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POSTCARD MEMORIES: One-room schools left lasting legacy

Columnist Jim Culbert recalls the fun he had during the twilight of Simcoe County's single-room schoolhouse era

I was sorting and moving things to get ready for Christmas when I came across a picture of the SS#3 school.

Three students were Westlake children.

As a lot of you know from past stories, I was raised on a farm on the 5th Line of West Gwillimbury.

There were quite a few farmers in the area who I would visit with Dad on outings — some on farm business, some just a friendly hour out of the day to visit.

One such place was the home of Bob and Emlyn Westlake. We would usually sit in the massive kitchen, where I would listen to the dads talking. Occasionally, there would be another young child in or out of the house, but I never really got to know them as they went to another one-room school.

The last year of the one-room schools in Simcoe County was 1960. My sister, Nancy, and I were at the SS#4 school. Halfway through the school year, the teacher left and they were in need of a teacher at SS#3. They asked my mom if she would be interested in teaching the last half of the year. By then, I was in Grade 4 at SS#4, my sister was at SS#6 Middletown, and Mom would be at SS#3. She said she would go if she could bring Nancy and I with her. The board was in a bind, so it consented and off we went to another school.

It was there that I met a lot of new children, and three of the pupils were Westlakes. It was a wonderful year, and we were like one big, happy family. Kathy Westlake was in Grade 8, Doug was in Grade 4 and Betty was in Grade 1. Ken had left public school, and Lawrence and Diane were not of school age yet.

It is a friendship that still goes on today.

In 1907, Bob’s parents moved to the north half of Lot 5, Concession 5, West Gwillimbury with three children tagging along. There, three more children were born, one being Robert “Bob” on April 4, 1911. The house was constructed of wood with a mud brick facade. After his father’s death in 1938, Bob took over the farm and the care of his mother. She died in 1954.

As fate would have it, Bob and Emyln were at the creamery delivering milk, and young Bob asked Emlyn out to a local church function at the Presbyterian church on the 5th Line.

The next year, 1942, Bob married Emlyn (Turton), who was born July 16, 1923. On the farm, they raised six children: Ken (1942), Kathryn (1946), Doug (Aug. 19, 1951, to Jan. 17, 2014), Betty (1953), Lawrence (Jan. 21, 1956, to Nov. 24, 1989) and Diane (1958).

In 1938, Bob went on the school board for SS#3. On June 15, 1947, he chaired the first meeting of the amalgamation of all the schools in West Gwillimbury. After 11 years as a school trustee, he ran for councillor for West Gwillimbury, a position he held until 1959. He also was the drainage inspector for many years. In 2016, Bradford recognized Bob’s contributions to the community by naming a street Westlake Crescent in one of the new subdivisions.

Bob was an innovative farmer, usually the first on the land in the spring and the first to have the harvest done in the fall. He was keen to modernize farming and was the first to own a combine in the area. Not liking the milking part of farming, he sold the cattle in the early 1950s and cash-cropped until his retirement.

Bob was a self-taught electrician and plumber, and he was busy in the winter, putting in hydro and bathrooms in many surrounding homes. He also liked to update and renovate their home, changing walls, adding new exterior siding, and I remember his barn was always in tip-top shape.

In 1972, I bought the Whiteside house at County Road 88 and Highway 400 and was looking for someone to help me wallpaper some of the rooms. I asked around and was told Emlyn was the lady to help me. The first day on the job, she came with buckets, scissors, levels, and tape measures. I supplied the table, where she taught me to make the proper cuts going around doors and windows and, most importantly, how to match the paper. We had great fun, and when I was last in the house, the wallpaper was still on the walls.

The house remained in the Westlake farm until 1973, when they retired and sold the farm. They moved to 10th Sideroad, overlooking the marsh. I was living up the road by that time and would often drop in. Bob died on Dec. 5, 1980.

After Bob’s death, Emlyn moved to 200 Holland Court, where she lived until 2012. She then moved to Kingsmere in Alliston for a year, and then to Beeton Village before going to Matthews House Hospice in Alliston. She died on Dec. 17, 2017, at 94 years old.

They were members of the Bond Head United Church, and Emlyn was a charter member of the Tec-We-Gwill Women’s Institute, which was founded in 1947. She always had a big smile and a hug when I would be up in Bradford and meet her on the street or at church.

Ken left the Bradford area when he joined the Ontario Provincial Police, and he was stationed in Shelburne for 10 years. He retired and switched to his first love — truck driving. His career lasted for 28 years with Labatt. He and his wife, Diane, live in Orangeville. They have two children.

Kathryn was the last of the Westlake children to live in the area. In 2016, she and her husband, Mike Ulicki, moved to Briar Hill in Alliston. Kathryn has three children.

Doug moved to Red Deer, Alta., for a while, and his two children were born there. Doug was living in Caledon when he died in 2014.

Betty and her husband, Carman Buttars, live in Cambridge, where they raised their two children.

Lawrence moved to Red Deer, and it was there he died in 1989. He had one son.

The youngest child, Diane, married Keith Ferguson, and they live in Belmont, near St. Thomas. They had three children.

Looking back at the picture of SS#3, I think of the fun we had during that last year of the one-room schoolhouse.