom Helen and chauffeured home by his dad Harold. Years later Ross taught at Bowles school. The three of them became life long friends and until all their deaths would be asked to family functions.

In 1944, my husband to be and myself picked out my engagement ring at my uncle's jewellery store in Alliston, but it had to be sized. He did so and sent it to me at Craigvale by post. I had no car and anxious to get it so I sent a senior student on his bicycle to pick it up at the post office! This seems so unreal in our society today.

We had a Christmas concert each year and each one had a part. Paper costumes were made for the “Alice Blue Gown” drill and parents and older boys set up chairs and made sure we had Coleman lamps for lighting. We even had a dance afterwards. It was a wonderful two years and we had many good times. On Easter Thursday before Good Friday 1943, we had a party at school but I was feeling miserable and tried to send the pupils home early, but they were having fun and did not want to leave. Turned out I had the measles, was quarantined, and didn't get back to school until May 10.

For two years I boarded with Charlie and Elsie Sproule and their daughter Joyce. Elsie helped with the barn chores as did Joyce. I was always ready for supper and would often set the table, put on the veggies etc. so we could eat sooner. I remember one night I was alone and I was putting a large stick of wood in the living room stove and I pushed it too hard and a stove leg slipped and fell and the stove leaned over. Thankfully I contacted the neighbours who put it together again.

On June 29, 1943, the students came for their report cards and presented me with a lovely casserole. With a few tears we said goodbye and everyone went home for lunch and I hope they remember the good times we had as I do.

(At this point, mom has pointers, so I hope it is right)

Sept. 5, 1944, I started teaching at the “Old” Bond Head School. It had a stove at the back where students would take turn stoking the stove in winter.

There was quite a group of kids many taller than me!

I boarded with Mrs. Jardine who was at the south end of Bond Head on Highway 27. It was a long walk to school each day. We had a Beeton telephone exchange so I would go over to MacLean's to call mom and dad and Bus.

I was married in 1945 and when school resumed in fall I was Mrs. Culbert. Gordie Brown asked me “Who are you Miss Bell or Mrs. Culbert?" Bud Brown became an electrician.

Enid Brown wrote a letter to me when in hospital with Nancy. It was about the new teacher. Back then when a teacher began showing they were pregnant they had to leave their teaching duties. Enid was not happy with the teacher and let me know!

Jim Thompson married my namesake Gwen Kneeshaw. Her mother was my first teacher. He was good with the little ones.

Reynolds – Doug (going home) (fire) (baby) sorry nothing added here.

Twins Wallace and Walter. Their wives always asked me which was most stubborn…would not tell them! Boys always called me Mrs. Culbert till the day they died!

Alice Smith lived near me when married Mrs. John Lloyd now a grandmother.

Marion Burton – always looked for her at Cemetery Day.

Whiteside - Don, Etta, Tom, Bill, Bonnie, Nancy. One of boys hat down toilet.

They all tell me what they did then!! When I left Bond Head they gave me a toaster and frying pan. Where ever I go I see kids I taught then and in the 1960s.

In 1949, I was hired as a supply teacher to assist Isobel Baynes due to the attendance of many new Canadians.

(I am sorry. I never saw these writings until after mom's death. I would have had her elaborate)

Now my writings from marriage of mom and dad. July 21, 1945

Mom and dad settled into married life on 5th Concession of West Gwillimbury Township. Dad had been renting the 100-acre farm from the estate of the executors of a man from Toronto. When the will was ready to close, the farm was to be sold. Mom and Dad had no idea what they were going to do and where they would have to move to.

One Sunday morning, mom was at the little 2nd West Gwillimbury Presbyterian Church across the road from the farm and when she came home, dad told her he had had a visitor while she was away in the name of Dave Sutherland.

Dave asked dad what they were planning to do when the farm was sold? Dad still had no idea where they would end up. Dave mentioned that he had heard rumours of dad's early farming tactics but had faith in dad that now he was married he would look after the affairs of farm life favourably. He told dad he and his wife Myrtle (Coutts) had talked it over and wanted to help them if they could. The Sutherland's had no children so they were willing to give the newlyweds a mortgage on the property so they could buy the place and stay on the farm. With mom's teaching and dad's farming they felt that they could swing the finances and at the end of each year’s crop in, they would pay on the mortgage.

They took the Sutherlands up on the proposal and became land owners.

They had a successful life on the farm with a good dairy herd and good rich soil to make things grow. They raised three children: Nancy, myself (Jim), and younger sister Cheryl. There were good times and hardships.

Mom stayed home while we children grew up and did supply teaching. The last half year of the one room school system mom was approached by the school board that they needed a teacher at SS#3. Would mom consider the position? They talked it over and with the agreement of the board, I would leave SS#4 and Nancy would leave SS#6 and we would go to SS#3. Nancy was put through entrance to high school and I into grade 6. It was great fun there and mom enjoyed the children there. She said it was like one big happy family.

The next year, 1961, mom took the position of grade 6 teacher at Sir William Osler School on Highway 88. This was a new situation for both students and teachers as we there was only one grade in the room. Before that, 8 classes were in one room.

Nancy and Gord were married in 1966. Grandson Robert came along on Dec. 15, 1966.

After retirement there were holidays together, with family or friends, Mom and Dad loved curling and were members of Bradford Curling Club.

Grandson Michael was born Nov. 19, 1971.

Mom joined the IODE and took her turn as Regent for her chapter.

Jim was married to Mary Guerin December 1977. She had a son Jason.

In 1980, Cheryl married Robert Armstrong.

A third grandson was Todd, born June 23, 1982.

Five years later, another grandson Kevin was born on March 28, 1987.

Mom's mother passed away Nov. 22 1992, at the age of 94.

Mom's father died on Jan. 6, 1996 at 99 years old. Six days before Roberts first child Sarah was born. This made mom a great grandmother. We had hoped for a fifth generation picture.

Cheryl married David Stevens on July 20, 1996

Dad and mom moved from Queen Street in Bradford to the first condo building built on Holland Court in October of 1997. We had our first family Christmas there and mom and dad hosted the “gang” for New Years.

On Jan. 6, 1998, dad had a stroke and was hospitalized then to Bradford Nursing home and then back to Southlake. On March 13, 1998, mom and dad met their first great grandson Joshua Young and on March 14, 1998, dad passed away. I remember after the funeral going home and mom remarked, “well I guess this is the first day of the rest of my life!”

On Jan. 25, 2000, Michael and Corrina presented mom with a third great grandchild, Remington.

Mom stayed in the condo until December 2008 when she moved to Roberta Place Retirement home. She had many years there enjoying the facility where she would remind us that she was a “Kept Woman!” Meals supplied, house cleaned and lots of entertainment and games.

Mom's fourth great grandchild, Lars, was born on Feb. 20, 2015.

Robert, her first grandson, passed away on Oct. 23, 2015. It was a sad time for mom, but she shouldered on. Just before her 95th birthday she fell off the bar stool while having a toddy after game night. “Well, I guess I am cut off for tonight” she laughed! Then she realized something was wrong and she went by ambulance with a broken hip. She never returned to Roberta Place.

After the operation on her hip, I called from P.E.I. to see how she was. She remarked “Oh the old bag is alright!” That was mom taking everything in stride with a smile on her face.

After Barrie hospital, she had to go to Barrie Manor for rehabilitation. Bob Faris, a student she taught at SS#4 was there after a stroke, so it was nice to see a familiar face. After a month, mom left the Manor to move to the first retirement home in Bradford called The Elden of Bradford. When I told the residence that mom was leaving, they remarked, "we will miss her smile."

Walking into the Elden, mom had a suite on the second floor that gave extra help to the residents. The first resident to move in was a childhood neighbour, Bob Sturgeon. They were born across the road from each other the same year. He moved in in the morning and mom in the afternoon. They went all through school together, lived 5 miles from each other on farms and ended up in the same place in their elder years.

Mom's fifth great grandchild, Sutter, was born Jan. 28, 2017

Just before her 86th birthday, she fell and broke the other hip. This time she didn't bounce back as well and was in a wheelchair from then on. One of her workers at the Elden once said “When I felt down, I would go see Lylia for a Lylia smile which made me feel good again. 

Just before her 97th birthday, we were into COVID-19, so it was impossible to see mom. She fell and broke her nose! While at the Elden, mom's sister Helen died on May 27, 2018 and her brother-in-law Earle on April 27, 2019

As time passed, mom needed more help so she moved to Simcoe Manor Beeton. One of the residents there was long-time neighbour of mom and her parents, Wayne Kneeshaw, son of Gordon and Lillian. It was nice again to see a familiar face in new surroundings.

I travelled up to Beeton to get mom settled in. The first morning after the move, mom looked around and I remarked, “It doesn't look like home.” She nodded and the next day the pictures were up and she seemed more settled.

I would take her out on walks in the wheelchair down to the little mall and then behind the mall to the school yard. She enjoyed seeing the kids and they would wave to mom.

The last time I was up, which was Mother’s Day, I asked her the same question I did over the years, “Are you ready to go see dad?” This time the answer was “yes." Mom was tired and ready to go.

The day I left to go back to the Island we went for a walk, I read the last chapters of Bob Sturgeon's last book and then we went inside to her room. I said “Mom, I am going home today. I will be back for your birthday in September. I love you.” Her reply was “I hope so. I love you.”

I didn't want to leave her alone so I took mom into the lounge where Bridge Over Troubled Water was playing. I turned on the phone video and we listened to the whole song. Looking at it now, I realized that we were both thinking this is our last time together.

Mom passed away May 30, 2022 as I was trying to get a flight home.

Unfortunately, because of COVID we did not have a public wake or funeral.

Mom rests now with her beloved husband of 53 years.

We miss you mom and your smile!

We would like to thank you for all the lovely cards, flowers, donations to various charities and the many kind words via e-mail and Facebook.

We, her children, have been so lucky to have had mom into her 99th year.

Looking back, we realize that she has out lived many of her pupils from Craigville and Bond Head Schools.

Mom was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

She loved life and always had “that smile." Finally, on Mother's Day Week, she said she was ready to be with her beloved husband of 53 years R.J. (Bus) Culbert.

We take comfort that she is now up in heaven with all that have gone before her.

Rest well, dear mom, until we join you and dad.

Nancy, Jim and Cheryl.