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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

West Hill High School-Montreal, Quebec

West Hill High School
West Hill High School was a massive school located on Somerled Avenue in N.D.G., a district on the west side of Montreal. It had an indoor swimming pool, an auditorium, and a huge grass covered sports playing field behind it. I say the word “was” because it hasn’t been a high school for many years.  I am not sure quite what is today.  I had read some time ago that it was being utilized as some kind of warehouse.
At one time, there were about 1200 students attending West Hill High. By the 1970s, with many English speaking  Montrealers  moving away from the city, enrollment was dipping dramatically. The demographics of N.D.G. had changed. I’m not sure what year the school finally closed its doors.
I first discovered West Hill when I was at Willingdon Elementary School. In the summer, for most of the 1950s, for 15 cents you could spend about an hour in the swimming pool at West Hill. The  field behind the school was a great place to play scrub baseball, touch football, or watch some kid try to get his model airplane airborne. You might even see British ex pats playing rugby on a Saturday morning. Or cadets marching around the paved parking lot.
I did two hitches at West Hill. Altogether I was there for about 2-1/2 years. My memories are not the same as most others.  For some it may have been the time of their lives while others might recall their anomymity.  Some remember favourite teachers while others remember very little.
September 1960. Grade 8 at West Hill.
Back at Willingdon School there had been 4 classrooms for each grade. At West Hill there were at least 15 different classrooms for grade 8. Back at Willingdon after 7 years, anyone the same age was recognizable.  West Hill was a much bigger pond.  Kids came from a number of other elementary schools including  Somerled, Herbert Symonds, Royal Vale and Kensington.
It all looked like a giant mass of humanity to me. And a lot more rules. My first home room was the music room and the home room teacher was a Mr. Archie Etienne who taught music but not to us.  I remember him telling our all boy class about “the order of the royal boot” if anyone got out of line.

8-0 Class Picture
Top Row: L to R. Me, Ian MacIntosh, John McFadden, Paul Dean, Don Armitage, Albert Katz, Alan Besner, Peter Garnham, Bernie Mlynarski, David Bates, Dalton Brown
2nd Row: Jerry Wolfe, Andy Elliot,?,Garth Holsworthy, Morley McKee, Louis Yacknin, Doug Feltmate, Mike Agnew, ?, Jeff Shorrock
Front Row: ?, ?, Steven Keirnander, ?, Bob Madden, Kjel Christiansen, Jack Rosenheck, Jack Bracken, George Thompson
About a month into grade 8, a decision was made by the powers that be that the classes in grade 8 had too many students in them and that another classroom needed to be added. I guess there had been a lot of sexual activity going on around 1947 in NDG.
Each class was identified by the class grade with a letter beside it.  The kids that were deemed to be the brightest and the future of our fair country were in the classes at the beginning of the alphabet. It wasn’t all that subtle. In later grades there was also a “commercial class” where those with limited academic interest could learn typing and composing a letter. This class was sometimes referred to as “Bobo” which must not have helped the typists with their self esteem.

I was one of the boys assigned to the new classroom that had been formed.  8-O. There was no other classroom as far down the alphabet. The classroom was an all boys one. I think the other grade 8 teachers were asked who they wanted to give up. I don’t think it was because there were more boys than girls. I suspect that back in grade school, where all the teachers were women, that little notes had been written for many of the girls suggesting that they be put in the A, B. C classes.
The new class teacher was a Mr. Garth Rolls-Wilson.  He was from England. Probably in his late twenties. He took the bus to school and wore the same clothes every day. A tweed sports jacket and tan coloured  trousers.  Having seen The Bells of St. Trinian’s,  I could see that it was obvious that he had been steeped in the practices of English boarding  schools.  He addressed his students as “Master” so and so.  One of my classmates had the last name of Bates. There was a joke about that for a day or two.
There is no doubt about it. I was an undisciplined 13 year old. I probably had Attention Deficit Disorder. I certainly could be distracting and liked to get attention. These assets did not sit well with Mr. Rolls-Wilson and I found myself being frequently thrown out of class. I could also be used as an example to others who were considering rocking the boat. I remember once being sent out of class for opening and closing a math kit repeatedly.
I certainly wasn’t  the only boy to see this teacher’s wrath.  He used to carry a wooden ruler around with him and if he thought a boy wasn’t paying attention or was whispering to another boy he would either whack them on the knuckles with his ruler are smack it hard on the desk behind them scaring the bejesus out of them. You never knew when the viper would strike.
(I once heard a story about a teacher at West Hill who had been a tail gunner in the Second World War. Apparently some kid dragged a ruler across a bumpy radiator and the teacher hit the floor. Shell shock?)
Garth Rolls-Wilson’s finest hour might have been when he decided to send several boys outside in their gym shorts and running shoes in 6 degree farenheit  temperatures  to run around the huge field behind West Hill that was covered in 2 feet of snow.  I think a few parents got upset about that.
Word spread in the teacher’s lounge that I was incorrigible and I had a target on my back.
Things went from bad to worse for me. The 8-O classroom was very close to the principal’s office.  At first, I would just be sent out of class for a period. Then it became longer. Eventually it came to a point where I would go to school and stand outside the room all day. I can’t say that I enjoyed other students  going from class to class and shaking their heads when they spotted me.
A letter was sent to my parents and my father came to the school for a meeting with Rolls-Wilson. My father had also grown up in the UK. And he was an asshole in his own right.  He informed me, after the meeting, that they had hardly discussed me at all but spent the major part of the time discussing English literature.
During that school year I was expelled for refusing to take the strap from the principal.  I was also suspended a few times. One time, when I was suspended,  I rode my bike around the front entrance to the school and waved at my classmates.  Perhaps the worst thing I did that year was at a play in the auditorium. It was called Thunder Rock. I would start clapping at inappropriate times which would start others clapping.  I’m not sure if they grabbed my ear as they threw me out.
The school year came to an end and I failed badly. It had been the worst year of my life. At home,  in the neighbourhood, and at school. While all the turmoil was going on at school another event occurred that was rather significant.
I knew two brothers who I thought were my friends. They were being raised by a single mother which wasn’t common in NDG back then.  The MLA for NDG at the time was a man named Eddie Asselin.  I think Eddie met the two brothers through his son and realizing that their dad wasn’t around much, invited them up to his country place a few times.
One day, one or both of the brothers  told me where we could get some soft drinks for free. They said that Eddie Asselin had a stack of the stuff in his garage. For a few months we would sneak into the garage and help ourselves. Then Eddie moved about a block away. One of the brothers decided to up the ante this time.  We went into the finished basement and swiped some booze which we later sold to older boys at the YMCA.  I was later grounded at home for some other reason and when I asked another boy  (there were now others involved)  about my cut in the profits I was told that the booze had been stolen from him. When he went inside his house I decided to look under his front steps and found the booze. I had been cut out of the loot.
This was my total involvement in this escapade. But it isn’t the end of the story. One of the brothers and some other guys ventured further into Eddie Asselin’s house. One of the things they stole were Montreal Canadiens hockey tickets. The jig was up when strangers were found occupying those seats.
The mother of the two brothers phoned my father and identified me as the ringleader. I didn’t know Eddie Asselin from a hole in the head, I certainly didn’t know where he lived, and I never stole any hockey tickets. Someone knew all of that stuff.
Back to West Hill High School. The long and the short of it I was not allowed back at West Hill the following year. My father had to make some choices as to what to do with me. He phoned the two brother’s mother and she told my father about The Boys Home of Montreal also known as Weredale House.  It is a complete other story for another time. I ended up staying there for almost two years.
Two years later I was back at home and back at West Hill. I was there for about a week or so when I was summoned to the principal’s office. I was accused of getting back into the school under false premises.  Although this was not true at all I was given the alternative of either admitting it or finding another place to go to school. Some alternative.  I lied that I lied. And I hated having to do that.
I tried out for the senior boy’s football team with a borrowed pair of cleats. My father had little interest in sports and I never was on any organized team growing up.  An assistant coach on the football team who was from the southern US told me I had a great pair of hands but they had some younger guys coming up. I was the manager of the hockey team the same year. I never could skate worth a damn.
Having been at Weredale House for almost two years I was pretty well aware of what BS was and wasn’t as far as fighting goes and got into a number of scraps while at West Hill, all of which I won.  Outside of the Hampstead Hop, a few times by Bellman’s restaurant  around the corner from West Hill and other places.
In grade 10 I was the lone recipient of a suspension for being involved in a spitball fight between classes.  Chuck got off Scott free. How’s it goin Chuck?  It was the end of my days at West Hill.
I can’t say I cared much for most of the teachers.  I never quite understood why one hung around with his students.  A teacher, Mr. MacKenzie, once told the class that there was good money operating a crane. I wasn’t sure if he meant there wasn’t much other hope for some. The one teacher I had wished that I had known better was a Mr. LeFevre who taught English Lit. I ran into him at a dance at West Hill a few months after dropping out and we had a nice conversation.
A few years after leaving West Hill I was in a bar in downtown Montreal and ran into some guys I had gone to school with. One of them asked me if I was still stealing cars. Stealing cars? I couldn’t even drive a car let alone steal one!
I have 23 year old twins. A boy and a girl. Both received scholarships when they graduated from high school. My daughter was valedictorian.  So…..here’s finger for all of those that passed me in the hall those many years ago and shook their heads when they saw me.

Not my car but my finger

27 comments:

  1. Thanks for the memories Colin. My memories of West Hill were fun times with studying on the back burner most of the time. Your escapades were so minor compared with the youth of today toting guns and doing crazy drugs. I still believe growing up in the 60's was far better than what kids today are facing. We knew how to have fun without computers & cell phones. We interacted with one another during a game or face to face conversation. We all worked hard to achieve anything and never took life for granted.

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  2. I went to WHHS from Sept. 1957-June 1959. I didn't like it. I then went to Cote des Neiges Commercial College for one yr. When the girls were in Mr. Etienne's class for music we all new to keep the top button of our blouse done up. Mr. Bless was my gd. 8 teacher. He wore sandals. Gd. 9 commercial class teacher was a young lady on exchange from England. Doris Wright, I think. She was excellent. I remember there being so many bomb scares when I was there, and how we all enjoyed getting outside briefly. I went to school on one of the Jewish holidays in Sept., and was reprimanded by the teacher when I arrived to an empty class. So, I went home and had to explain it to my mother. We aren't Jewish, but I sure was after that!! I moved from Montreal to the U.S. in 1961. I returned in 1965 for my grandmother's funeral. I haven't been back. Donna Robinson, formerly of 5156 Decarie Blvd.

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    1. I have to say that I am a bit confused about a few of your comments.
      My guess is, at the most, Jewish students might have been 1/3 0f those that attended West Hill. It doesn't make sense that you arrived to an empty class.
      I didn't go to West Hill until 1961 but your bomb scare stuff doesn't make too much sense either.
      You aren't thinking about the FLQ stuff that happened many years later?

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  3. I thought I would add a personal comment here on my time at WHHS.

    I didn't totally hate my time at WHHS. I also had a lot of fun in those years. As an adult I didn't harbour a lot of resentment at whatever went on for me personally at West Hill. I just like to lay out the facts as they were and hopefully don't make anyone too uncomfortable. My intent was not to wreck anyone's memories. For some, high school was the time of their lives.

    I may have been a shit disturber but I wasn't stupid. School and I were just not a good mix. I educated myself.





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    1. I attended West Hill the year it opened which to my understanding was from grade 9 up. There were so many students coming from all over the city that I was not assigned to a classroom until well into Oct.
      Did the school open two different times? When I started it was brand ne!

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    2. I just realized that I started at West Hill approximately 20 years before you 1952/53 when the school was brand new and it did indeed start at grade nine.

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    3. That was a little before my time. Closer to 10 years than 20 years though. I may be wrong but I think some kids went to Monkland High even though they didn't live far from West Hill. There is some interesting stuff on the net about the name West Hill and the connection to Monkland High. I think you can find it by googling Monkland High. Cheers...

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  4. I was an inmate of West Hill High School from 1960 to 1964. I even had Garth Rolls-Wilson for a time as a Latin teacher.

    My memories there were not particularly pleasant. For one thing, I was not of the right religion, which seemed to be either Anglican, United or Presbyterian. If you were not one of those three, the whole system seemed to regard you as an inferior being.

    I was generally in those classes with letters near the top of the alphabet. But academic performance did not seem to result in any sort of social prestige in those days. The "big wheels" seemed to be the students who spent their time at Bellman's smoking tobacco cigarettes. (Weed was unheard of in those days). It never occured to me at that time that the reason that these students seemed so much older and more mature than I was was the fact that they had failed a few grades somewhere along the line and were therefore still in high school at age 18 or 19.

    By the fall of 1964, I was 17 years old and in first year at McGill University. Within a couple of months, ther were riots at the University of California in Berkeley which ushered in the '60s. Much of the bullshit that both of us went through was soon a thing of the past.

    Jack Nathanson

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  5. Jack Nathanson,

    For a guy who was at McGill at 17, you don't make a lot of sense. That you managed to accomplish that kind of quashes your comment about the system considering you an inferior being.
    It should have been no surprise to you that most students at WHHS had Protestant backgrounds. WHHS was part of the Protestant school board.
    Why not be honest here and state that you weren't fussy with how you pereceived bright Jewish kids were treated?
    My own recollections have Jewish kids and non-Jewish kids getting along quite well in most cases. Jewish kids played on the sports teams, were on the honour roll, and got elected king of the high school. Comparitively there was very little in the way of overt prejudices and what there were could equally be claimed by Jewish people.
    I hung around Bellman's a lot and don't recall any "big wheels" there or at school. Identifying people as "smokers" these many years later when a lot of those at Bellman's didn't smoke, and crapping on 18 or 19 year olds who were still in school is rather small minded 50 years later.
    You seem like a pretty bitter guy.
    What's up with the the captain costume by the way?

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    1. To clarify things, I did not feel any anti-semitism coming from the other students, but I clearly felt it coming from the administration and a few of the teachers. The whole idea of a confessional school system may have made sense when it was instituted back in 1848, but it felt obsolete and kind of nasty to me by 1960.

      I do admit that I did not fit into the idea of "cool" circa 1961, which is probably why I hold such negative feelings. Also, doing well academically did not seem to provide me with any "status" per se. I was sort of like a "nerd", except that it was 20 years before the invention of the personal computer.

      As for the Captain Jack Persona, I really liked the first three "Pirates of the Carribean" movies, and it resulted in the theme of a blog I started in 2007 on Multiply after Yahoo 360 folded.

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  6. Great blog, brought back many memories! I was in that same 8-O as you and was one of the ones running around the field with you. I still have visions of you riding your bike in front of the school. If nothing else 8-O was certainly entertaining with all the goings on. I, like you, educated myself and turned out OK! I am the third from the right , second row. All the best CP.

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  7. Michael Agnew. Wow! I remember you. Married to Wendy Heyberd? My old roommate in Toronto, Don Moore, used to say you were the funniest guy he ever met. If you run into Don say hi for me. Cheers!

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  8. I see Don quite often. I will say hi to him for you next time I see him - still good friends. Yes married to Wendy. This year we celebrate 42 years of marriage - one 32 year old daughter. Geoff Shorrock lives down the street from us and we still get into trouble together. Cheers!

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  9. I see Don quite often - still good friends. I'll say hi to him for you. Yes, still married to Wendy - celebrating 42 years this year - one 32 year old daughter. Geoff Shorrock lives down the street from me and we still get into trouble together! Cheers!

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  10. Nice to hear 2 old guys are still shit disturbing! I remember Geoff as a funny guy with a bit of a macabre sense of humour. One of his stories was about a guy cleaning up after a car accident while eating a sandwich and another was about some guy tossing a hockey stick into the spokes of a bike some other kid was riding. It is amazing what we can remember. Tell Don I'm still sorry that the gerbil ate a hole in his couch. Cheers.

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  11. Hi Colin, You were always a good friend. I was the guy that threw the hockey stick.
    Did anyone in our class pass grade 8 ?

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  12. Hi Geoff. Nice to hear from you guys. Send me an e-mail at colinatcove@shaw.ca and Ill send you back a letter about what I remember about you guys. I remember Christianson used to hold his desk up with his knees in grade 8. He once gave me a lift up to St. Sauveur while I was hitchhiking and I offered to buy him a beer and he ordered a quart that almost wiped out my finances. It seems that a ski shack once burned down in St. Sauveur because some guy decided to try and thaw out the frozen pipes.

    Cheers. Colin P.

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  13. I'm pleased to find this site. I arrived at WestHill partway through grade 8 in 1963, if I remember correctly. I finished that year and did 2 more years, both in grade 9. One year my home room teacher was Mrs. Penner, and home room was the music room. Does anyone remember these names: Mike Leach, Russel Rose, Doug Mattocks, Hugh Mowat?

    Cheers
    Gerry Haliburton

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  14. Your decision to no longer accept posts headed with the "anonymous" handle is short-sighted, since the percentage of people who use their real names on ANY blog about ANY subject is very low in any case.

    Are we to therefore assume that posters such as "Captain Jack", for example, are any less "anonymous" than someone else who, for reasons of their own, have chosen to post as "anonymous"?

    And what about all of the previous posts headed "anonymous"? Are they now considered to be "suspect" or somehow less legitimate?

    There must now be thousands of blogs consisting of people who have and will continue to post with the "anonymous" header. Should they be banned?

    As long as a post is not hateful, racist, or incites to violence or criminal activity, then they should be free to speak their minds.

    If not, then they should quite correctly find a more tolerant blog in which to post.

    Sincerely,

    Anonymous.

    P.S. Will you dare to post this message? If you do, it will be interesting to read the responses--including those of previous "anonymous" posters.

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  15. I will think over your comment later here later and decide if I want to post your other comments. Most likely I will post what you wrote because you were not notified before you wrote what you did that I am not thrilled about anonymous comments.

    Your argument is pretty thin. Most people on Facebook use their real identity, Huffington Post requires commenters have a Facebook account. This is not a political site where people could be in jeopardy because of their views.

    Just because I have a blog doesn't mean I owe you anything. You don't get to make the rules.

    I'm all about honesty and truth. It is kind of dark to me when a person won't identify who they are. This isn't CIA stuff on my blog. To be honest the "anonymous" handle comes across as a person being ashamed to say who they are. You know who I am. Kind of one sided don't you think?

    I am not trying to be a bully here. If you have taken the effort to write all the stuff you did, why not take a bit of time and explain why you don't want to use your name?

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  16. Your points are well-taken and might have some validity depending on a blog's subject matter. I respect your opinion.

    However, given the obvious free-wheeling style of your own posts and of visitors' comments, I do think it is pretty late in the game to suddenly add a "no more anonymous handle" rule, particularly since your blog has evidently been successful without it thus far.

    But, to reiterate: where is the "abuse" in posting anonymously?

    Good luck, and best wishes.

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  17. RE: Religious makeup of WestHill.

    In my class, there was a very high percentage of Jewish students. One year, it was about 25 out of 30 or 32. Not much was done during the Passover break when Easter fell on a different week.

    Gerry Haliburton

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  18. I went to Willingdon and West hill during the same time period of time as you but I don't remember if we were ever in same classroom, but that finger does look a little familiar.
    I lived on Draper half way between both schools and left for school when the bell rang.

    Ken Ulrich
















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  19. I stumbled upon your blog and was shocked that you stated West Hill's Commercial class was considered "bobo," when you were actually in the bobo class along with my brother. My sister and I both chose Commercial so we could earn enough after graduation to pay for our college education. Bobo students had no choice but we're told which class to attend. That had more to do with their behaviour than intelligence.

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    1. I totally disagree with you Wendie. The class I was in in grade 8 with your brother Doug had the same corriculum as other grade 8 classes other than possibly taking Latin. A number of boys went on to college who were in 8-0. The idea of "commercial" classes was that it would train students to become adept at typing and other office skills. The 8-0 class was added because there were too many kids in other grade 8 classes. 8-0 was formed a month after the school year started.

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  20. Hello Colin, Great Blog! Did you happen to graduate from West Hill in 1967? If so, did you know Reet Jurvetson? I am reaching out to people who knew her in school, in an attempt to find a male acquaintance of hers by the name of Jean (or John.) I believe he may have attended another high school nearby WHHS which may also have been in Montreal. This fellow Jean looked a bit like Jim Morrision of the band, The Doors back in the late 60's and he had a slight French accent (I know...it's a Canada thing, right?) I live in the US and I'm completely unfamiliar with Montreal, Quebec and well... most of Canada actually. I have been to both Victoria and Vancouver BC though and what gorgeous country you folks have up there! Thanks in advance for any info you may have. Cheers! Natalie from Portland OR USA

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  21. Love Oregon. Have been many times. "Keep Portland Weird!". I did know the sister of the guy that did the research that eventually identified Reet. Reet was several years younger than me and I didn't know who she was until reading the same stuff that you have. Woould be nice if the killer(s) was brought to justice.

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