Leaside High as seen by Margaret Atwood

Elizabeth Bream
ELIZABETH BREAM, who became a teacher and then computer consultant for the school board, now lives in Revera Leaside, formerly Central Park Lodge, in Thorncliffe Park, with several other seniors who enjoy sharing memories of the old days in Leaside.

This excerpt is from Elizabeth Bream’s spikeymom.wordpress.com blog.

I entered grade 9 at Leaside High School in the fall of 1950, which was the start of the building’s second year of existence. (The school itself was founded as a continuation school in 1945, located at Rolph Road Public School until the new building went up.) I graduated from LHS in June 1955.

Those of us who grew up in Leaside (a newer suburb of Toronto back then) were always a very tight group. We were all in elementary school (Northlea Public School) together, we were streamed in LHS and stayed in the same group from grade 10 onwards, and so we were together from grade 7 through to the end of grade 13.

Then a lot of us went on together to Victoria College at the University of Toronto too. And we are all still friends! My best friend Barb and I have known each other since grade 4. She founded a scholarship at LHS in the name of her family (Pinkham Family Scholarship). It is awarded to a successful graduating student at LHS who is going on to Victoria College.

Peggy Atwood was two years behind me, graduating in ’57. She’s in my yearbook in several places; strange to look back and see the famous Margaret Atwood in grade 11 wearing her school uniform, the hated tunic.

I got Atwood to sign my yearbook (Clan Call 1955) when I attended a reading on the Sunshine Coast in BC in 1998. As she signed on her literary contribution to the yearbook she asked, “Did I write that?” (She knew perfectly well that she had.) She was just joking with me.

If you want to read some fiction by Atwood that involves Leaside High, read the short story My Last Duchess (we all had to study the Robert Browning long poem with that title) which is in the Atwood story collection Moral Disorder.

The story features our English teacher, Miss Bessie, whom Atwood did not camouflage at all, other than leaving out her last name. Our teacher’s real name was Bessie B. Billings, and she was exactly as Atwood describes her, and her classroom is pictured with deadly accuracy too. No wonder we all did well in English! You must read it.

The other book that features Leaside as a place (and the school does show up) is Cat’s Eye, which is my favourite Margaret Atwood book, simply because, using fiction, she has told the story of being a girl growing up in that area. She told a lot of MY story.

In the 1950s Leaside High School was well-known as one of the best public high schools in the city. The other top-ranking schools were Lawrence Park, North Toronto, and Jarvis. We had a great principal (who was very active in the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.) Little did I know then that I would grow up to be a member of the same federation.

The LHS staff in the ‘50s was outstanding; we students were not kids who hated high school, or our parents, and the famous 1955 movie Rebel without a Cause was a movie we could never relate to. We actually quite liked school, possibly because we were good at it, and most definitely because we had great teachers.

Back when the school was built, there was a rifle range in the school in the basement. I have often wondered if it were still there or if at some point the Board of Education had decided that it was inappropriate. In my five years there, there was a very active rifle club which had its own entry in Clan Call.

I attended the 50th anniversary of Leaside several years ago. It was a wonderful celebration. There is a great video now available on DVD that summarizes the first 50 years of the school. The history of LHS all on one DVD! There is also an online LHS message board for grads. It’s still a great secondary school!