TODD LIHOU – EDITOR: Memorial Park Public School, thanks for the memories

A little piece of Cornwall history is soon to be no more – but very few of you are likely to notice.

Crews ripped into the former Memorial Park Public School this week. It hasn’t been a ‘real’ school for years, and was listed back in 2006 as too prohibitive to repair. The Upper Canada District School Board sold the property more than a year ago.

So, the inevitable began this week, and the Third Street West school is coming down. Neighbours said the whole thing is being demolished and they don’t know what is going up in its place.

It sucks. I understand the rationale for the removal of the school, and it makes sense, but  Memorial Park was the only elementary school I knew. From kindergarten to Grade 6 it was where I learned everything from the ABCs to fractions and writing with a pen.

It was what many would consider an inner-city school. Memorial Park drew the majority of its students from the working-class neighbourhoods within the old square mile that used to be Cornwall.

I grew up on Yates Avenue, and most of the kids I knew lived on streets like Cumberland, Bedford, McLean and York. We loved Memorial Park.

It wasn’t the bricks and mortar as much as it was the teachers who made it a great place to go to school.

Even at 40, when I can’t remember what I had for lunch or where I put the car keys, I can recall all the teachers I had, the principal and even the office secretary.

For the record, they were Joan Mack (kindergarten), Josette Leduc (French kindergarten), Mrs. Mitchell (Grade 1), Mrs. McLean (Grade 2), Graeme Miltimore (Grades 3 and 4), Andy Petepiece (Grade 5) and Jill Molinga (Grade 6).

Jackie Markell was the resident French teacher, Mrs. Murphy was the secretary in the office and Grant Edwards was the undisputed leader of the school as principal.

Edwards made the school great…despite the fact that I was scared to death of him. He commanded instant respect and was a person you called “sir” and answered with “yes” instead of “yah.” He was also a helluva drum player, if I remember correctly, dazzling the school with the sticks during one of the monthly “assemblies” he instituted at Memorial Park, where classes would congregate in the gym and perform skits, plays or sing songs.

When he left the school (coincidentally the year our class ‘graduated’ in 1986) the assemblies stopped. Parents were not amused.

When I learned the school would be no more a flood of memories returned. Things like the ‘apple’ bus that brought kids to school (it had an apple in the front window so kids could tell it apart from others), the ‘apparatus’ that would fold in an out of the wall in the gym so that we could climb ropes and do pull-ups, a first-generation McIntosh computer that rolled from room to room on a huge kitchen table-like desk with wheels…and a massive field/playground that actually had slides, swings and (gasp!) monkey bars.

It’s all gone now…well, mostly.

Later, as an adult, I tried to get on the property just to have a look around and see if classrooms still had those massive closets that would line an entire wall, or the alphabet written in cursive across the top of the blackboard.

The gate was locked up like something out of Fort Knox, so I had to turn back.

It used to be that school was a welcoming place. Today, with all the security, job action and strikes, the places all too often look anything like what Memorial Park used to be – home.

I’m going to miss Memorial Park. Jill Molinga, whom I’ve mentioned was the Grade 6 teacher, also taught music.

She would often lead students in a song about the school and classes would often sing it during Edwards’ assemblies…or just about any time they felt like it.

I remember a lot of things about the school, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the words to the song.

I hope the rest doesn’t fade as well.

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