Richard Bauman was in Grade 2 when S.S. No. 5 Woolwich closed in 1966. One afternoon in November, each student packed their school supplies in a brown paper bag, climbed on a bus, and rode to the new Floradale Public School, where they set their bags outside their classroom door.
“The next morning, we picked up our paper bags and sat down at our brand new desks,” Bauman said.
They were joined by students from S.S. No. 11, known as Balsam Grove, and S.S. No. 9, called North Woolwich. Coming from one and two-room schools, the new centralized school seemed very big, with a class for each grade. And the students all agreed: the gym was huge!
Forty years later, Floradale has outgrown the building that seemed so big. Come March, a new generation of students will be moving into a brand new school, and the old one will be demolished.
Last week, a handful of those former students sat down in the library, went through old photo albums, and reminisced about their time at Floradale PS.
Bauman’s memories of the school go back to the summer of 1966, when the building was under construction. His father was foreman of the crew that built the school, and every day when he got home from school, Richard would load a pitcher of lemonade onto his wagon and trek over to the site. If he got there before the coffee truck arrived, he could sell his lemonade to the workers. One day the man driving the earthmover told him, “I won’t buy your lemonade, but I’ll trade you a ride on the earthmover for a glass.”
Bauman also used to hang around at the school after hours, when custodian Howard Reist was busy cleaning. Reist would let him ride the floor polisher, to “put a little more weight on it.”
Reist was custodian of the school for 13 years, with a three-year interval when he worked for the Waterloo County board doing maintenance in a number of schools. But he worked at Floradale even before the school opened; he was employed by Bauman Wood Products while it was being built and made cubicles, doors and shelving for the building.
Reist remembers that the blackboards were installed a few months before the construction wrapped up, and he was always surprised there wasn’t more graffiti scrawled on them. One scribbling he can still recite from memory:
“Teachers, teachers in the tub,
Someone forgot to put in the plug.
Goodness gracious, bless my soul,
There go those teachers down the hole.”
One teacher who stuck around for many years was Mabel Dadswell, who came to Floradale directly from a school in Stratford. She had trouble adjusting to the rural community, and decided to stay for four months. At Christmas, she put off leaving until June. She kept putting it off, and in 1942, she married local blacksmith Lloyd Ziegler. Mabel ended up spending her entire 41-year career in Floradale, eventually teaching the children of many of her students.
In 1972, the school’s boundaries were expanded to include children from the Wallenstein area. The Wallenstein kids were natural athletes, and the school went from being non-competitive in sports to very good. Rick Kraemer can remember making it all the way to the volleyball finals in Breslau one year.
“That was a huge school because they had two gyms,” he laughed.
The students played basketball and volleyball in gym class, but outside, baseball and soccer were the sports of choice. Former student Dennis Frey remembers playing football in the yard, and how delighted the students were when the Grade 7/8 teacher, Mr. Currie, joined them. Games like skipping and hopscotch went through spurts of popularity, and they also played tetherball until the French teacher backed over the tetherball post.
Every winter, the parents built a skating rink beside the school. As soon as it was cold enough at night, the fire truck came over from the station to flood the rink. This is the second year there hasn’t been a rink, due to the new school under construction, but next winter it will be up and running again.
The school population fluctuated over the years, and in 1998, it was down to about 130 students. Low enrolment numbers put it on the chopping block alongside Conestogo, Winterbourne and Heidelberg. Every school board was ordered to undertake a pupil accommodation review by the Ministry of Education, which pegged the optimal school size at 400 to 500 students.
The Waterloo Region District School Board expected the closures to be controversial and they weren’t wrong. Parents, students and staff at each of the schools rallied to argue that the rural character of the schools was worth saving, detailing small class sizes, involved parents and a close community. Floradale parents also pointed to the inclusion of school’s population of David Martin Mennonites.
“Maybe you just aren’t aware of what our school and community are about,” Barbara Gosling-Gray told the board trustees.
Ultimately – at Floradale at least – they were successful. The school’s boundaries were changed to include some students from Linwood, boosting enrolment numbers, and the school stayed open. The memory of that fight makes the new building particularly sweet.
“In 12 years, we’ve gone from a school that was going to close to a school that’s got a new mega-million-dollar building,” said Susan Martin.
More old memories will come to light and many new ones will be made when the old school closes and the new one opens. Bauman hopes that walking into the new building will be a special moment for the first classes.
“I hope those kids remember something like carrying their brown paper bags into the new school 40 years later, because those are the memories that bring back tears.”