Tales from Olive French

In the 1960s, a woman named Olive French began researching and writing a history of Oshawa’s early education, educators, and schools.  This manuscript was never published but was later donated to the archives.  In the early 2010s, Visitor Experience Coordinator Jill Passmore set out to transcribe the manuscript, which was made available to researchers through the blog olivefrench.wordpress.com.  During her transcription process, Jill shared some of her favourite ‘tidbits’ on the Museum’s Facebook page, which bear repeating here on our blog.  Be sure to check out the Olive French site and discover a little more about education and early life in Oshawa.


An anecdote about Beaton’s store: For some reason best known to them, Beaton’s had a display of chamber pots in the window of their china shop. A lady went by with two small children, around the age of four or five years old. When they saw what was in the window, they let it be known in good clear voices – “Oh, look at the jims,” “see all the jim’s”! Their mother decided that she would take the children by, on the other side of the street until Beaton’s changed their window decorations!
Jim’s is possibly a derivative of “Jimmy” and “Jimmy Riddle”, which is British slang for “urinating”


The birch rod, so popular in the early days was gradually ruled out of the schools. Some of the older scholars, on a few occasions had received broken fingers through its injudicious use. The strap became a popular way to emphasize obedience and to stimulate the lazy ones. As a rule the parents did not come to the school and complain about Johnny’s or Mary’s punishment. If a child deserved it he got no sympathy from “ma or pa.” Most children were told, “if you get a lickin’ in school you’re git another when you git home.”


One could scarcely imagine the health authorities of today tolerating a smelly place like Dick Hobb’s fish store (Simcoe Street South).


For the most part the common schoolteachers had only a common school education and no professional training. They were usually discharged soldiers or new comers who were ill equipped to take a more lucrative position. The teacher’s qualifications were his ability to keep order while his pupils memorized their lessons that he assigned to them from their textbooks and recited them to him.


Scholars [at DeMill Ladies’ College] were requested to bring with them, to the college, their own towels, table napkins and ring, one pillow and pillow cases, one pair of sheets and bed covers suitable for the season. They also had to bring a knife, a fork and a spoon, all these articles was to be marked with the owner’s name. They must provide themselves with clothing suitable for the season and were requested to wear inexpensive, neat and plain clothing. More thought was to be given to schoolwork than to dress.


Another escapade took place in Centre Street Public School in 1888 or 1889; this one was not serious but it emptied one of the rooms for a half of a day. One of the pupils, Maisie, aged ten years, whose father kept bees, thought she would see what could be done about a half holiday on a one nice day in the spring. She had no fear of bees whatever and could go out among the bee hives at her home and pick out the drones and the other bees did not attack her. It is believed that those insects are aware of it, when anyone is afraid of them. Drones are male bees and do not sting. At lunch time that day, she put a few drones in her pocket before she left to go back to school. After the bell rang and things got settled down in her room, she let the bees go. There was a near panic of course; no one else knew that the bees were drones. There was no need to dismiss the room; the room dismissed itself, teacher and all. How she ever dared to do a thing like that when Mr. Smith was principal was a question. She must have been brave. No doubt she was punished at school; the teachers wouldn’t have seen any joke about it like her father did. She happened to be my cousin, he was C.S. French.

Centre Street School in the 1920s; A004.14.3

In the earliest years when the High School was in the new building, report cards were not given to the pupils. Marks obtained on the exams were posted on the bulletin boards and the papers were handed back to the pupils. A record was kept in the office of each student’s marks, during the year. Before the final exams in the higher grades, the scholars were called individually to the office for an interview with the principal. He gave his opinion on the advisability of trying or not. A fee was charged for the departmental exams.


An amusing report was printed in the Vindicator April 7th 1876. It was the day of the trustee meeting and not one of them was present. “A number of the members had joined an elocution class and it had met on the same evening. Some very brilliant oration at the meetings was to be expected now. A new pump was needed at the school and it would be an excellent chance for brilliant elocutionary effect for the property committee.”

Also the following; at one time when there was no quorum and no meeting of the school board all of the trustees were attending an oyster supper. Someone suggested that it might be a good idea, on the night of the trustee meetings to give oyster suppers and invite the members of the board to attend. Perhaps they might be induced to transact the school business afterwards.

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