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Life at Strathcona Girls' School in the 30s

comments by Betty Orr


Miss Gildea believed that the students were lucky to have the privilege and it was up to them to go out and help people. She taught history and gave the Sunday sermons. She arranged for field trips to Victoria for concerts. These were usually vocal. On a trip to Victoria there was always a stop at Terry’s Drug Store at Fort and Douglas for ice cream or a drink.


Note: she knew Anthony Eden. Miss Symes, Miss Chattey and Miss Rein all came with Gildea from England


Miss Gildea had dreadful asthma and nearly died a few times during my stay.


I was born in 1919 in Seaford, England and was an only child. Moved to Edmonton when I was 4 (1923). I attended Strathcona Lodge School at Shawnigan Lake in 1934-36 for Grades 10, 11 and 12.  I am not sure why I was sent to the school. Perhaps it was because I was an only child and maybe Strathcona was chosen because other girls from Edmonton were going.


I came from Edmonton in a group of six girls who were also going to Strathcona School. On the first journey, two of the girls asked the engineer if they could visit the engine. He allowed them to ride up front for a while. My friend, Ruth (Bunty) Chatam, and I decided that we wanted to do the same thing.. so when the train stopped in Robson we got off. Bunty couldn’t decide whether to take her purse so we were delayed while she made up her mind. Finally we started towards the engine. As we walked, the train started moving across a canyon. We were forced to hang onto the platform on the dining car while the amused waiters looked on. Eventually, we were rescued.


Mr. Alexander from the garage in the village had a big 8 passenger car and used it to drive the girls on field trips or to games. His twin daughters, Joan and Peggy were day girls who attended the school.


One time Betty Munsie and I had a contest to see who could put the most sugar in our hot chocolate and still drink it. Miss Gildea rang the bell at noon and asked who the two girls were that had the contest. Obviously the cook had let Miss G.  know. We were called to Miss Gildea’s room. She was having tea with cookies and cakes. Betty couldn’t take her eyes off the treats as she apologized for the hot chocolate. She was dismissed. I looked at Miss Gildea and apologized. I was offered cookies before I was dismissed. Betty was not happy about that.


One student in my time, Florence Rutherford (from Alaska) came to Strathcona and Miss Gildea didn’t have much background on her. It turned out that Florence was a tough cookie. On an outing to see the New Zealand All Blacks in Victoria, Florence was looking for trouble. She told the girls to say that she was off to the washroom and headed off across the field and beyond the houses on the other side. Soon after, Miss Gildea was alerted that Florence was on a boat to Seattle. She had intended to go back to Alaska. Miss G had the authorities waiting to pick her up.


Miss Robinson “Robbie” was the games mistress. She only liked the girls who were good athletes. There was some speculation that Miss Robinson and Miss Symes were partners. They had Wednesdays off and would often go to Victoria to shop. Once, they came back with the same two piece dresses…even the same colour.


All meals were taken together with Grace at every meal. The food was very starchy in general. Dinner at noon was the big meal. There was a snack at 4 which consisted of an unadorned bun…no drink. On a rare occasion there were cupcakes with icing and word would spread fast on those days. Homework time was 4:30-6 followed by supper which was a light meal. On Saturday you could order fruit.


There was a bath three times per week. I stayed on the top floor of the main building. There were two bathrooms on our floor. On the top floor there were six dorms with three or four students to a room. Mere Marie, another building on site, was another dorm. Once a week the girls would make a list of what we needed.


The main floor of the old hotel building was at platform level (railway) and had one dorm for six girls. There was a large reception room and a small quiet room, almost like a chapel - a religious space, on that level. There was also a large living room where the Sunday service was held. Min had a sitting room with a fireplace and a separate business office as well. There was a secretary but we had little to do with her.  The fire escape was wooden.


The girls wore black tunics with a purple tie at the waist (knotted at the side) The tunic had to be 7” above the knee. Black stockings were worn in the winter and purple ankle socks in the summer. White long sleeved blouses were worn under the tunic with a purple tie around the neck. Short sleeved blouses were acceptable in the spring.  A black or dark navy cardigan was worn over the tunic. The equivalent of a navy blue suit. Girls were required to have two skirts and one dress other than their uniform for after school wear. A white dress worn with the school blazer was the norm for dances and dresses. “Cash’s name tapes were sewn onto each piece of clothing. For gym we work White cotton blouses and shorts. The gym was unheated. Sometimes the gym was so cold that you could see your own breath. Our gym kit was left in the gym and was often damp and cold when we came to change for gym class. Laundry was done downstairs at the school. Every Saturday morning was mending day and the girls had to do their own.


The classes had around 12 students and, in my time there were 70-80 students. There was no graduation celebration. The school had two motorboats. They were quite large and one was called “The Snotty”. Robbie drove the boat mainly but the head girl, McCallister also drove it on occasion. Whenever we went swimming it was at the point. Every Wednesday was games day and horses were brought to the grounds for riding. The entire day was devoted to sports activities like badminton and grass hockey. There were two tennis courts in front of the school.


Christmas break was one month. Easter was two weeks.


There were no male teachers in residence. Mr Bully, who was the organist for the Cathedral, came to teach music and put on musical productions. One year we did Dido and Aeneas. We painted all of the backdrops and made all of the costumes out of yards and yards of off white broadcloth.

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