There Goes The Neighborhood: Growing up in the shadow of the school, literally.
The smoke and dust and layers of oil paint and tile had all settled and soon enough and last summer I had a chance to go and look at the big empty space that I graduated from. The landscape had completely changed. I could barely navigate through the tress and alders where I had spent a large chunk of my childhood. GFA High School had literally been a stones throw away from my backyard.
The need for GFA High School goes back to 1955. That year an extension had to be added on to the Lincoln Road GFA High to accommodate the growing student population of the growing town. Newfoundland was a few years in to confederation and the pulp and paper industry had reached its peak of economic importance to the economy of Newfoundland. Houses were springing up all around Grand Falls in the “new” areas above Station Road. Most of these houses were filling up with children, by 1959 the first of the baby boomers were entering their teenage years and the Grand Falls Amalgamated School Board was faced with the question “where are we going to put all of the kids.”
The Roman Catholics had been first and built the large and modern St. Michael’s Central High School in 1956. The sod was turned on GFA High School three years later.
The sod turning for GFA High school took place at 3:30 pm on May 1959. Almost 50 years after the opening of the mill, in attendance was Lord Northcliffe’s Nephew and heir to the Daily Mail fortune, Lord Rothermere. It was the waning days of the company town, the AND Company had only a few more years to exist, the managers now came from Canada, not from England and soon they would give up control of the town.
You can barely get a house built in 6 months nowadays but students started class at GFA High School in January of 1960. The older Lincoln Road School now became the elementary school. Classes actually started in the new school before all of the construction work had been completed and for a couple of months students had to watch out for workmen in the hallways.
The first Principal of the new school was Mr. Charlie Goodyear, I can’t find a whole lot of information on him, but it appears he was only Principal for about a year or less before he left to take on a job with the faculty of Education at Memorial University. The next Principal was Mr. Vernon Hiscock.
Hiscock had been born and raised in Grand Falls and had attended GFA. His father had been in charge of advertising for the Exploits Valley Royal Stores. He also had a Masters degree, which although incredibly common among teachers today, was very rare in a Province where many teachers had only a few months of training and were teaching while still in their teens. Hiscock would remain principal until 1970 when he left to take a position as a professor of chemistry at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
Succeeding Hiscock was Mr. Roy Stoodley, Stoodley, a native of Grand Bank had taught in Grand Falls for two decades before becoming Principal of the school across the road from his house. Stoodley was principal until about 1981 when he retired. Taking over after Stoodley would be the man who had the longest tenure as head administrator for the school, Brian Taylor. Taylor would remain principal of the school until 1998 when the demise of the denominational education system led to the end of GFA. He stayed on as Principal of the newly formed Exploits Valley High until around 2002.
The old building unlike many of the others in the GFA system was also attended by students from outside of the old “Grand Falls.” Students from the former town of Windsor would attend this school at various times, both before and after amalgamation. St. Alban’s streamed into GFA back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Between 1995 and 1998 High School Students who normally would have attended Windsor Collegiate were bused into GFA High. Students from the integrated system from Badger also went here at various times. After 1998 all high school students from Grand Falls-Windsor and Badger attended this school for grades 11 and 12.
The block of land that GFA stood on was a part of a massive piece “sold” by the AND Company to the Grand Falls Amalgamated School Board in 1964, for the nominal fee of a dollar. The board already had two schools sitting within the boundaries of the block and this just formalized things, I believe, in the face of the mill being controlled by Price in Montreal. The Roman Catholic board and the Presentation sisters had a similar arrangement nearby. To make the area even more saturated with educational institutions, the District Vocational school (now CNA) was built a few hundred feet away from GFA High around 1964. The area I grew up in was completely institutionalized-with educational and administrative institutions.
I grew up in this neighborhood and you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some sort of educational institution, even the houses and apartment buildings had been built by the school board.
On St. Catherine Street, there were only three houses that were not built by the school board. The two on the corner by Birch Street, and the one across the road from the School Board office, which belonged to Mont Lingard, who worked for the board, so I don’t think it should count. So why did the GFA School board end up in the housing business? Well its close to the same reason the mill built houses; to attract workers.
I read it in an interview with Roy Stoodley, that the row houses, apartment building and two duplexes on St. Catherine street were built in the 1960’s to attract teachers to work at GFA. This is true, but it boggles my mind., Grand Falls was not in the middle of nowhere, whereas there were thousands of teaching positions in….. the middle of nowhere.
Back in the day teachers who worked at GFA had their salaries supplemented by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. I am not sure of the actual amount or percentage, but I can confidently say that during some periods (say the 30’s or 40’s) the Company would close to double a teachers salary. The Practice continued until sometime in the 1960’s, I am not sure if Price continued doing it for any length of time. If this practice did continue into the 1960’s I would wager money that it was stopped by 1968 with the first wave of school board consolidation in the Province. Nonetheless in the late 1960’s the Grand Falls Amalgamated School board got into the business of owning residential real estate.
The plan looks like it worked, you can name many of the teachers who worked at GFA in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s and many of them lived on St. Catherine Street at some point. There was some turnover as some teachers came in from out of town and only stayed a short time, in many other cases it was the first place many teachers lived before settling down in the town.
The Exploits Integrated School Board sold off the houses in 1980 or 81. I assume that the other buildings went soon after. I am not so sure about the “Teachers Apartments” because for years in the 80’s and 90’s it was still filled with teachers.
I literally grew up in the woods that surrounded the GFA schools. There was a time that I knew every rock and tree bigger than an alder. There is some sort of metal survey marker on hill by the apartment building, that as a child we called the “Indian” marker or symbol. Not far from that was a small round boulder that somebody had spray painted “Fart Treasure” on ( the rock was too large and heavy to find out if there is a fart treasure in under it, though I am not sure I want to find out). When I was four or five I watched the speed bumps get installed on the road between St. Catherine Street and GFA Primary. Parallel to that road there was a trail so wide you could drive a truck down it ( I think it was a service road that might have been built when they built the vocational school. I think there might be a sewer line under it, because there is a random manhole along the route.) In the alder and birch along this now grown in trail, there were empty Old Milwaukee and Pabst beer cans from the 1985 Beer Strike. It was once a road and now you can’t even find it. For twenty years or more there was a trail that led from back of the houses on St. Catherine Street to the High school. For about twenty years it was used by the kids in those houses to get to school, there were about a half a dozen of us. I might have been the last one to use it and over the course of the 16 years since I last used it regularly, if you were not familiar with the area you would have no idea there was a trail.
It was over 16 years ago that I last walked down that trail on my way to school. I lived home for two summers in University and used the trail when walking to a couple of friends houses on that end of town. With no regular traffic it began to grown in. After three years I didn’t come home anymore during the summer. I moved away from the Province entirely and then moved back. The school at the end of the trail ceased being a high school, then eventually boarded up and declared supernumerary, surplus, no longer needed.
Then the other day it was announced that there were plans for a 120 bed long term care home on Maple Street. It doesn’t take a Holmes or a Magnum to figure out what empty space on Maple Street is big enough to put a 120 bed home. I guess it is kind of fitting, since quite a few potential residents of the new home would have gone to school at the same site or had lived in the neighborhood. I guess, like everybody, the old neighborhood is just getting old.