Memories of celebrating Christmas in schools in the 1940s

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My grade one classroom at D. B. Hood Public School in Toronto in December of 1944.


The following is from the book entitled “Arse Over Teakettle” that chronicles the humorous adventures of a fictional  character, a young lad named Tom Hudson, as he attends school and learns about life, while his family copes with the trials of the war years in Toronto. Much of the novel, including this passage, was based on the memories of my boyhood days in 1940s Toronto. The quote tells about the classroom Christmas activities in D. B. Hood school in 1944.

After we were seated at our desks, Miss Magnus said, “Today is a very special day. How many of you attended the Santa Claus Parade?”

I held up my hand, along with many others.

“During art class this afternoon, we’re going to make our own Santa Claus Parade using paper and glue. It will be so big that it will reach right across the back wall, in the space above the cupboards.”

I gazed at the doors, which already contained paper cut-out Christmas candles that we had created the previous week. They covered the vent holes on the doors and trapped the foul odour of wet mitts from spreading around the classroom.

Miss Magnus continued. “Our mural will have floats, nursery rhyme characters, clowns, marching bands, and lots and lots of people.”

Our eyes glowed as we pictured the pending masterpiece. If we had known of it, we’d have thought that Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment would pale in comparison.

After the mural was completed, we had very few days to appreciate the masterpiece before the worst snowstorm in Toronto’s history inundated the city. It was rare that stories linking Canada and snow were considered newsworthy. In other countries, they usually ranked them in the same category as an old bachelor’s love life—frigid, but who cares? However, this was an exception, as the event created newspaper headlines across North America. The Great Storm of 1944 holds the record as the most snow to ever descend on Toronto in a single storm.

It was caused by a warm, moist air mass that travelled for several days northward up the Mississippi Valley from the Gulf of Mexico. Its effects were first felt in Colorado; it continued northward, gradually spinning to the northeast. It reached northern New York State in the early evening of Monday, 11 December, sweeping westward below the Niagara Escarpment and across Lake Ontario. Then, changing direction, it approached Toronto from the east. Before it blew out to sea off the Atlantic seaboard, it created a wide swath of death and destruction. The city came to a standstill, and all schools were closed for four days.

When school reopened, I returned to my grade one classroom. We had completed the Santa Claus Parade mural before the storm, and Miss Magnus had declared it an enormous success. On this first day back, a photographer from the Telegram newspaper arrived and photographed us sitting at our desks, the colourful mural clearly visible on the rear wall. The nursery rhyme characters, the bands, and the funny clowns had all appeared. Santa’s float occupied the most space. It was fantastic!

On the side blackboard, Miss Magnus had sketched, with coloured chalk, a scene of Mary and the Christ Child in the manger. Beside it were printed the words, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The drawing, the words, and the mural were all evident in the photograph.

We each received a print of the picture. My parents framed my copy and hung it on the dining room wall above the radio. It remained there until the day we moved from Lauder Avenue.

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  The great mural created by the grade one class of Miss Magnus in December of 1944.

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Miss Magnus standing beside the chalkboard picture she drew for her grade one class in December of 1944.

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