Lochlin school photos prompt reflection during pause of pandemic

Linda Robertson laughed when asked why she began posting historical photos of Lochlin and Ingoldsby on her personal Facebook page.

“I guess because I haven’t anything to do?,” she said with a chuckle. When the first lockdown began last year after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and residents of Ontario tried to flatten the curve to slow the spread of virus by staying home, Linda began actively connecting to her community in the same way she always has – through music – but in a different way than she usually does – online.

Self-made videos of Linda on guitar and her sister Doris on a keyboard singing everything from gospel tunes to old country songs are perhaps a far cry from a jam-packed jamboree, but friends have responded positively, appreciating the chance to sing along and listen to local talent while disrupting busy routines to stay home. Then in January, during the second provincial stay-at-home orders, Linda was looking through and organizing old photos for a memorial slideshow for a friend up north, when she found an old souvenir pamphlet from Ingoldsby showing what Linda refers to as “Uncle Joe’s store” and old area lodges, long gone.

“It’s kind of neat to put them on and give someone something to look at,” said Linda. “A lot of people are on Facebook, I think, looking for stuff to do, and we’ve had a lot of following on our videos, so I thought, that’d be kind of neat for something different, to put up some old photos and create some interest – and it has.” The responses to the photos that Linda posted on her personal page have included memories and inquiries and friendly disputes about interpretations of events from friends who remember the buildings, or had heard stories of their history from family who lived when they were built. When Linda came across photos from her own childhood, especially pictures taken at Lochlin school, she posted those online, too. “I ran across the old Lochlin school pictures and I thought, I’m going to post them on there too, because there are people I know having lived here, born and raised in Lochlin – went to that school for eight years, we all had the same teacher,” she said. “And everyone else is finding it interesting as well.”

Dozens of comments were posted to the photos, which show groups of kids standing in front of the old Lochlin school, a building still standing as a community centre at 4713 Gelert Road. Those kids themselves – now in their 70s and 80s – commented, recalling their own memories of school, as did others from throughout the community, recognizing faces (“My God,” said one comment. “You can sure tell who they are … haven’t really changed a whole hell of a lot.”), naming who they could, reminiscing about the good old days and thanking Linda for sharing. Linda’s cousin in Haliburton saw the photos, and also called her, to share that she’s working on a genealogy project connecting the dots of the Robertson family history.

Linda’s family were some of the first settlers in Ingoldsby. Her great, great grandfather came from Scotland by boat, some family coming over as United Empire Loyalists, and settled in the Picton area before coming to this area.

A letter collecting history of the move details that Linda’s ancestors settled in the Ingoldsby and Lochlin area, Lochlin being referred to as “Little Egypt” at the time due, Linda believes, to the geographical feature her dad called a hog’s back and she calls an esker, full of gravel that runs from Ingoldsby to Lochlin. She said she once heard a story from Gerald Hicks about when the family that first lived in what would become her family’s farmhouse – the Yerex family – realized they were not alone in settling in the area when they happened upon the Vangesen family.

“They thought – each one of those families – thought they were the only people in the region at the time,” says Linda. “[The Yerex patriarch] got up one morning, on our farm, and he heard a rooster crowing, and it wasn’t his. So he followed where he thought he heard it, he walked the hog’s back, the esker, until he came to the Vangesen farm, and found another family there, and that’s when he realized he had neighbours.”

Linda said the conversation with her cousin was fascinating because of her genealogy work.

“She sent me pictures of my family and stuff like that,” she said. “It’s been quite the experience, actually, I didn’t realize when I [posted the photos], I just did it for something to do … It’s created quite the interest out there, not just for our family, but everybody.”

Pat Trerice, known then as Patsy Minaker, is 80 now, but she could easily name every student in one of the photos Linda had posted, even recalling it vividly in her memory while discussing it later.

“I was the one, in the front row, there’s a little girl on the end, and then I’m the next one, with the big smile on my face,” she told the Times of the photo, which showed a group that had returned from a Kiwanis music festival in Toronto with a prize (“We must have won first prize,” said Pat. “Because we have the trophy.”) Only two of the children in the front row of that picture are still alive today, which Pat knows because the group has kept in close touch over decades. “We’re all still friends,” she said. “All the friends I went to public school with, they’re all my friends still.” For many kids who grew up in the Lochlin community at that time, the memories are similar, of laundry tub baths with woodstove-heated water, food ration stamps or the after-effects of the war, church gatherings or outings to the bustling Lochlin General Store, line-ups for mandatory vaccinations from the travelling nurse, and of school – together – in the one-room schoolhouse with their teacher, Mrs. Celia Brown. Pat remembers clearly the first day of school, around 1945 or 1946 for her, in the original Lochlin school, which burned down soon after that. “When we first started, the first day of school, I was so excited to be with all of these kids and I mean, I kept turning around talking to everybody, I was a little chatterbox,” she said. “Mrs. Brown, she took me to the back of the room. I guess she warned me a couple of times and I still kept talking – but I wasn’t the only one – and I ended up in the corner, back by the pump, with my nose in the corner. I cried my eyes out, I was so upset that I was back there. Different ones had to come back and do that, we were all so excited, we little ones. It taught me a lesson – you don’t talk out in school, you learn to put your hand up.” Mrs. Brown was the only teacher both Pat and Linda had in elementary school, from Grade 1 to Grade 8. Linda as well as her three older sisters Doris, Donna and Ruby, and one younger sister Judy attended Lochlin school, though there is an age gap of about 18 years between the oldest and the youngest sister. “We all, all of us, our whole family, went to the Lochlin school, and we all had the same teacher,” said Linda. “It’s interesting that Celia Brown, she taught all the children in Lochlin. Like all the original people that lived in Lochlin were taught by her.” (Helen Alkerton taught at the school prior to Brown). Pat remembers Mrs. Brown taking her class on nature walks up the road, teaching about various plants growing on the side of the road or in fields. “We also would have our sketch books with us and would sit down on the side of the ditch or field and draw what we were looking at,” she said. Linda, who went to the school from 1955 to 1963, remembers studying penmanship and arithmetic, having spelling bees and the unique way in which Mrs. Brown had to teach eight grades at once – putting students in groups according to grade, teaching a short lesson to the Grade 1s and giving them an assignment to work on while she moved on to the next grade and so on. “Mrs. Brown was an amazing person to be able to pull that off,” said Linda. Pat said there were a few times when the boys got into fist fights, and Mrs. Brown would contact their parents to let them know she would be giving them the strap on their hand. Linda doesn’t remember the strap being used, but did note that the teacher “had to be in control, with that many kids.” “One thing that she used to do, if the boys or somebody got in trouble outside, they got fighting or doing whatever it was they shouldn’t have been doing, she’d sneak outside, ring the bell, and everybody paid the price,” said Linda. “Everybody had to come in, you had to go back and work – get back to school.” While Pat remembers playing “war” at recess time, a game in which the boys would be soldiers and the girls would be nurses, using branches to pretend to give them needles as they cared for their “wounds,” and a game of chase called “Fox and Goose,” Linda remembers hopscotch, tag, and throwing a ball over the school. “If it was nasty outside, too cold to go out, then we had checkers that we played inside, or we’d do art – draw things, that kind of stuff,” said Linda. “But it had to be darn cold before you got out of going outside for recess.” Both women very fondly remember a travelling library, in which a suitcase of books would be brought in to the school once a month or once every two months, taking books home to read before returning them to check out another one. “In the afternoon, if everyone got their work done during the day, Mrs. Brown would read to us,” said Pat. One year, Pat came in third in a public speaking contest and received the book, The Bells on Finland Street, written by Lyn Cook. Mrs. Brown read a chapter of it to the class once or twice a week – the students focusing to get their work done to hear another chapter – and then had them write to Cook, who wrote back to the students. Pat introduced the author to her own daughter years later at a library event in Scarborough. “I went over to meet her and I took the letter with me, to show her that I was the little girl that won the book,” she said. “I always liked reading and of course Mrs. Brown always promoted that a lot, too,” said Linda. “She would take a book out of that [library], and before we started class, she would read out loud to us for half an hour.” Linda would take books out, and – with no hydro in the house – read to her family by lamp light. “You all had to go to bed at 9 o’clock, there was no staying up, but before we went to bed, after suppertime and before bed, we’d all gather around, and either Dad would play his mouth organ, or we’d sing, or I would read a chapter or two out of the book,” she said. “Mom and Dad enjoyed it as much as the rest of us did.” (Linda said they also had a radio at home for entertainment, an old battery radio, but the only time they were allowed to put it on was to hear the news, and the Grand Ole Opry.) Mrs. Brown was a beloved community member. Besides being the sole teacher at Lochlin school for numerous years, she was also organist and music director for Lochlin United Church for more than 35 years. “She was always Mrs. Brown, to everyone, and her husband was Archie,” said Linda. “We didn’t call him Mr. Brown. It was Mrs. Brown and Archie. I don’t know why that was the way it was.” Archie was a trapper, and Linda remembers there always being something that smelled delicious cooking away at the house on Mrs. Brown’s days off – sometimes it was beaver. Mrs. Brown and Archie’s house was a second home to many of the kids in Lochlin, according to Pat, who remembers spending a lot of time there. “She encouraged three or four of us to take piano lessons on her piano,” she remembered. “Mr. Fred Clements would come down from Haliburton on a Saturday morning and we would have a specific time to be there and have a lesson.” The Browns had one of the first television sets in Lochlin, George and Betty Exon having the other one, according to Pat. “I spent Sunday nights with Archie and Mrs. Brown watching the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey Brothers show and the Ed Sullivan show,” she said. “And Mrs. Brown would make cookies and give me hot chocolate. I was just like their kid. And then I’d have to run home after it was over, across the railroad track and across the big road to my house, and they’d stand on their porch and yell ‘are you there yet?’ and make sure I got home OK.” Linda remembers students stopping by to show Mrs. Brown their Halloween costumes, noting that she was “the centre of the community.” The end of the school day was used as a teaching moment. “She would give us mathematical questions orally and we would have to figure out the answers in our heads,” said Pat. “The first one to get the answer right – after putting up their hands of course – would be let go from school. She kept this up until everyone was dismissed.” One day, Archie found a deer in the bush while he was checking his traps, a deer which was subsequently called Bambi and which used to follow Mrs. Brown to school and back. “We all loved that deer,” said Pat. “I was at Mrs. Brown’s house the day that Archie brought the deer home and he was so feeble. His little legs were very shaky and they put him in a big cardboard box in the kitchen.” Bambi used to visit the Minaker house, chomping on carrots fed to it over the edge of the verandah. “That was after I had already started high school, but everyone knew Bambi,” said Pat. Around the mid-60s, Lochlin school was closed and Linda’s little sister, Judy, was bussed to the new Archie Stouffer Elementary School, but Mrs. Brown went there, too, teaching for a short time before retiring. “There’s quite a few generations of children that she had taught,” said Linda. Mrs. Brown was a lifelong friend for numerous kids as they grew up in Lochlin, visiting her with their own children even after having moved away, and even after she moved away, to Dunsford. Celia Brown died in 2008 in her 100th year. A donation from her estate helped to put in place the playground equipment at the Lochlin Community Centre in 2016. Pat went to high school in Haliburton the first year it opened, in 1953. “Leslie Frost was the premier of Ontario,” she said. “He came and spoke and he gave us a holiday on Nov. 6, which was my birthday.” Linda said the routine of high school – getting on a bus, switching classes, having different teachers, being around a bigger group of less familiar students after years of socializing with only immediate neighbours – was an unpleasant experience after having one teacher in one school room for almost a decade. “When I went to high school, I had to go from room to room to room to get around, which, for me, I hadn’t been out of Lochlin,” said Linda. “To go there, I found it difficult, hard to go from room to room. And to have a different teacher for every subject. It was a shock to me, really.” While some students might not have liked school in their childhood, many of the kids from Lochlin school have fond memories. “I was one of the ones who really liked school, and I loved Mrs. Brown, I loved my teacher,” said Linda. “I looked forward to going to school, I wanted to go to school. Until I got to high school. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it was in [elementary] school … Anyway, I made it through.” For many people, taking this time of pause in the world to research their family history or reconnect with old friends over times gone by has helped them feel less alone. “[Posting the photos has] created a lot of reminiscing and a lot of reconnecting, I’d say,” said Linda. “They have more time on their hands, so a lot of people are having to stay home, and they’re bored, looking for something to do. Facebook, and social media, has been a godsend for a lot of people. When they see pictures – oh, there’s a picture of me when I was eight years old, it’s kind of cool to see yourself on there. And with the music, I’ve had so so many people say, please keep doing that, it’s been like a saving grace, because there’s been no contact with the outside world.” She said that after seeing the photos, many friends reconnected with each other online, and made a point to reach out and touch base with those who aren’t using social media. “It does seem to create interest, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Linda. “We remember the good times there. For me, a child growing up, it was all about school and all about church. Your neighbours were like family to you. All those people in those photos there, they’re almost like siblings.”

Sue Tiffin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Minden Times