These used to be my playgrounds: a tale of three schools

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
July 22nd, 2010

Now that school’s out for summer (but not forever), I thought I’d talk about…school. Not my favourite topic, but, as my age increased by a year this month and I was envisioning my future as a possible Rossland Old Timer, I started to reflect upon my history with three of Rossland’s schools, a history that involves two big fires and, eventually, one big demolition.

I grew up in lower Rossland on Thompson Avenue, and everyone in that neighbourhood went to Cook Avenue School, right up the road from where I lived. Everyone except me and one kid up the street, that is. For reasons that are unclear to me to this day, my parents packed me off to McLean school in 1979 to start kindergarten.

Even at the ripe old age of five, this seemed like a curious decision, mainly because the hike up to McLean from Thompson Avenue felt like a Herculean feat. My walking buddy and I were usually late because we had no sense of time, and we quickly developed reputations for tardiness.  Despite this, in grade one, I was re-enrolled at McLean. Late that fall, the school burned down.

This was very exciting for a six-year-old!  My school had burned to the ground!  How many kids fantasize about this at that age? Well, actually, I never had, but later on I realized that other kids had fantasized about it and I realized that I had lived the fantasy! That made me, in my own eyes, fairly cool.

After the fire, temporary accommodations for McLean students were organized, and I went to school at the Annex, where four makeshift classrooms had been slapped together. I spent the remainder of grade one in the basement of the Annex, where, up until the fire, the space had been used as a lunch room for younger kids.

The next year, I was again re-enrolled at McLean, and spent grade two on the first floor of the Annex, where two classrooms had been created, separated by a wall in the middle of the floor. Looking back, this was all quite an adventure, and it also was a unique experience. The Annex group was isolated from the rest of the McLean school population, so there were no “big kids” around. Classroom set-ups were different to make the best use of the space, and the makeshift feel the Annex school took on made it interesting to be there.

For grade three, my parents saw the light. They enrolled my brother and me at Cook Avenue. If I recall correctly, this had do with where I might be housed as a grade three student at McLean, and where my brother might be housed as a kindergartener there, too (I don’t recall where the kindergarten class went after the fire, actually). Cook was a change for me on many levels.  The commute was much easier, and I was also seeing the light – literally.

Quite different from McLean, the first thing I noticed about it was how sunny it was compared to the Annex. The windows were quite amazing, and they had views! Although not as architecturally interesting as McLean, Cook had some nice interior features, apart from the windows.  I will always remember the shiny hardwood floors, for one thing, and the climbing apparatus in the gym.  Cook also had a killer playground.

None of this is there anymore, of course.  Now that the building has been demolished and the lot pretty much deserted, whenever I go by there I can’t help but think of that Madonna song “This Used to Be My Playground” with a bit of a nostalgic sniff.

Which brings me to RSS, Rossland’s own melting pot.  Consisting of graduates of both McLean and Cook, with a generous dose of students from Warfield, Trail, Fruitvale, and even Genelle, RSS seemed to me, when I arrived there in 1987, a convergence of my past elementary school experiences, with a enough new faces thrown in to make it more interesting. 

Once again, I was hiking to upper Rossland from Thompson Avenue on a daily basis, which no longer seemed Herculean, but merely tiresome. In the intervening years, I had learned how to use a watch, so tardiness was no longer an issue.  At RSS, I was reunited with people I hadn’t seen in years, but whom I’d known since kindergarten.  It was interesting to watch the McLean kids size up the Cook kids, and vice versa, and over the years meld into one big RSS crowd.

I was not stoked at all with RSS as a building.  I always thought, and still do, that this boxy-shaped building was far too institutional-looking, depressing, and almost reminiscent of those cinder block structures popularized in communist Russia! 

As fate would have it, RSS almost burnt down, too, when I was in grade 10.  At the time, it seemed almost surreal that two schools I’d attended both were involved in major fires.  Though RSS didn’t burn to the ground in its June 1990 blaze, the entire gym and home economics wing were almost completely gutted, resulting in an enormous rebuild.  What rose from the ashes, just in time for my grad year in 1992, was a vast improvement over what had previously existed – the music program actually had its own room! –  but I couldn’t help but fantasize about what they might have done with the rest of the school had it been damaged enough as well.

During my time at Cook, McLean was totally redesigned and rebuilt. I remember some controversy over the chosen design, and I remember, when it was rebuilt, how completely different it was from the original. How I miss that old pink and grey stone building with the big windows!

When Cook Avenue School was demolished a few years ago, I went to watch the bulldozing one afternoon. I thought it was lamentable that a nice old building like that had to be destroyed in favour of what I assumed at the time would be a housing development. 

 But whatever happens to that piece of land on Cook Avenue, and whatever the fates of the other two schools in town are in this time of cutbacks, I’ll enough memories of all these places to reminisce about when I am officially a Rossland Old Timer.

Which won’t be for a few years yet!

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