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Growing Up Female in Weston

by Helen Lee

The World of Childhood

In 1934, my family moved to a house on Holley Avenue in Weston. I was fascinated by a family who lived nearby because I thought they had three daughters who could be playmates. I eventually discovered that there was only one girl, a lovely child named Mavis Hedlam. She was always changing her clothes and in so doing fooled me into thinking there were several girls instead of one with a large wardrobe. In 1937, we moved to a house on Main Street three doors south of the Baptist church.

Helen Lee's home (left side of duplex) at 23 Main Street (now Weston Road)
Elocutionist, Miss Beale’s home, on right side of duplex

Our next door neighbour was Joe Nason who co-wrote the first history of Weston. From our dining room window, we could see a light on each night in his home while Mr. Nason sat surrounded by stacks of paper as he worked on this project.

Joseph Nason Home on Main Street (now Weston Road)
Mr. Nason co-authored "History of Weston" (1937) with Dr. F. D. Cruickshank

As girls, we amused ourselves in various ways. Sometimes we would walk north on Main Street as far as Miss Savage’s house at Main and Church (at present a small plaza). The purpose of our journey was to walk on her wall- a very high, poured concrete wall- and in our imaginations was a train. Occasionally, we got permission to go to Squibb’s. This was a mecca of delights since Squibb’s always had in stock whatever was the latest fad. We were able to go and buy pomegranates once a year or purchase the latest “must have” item whether it was a yo-yo or a wooden paddle with rubber ball attached. For a few years prior to 1939, when I was between the ages of ten and thirteen, Miss Beale occasionally organized “musicals.” Miss Beale was an Elocutionist and taught elocution as well as breathing techniques to professional singers. We girls and boys would gather at a house at the corner of Main Street and Sykes to participate in these events which were comprised of piano recitals as well as the recital of poetry. Mrs. Knapp provided refreshments for these enjoyable occasions.

The Savage Home, formerly at the corner of Church and Weston Road

Elementary School

At King Street Public School, girls and boys formed separate lines outside and entered through separate entrances to be greeted by the grade one teacher, Miss Hassard, playing Marches on the piano. Boys removed their caps immediately upon entering the building. Teacher types ranged from the grade two’s Miss Love whose approach matched her name to others, who were considerably less agreeable.

King Street Public School, Weston
This building formerly occupied the site of present day
H.J. Alexander Junior Public School

In those days, physical punishment and public humiliation were methods used by some teachers to maintain order. I recall a student who wrote with his left hand being rapped on the knuckles with a wooden pointer for that crime. I had to undergo hearing tests after a certain teacher informed my mother that I was deaf. In fact, my hearing was fine. I suspect I was simply bored since I had studied the material at a previous school and thus I appeared inattentive. As well, we had to have “penny banks” whose purpose, I assume, was to teach us the value of savings. Each week we brought in a few pennies and had the sum recorded in a book. Mavis Hedlam always had 25 cents to deposit; this was, for us, an enormous sum and one more cause of admiration for her. A student was entrusted with taking the money collected for deposit to the Bank of Montreal.

Helen Lee's class, circa 1937 - King Street Public School
Her friend Mavis Hedlam is standing in the back row, far right

Other teachers included Miss Campbell who taught grades seven and eight. She would often ask me to take a note to Mr. Simpson, the butcher, whose shop was on the east side of Main Street between John and Lawrence. Of course, I never opened the notes to read them and simply assumed they were grocery lists. However, years later, when Miss Campbell was in her sixties and married Mr. Simpson, I realized the notes had contained a very different kind of message.

Once, our grade five teacher, Miss Boake got ill and her replacement was her sister-in-law, Mrs. Boake. This was a shocking event since married women were not allowed to teach. Presumably, this exception was acceptable since the position was merely temporary.

High School

A highlight of my high school years, 1941-1944, was to have received invitations to parties held by classmates who lived in “Little Europe”. On Rosemount at Purdy Street was a big farm gate. On the other side of the gate were muddy fields some of which were owned by Sir Henry Pellatt. Families of Ukrainian, Polish, Lithuanian descent and others lived in homes in this area. Their children, who were my classmates, had to leave their boots at the gate because of the mud and change into school shoes. These people had the best parties which featured dancing and lovely food. I was allowed to attend these events because my parents knew I’d be perfectly safe. Before the war, I recall one summer being with my father and seeing truckloads of people travelling up Main Street to that area to participate in the picnics held regularly in the fields and/or to provide entertainment through folk dance performances.


During the war years, everyone had to register at the Post Office to provide information about one’s address and citizenship. It was apparently important to identify Canadians from foreigners. “Foreigners” were viewed with suspicion and sometimes treated to nasty behaviour. I recall my sister, who was employed by a Fruit and Vegetable Market on Main Street, talking about receiving phone orders for delivery of fruit to locations where no one lived. It was suspected these calls were motivated by meanness directed at the owner because he was Italian.

Wartime Registration Certificate filed by Helen Lee's father

In Retrospect

Reflecting upon growing up, I realize that my world was both innocent and limited because I was female. My physical territory was governed by parental rules as to where I could and could not go. Elementary school enforced the limitations faced by women. Only unmarried women could be employed; marriage meant the end of a teaching career. Later, once I was employed and married, my job ended when I became pregnant and started to “show”. Classmates in my high school years opened up my small world. I loved participating in the activities offered by “Little Europe”. I did not engage in the meanness directed at “foreigners” by so many others. In a sense, Weston was really a miniature version of the larger world in which both innocence and cruelty resided.

A later photograph of Helen Lee's home at 23 Main Street

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