Corbett Hall's long service to education has a dimension that is sometimes forgotten: for many children living near the University in the 1930's, the building now known as Corbett Hall was their grade school. During a later decade, it would accommodate University High School.
Integral to the building as originally designed was the Normal Practice School, which occupied the entire south wing. Here, schoolchildren from certain Garneau streets and from homes in the largely undeveloped land south of University Avenue reported for school, and life went on very much as it did at other city schools; the only difference being the periodic visits of teachers-in-training, either as observers or as practice teachers.
Marion Ramsey (Might), '46 BSc(HEc), who obtained her elementary schooling at the Practice School, recalls there being one classroom for each grade from one to nine. The grade one and grade five classrooms, she remembers, were designed with special observation alcoves that could accommodate an entire class of normal school students.
"We felt quite privileged to go there," says Ramsey, "and I think we received a very good basic school training." She adds that the teachers were "hand-picked" for the school and were "very good." (She does, however, recall one who was "quite a dilly" "Not much of the milk of human kindness flowed in him.")
Although the Normal School and the Practice School shared the same building, there was very little unstructured interaction. "We were never allowed into the north wing — it was as if the building was cut in half by a line, and we never really went over the mark."
A rare visit to the north wing occurred when a child was selected to take part for a week or so in the Rural Practice School — a simulation of a country schoolroom in which students of a wide range of ages worked together. "It was a great privilege to go down to the other end of the school," says Ramsey. "I can remember being chosen — it was quite something."
When the Air Force took over the Normal School building during the Second World War, the Practice School was dispersed and it was never reconstituted. When the airmen left, the south wing became the home of the University High School, which had been opened in 1942 in a Garneau-area house. Venor Calhoun, '53 DDS, who went on to study dentistry at the University, is a graduate of University High School. "It really was a great school," he says. He recalls that he had been looking forward to attending Scona High and was disappointed at first to find himself attending the University school. "But not for long," he adds.
The school's size made for a good atmosphere, he says. "It was small enough only about 200 to 300 students at most — that we got a real esprit de corps going. And the physical facilities were wonderful — there was a great auditorium a very good gym. It was great. I have nothing but pleasant memories of it."
Doris Rosser, who taught at University High School before it was closed in 1955, shares Calhoun's enthusiasm. "It was a delightful school," she says, "and a very happy teaching situation. Because we were few in numbers, everyone pitched in — everyone was needed."
Among Rosser's particular memories of the University High School are the ambitious yearly drama productions that involved "about half the school," and the special effort that the Department of Public Works made in order to keep the building sparkling: "It was polished to the hilt; even the doorknobs shone."
Published Summer 1991.