Two weeks ago I bought some KCVI yearbooks at the flea market for the school years 1931-32, 1940-41, and 1944-45. I’ve seen other ones kicking around antique places, but I’ve never bought them because they’ve always been too expensive. I got these three for $12 apiece which is more reasonable. In these days when KCVI’s future is faltering, it seemed like a good idea to save something for posterity.
When it comes to KCVI I don’t know a terrible lot and I’ve actually never set foot inside the place, but it hopefully won’t matter too much because in this post I’m just going over a few interesting and funny things from the yearbooks, not writing the official history. I’ve gone with a “less is more” approach as opposed to copying page after page, for length and also for variety’s sake.
And by the way, I apologize about the bad picture quality – my printer does a terrible job scanning photographs, and I’ve done the best I can. With that out of the way, let’s get started!
This was a significant year for KCVI because it was the first time it existed as KCVI: 1932 saw the opening of the Technical School and a new wing of the building, changing Kingston Collegiate Institute to Kingston Collegiate Vocational Institute. The “Foreword” to the yearbook says:
1932 has certainly seen the greatest advance our school has made since – well, since 1892, when the school was built on its present site.
The students liked the Technical School and were happy with a new building to study in, although at the same time they weren’t afraid to voice their negative opinion of how it looked. If I’m not mistaken, the wing they’re criticizing is the Frontenac St. entrance we know and love today:
As to the architecture, we cannot say so much. Why all architects nowadays suffer from the idea that schools should resemble factories, we do not know. Perhaps the word “Technical” was their inspiration, which at any rate was faithfully carried out, even to the hideous ventilators on the roof.
One thing they concede is the “airiness” of the new wing, “which can at least be commended.” But if you look at the building, the students were absolutely right: KCVI really does look like a factory! Check it out next time you’re in the area.
This yearbook has plenty of class photos featuring girls with giant fur collars on their coats, wisecracking student write-ups professing talent in attracting the opposite sex, an off-colour joke or two and nary a mention of the Depression (that I can remember).
Some of these write-ups are funny. This is one of my favourites (though I don’t know what the “SUP” is):
JACK THOMPSON – John Aloysius Augustus Thompson, the flame-haired monster is a denizen of the “SUP” where he lures innocent Sylphs into his clutches. In his sleep he is oft heard to cry . . . “Irene! Irene! why hast thou forsaken me?” John intends to enter medicine at Queen’s next year. Good Luck to you Augustus.
The rest of the book is filled with the usual sections about athletics, dances, contests, ads for Kingston businesses, and also stories, jokes, and poems. Unfortunately this yearbook contains no autographs.
For some reason this yearbook is quite thin, physically and content-wise. There aren’t many photographs, even of classes, and the student write-ups have been cut down to class write-ups. Of course this yearbook also has the typical sections about athletics and clubs, including the newly-formed Photography Club.
The Second World War is tentatively present here, mostly in an optimistic story by a student called “The Lone Patrol” and a biographical sketch of Winston Churchill.
What this yearbook lacks in content it makes up for in autographs and cool (but tiny) candid photos. Other than that, there’s not much to report.
This yearbook is packed with a lot of fun stuff, including the KCVI pin-up girl you saw at the top of the post. It, as well as many of the other illustrations, were done by the art editor of the yearbook, a student named George Sakell. He also drew the insane cover, which I would be wrong not to show:
In contrast to the 1940-41 yearbook, this edition cries out, “We’ve nearly won the war!” Even the principal’s message is totally about the impending victory and says nothing at all about the school year. However, two pages before it we find the KCVI Honour Roll, which lists the names of former students who died during the war. I looked through these books chronologically, so it actually came as a bit of a shock to see names there that I recognized from the earlier editions.
There are two military photos in this book, one of Squadron Leader R.E.D. Ratcliffe, D.F.C. getting the Distinguished Flying Cross from King George VI, and another of Group Captain Paul Y. Davoud, D.S.O., D.F.C. looking at a plane. Apparently KCVI was particularly enamoured of the Air Force. (Remember “The Lone Patrol”?)
This yearbook has more candids (tiny, once again) and autographs, including many from teachers. But what really stand out are the illustrations, as I mentioned. Here’s another glorious one accompanying a story called “His Brother’s Keeper”:
Doesn’t get much better than 1940s high school sci-fi.
Writing this post has made me think about what it’s like to be a young person today and what it must have been like in the 1930s and 40s. Today you often hear about how difficult it is for young adults to gain footing in the world, how youth unemployment is high, and how we’re all struggling with insurmountable debts and insecurities. Much of this is true, but I think these teenagers seventy and eighty years ago were looking into a unknown future far more frightening. As the world churned around them through poverty and war, it would have become obvious that people have the ability to mess things up very badly, very quickly, and that nothing is guaranteed. I would have been frankly terrified. You’ve got to give these kids some respect.
Companion post: Back to School: Queen’s Edition