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The Beacon of St. Clair Township May 2021 Page 12
By G. Wayne Brown
Editor’s note: In the April Beacon, we were introduced to life in the hamlet of Duthil by author G.
Wayne Brown, who spent the first 22 years of his life
there. Part one of the story ended as we learned
that, due to a curious twist of fate, Duthil’s main
street once featured a store located across from a
church and a school situated across from a saloon,
which led some witty individual to quip it had “…
provision, religion, education, and damnation all in
Enjoy this second installment of Duthil Days: Memories of My Hometown.
(continued from the April issue)
Let’s start with “religion”. The Duthil United
Church, which was built in 1880, was a simple, white
framed edifice located on the northwest corner of the
intersection. The front door faced the south and, upon entering, were two very small Sunday school
rooms, one on the left and one on the right. Beyond
these rooms was the main sanctuary. The church
closed in 1961 and stood empty for a few years until a
memorial was erected in 1968.
Next we have “provision”. I’m sorry to say that the
store our family frequented back in the 50’s and 60’s
is a faded, forlorn looking edifice today. It stands on
the southeast corner, diagonally across from where
the church once stood. I strongly suspect that this
same building was the location of the Duthill Post Office (notice it was spelled with two L’s at that time)
which came into existence in 1880. Then, jumping
many years ahead to post-WWII, a man by the name
of Harold Johnston became the proprietor. This was
perhaps no surprise as his father, George, ran a store
in Whitebread before the Johnston family moved up
to the Duthil area to farm.
A favourite time to visit ” Harold’s ” was any evening on a hot, summer’s day in order to buy frostbites
at 5 cents each. There wasn’t always a fast turnover
of goods and items potentially sat on shelves for long
periods of time. I clearly remember buying what used
to be my favourite chocolate candy bar, Neilson’s
Burnt Almond, (the one in the dark blue and gold
wrapper) getting ready to take my second bite but
then noticing little, white worms poking their heads
out of their chocolate tunnels. Yuk!
Harold also took his store on the road by way of an
older, red Ford pick-up. He built a wooden canopy
with fold-up sides that completely covered the truck
bed and this was filled with a variety of Campbell
soups, canned vegetables, and pop. Nothing was refrigerated! The dry goods were usually covered by a
layer of dust accumulated by the many miles driven
on his grocery routes throughout the week.
Now we come to the final commodity offered at
the Duthil intersection – “education”. The school’s designation was S.S. No. 9 Sombra and was approximately an eighth of a mile south of the main corner on the
west side of Duthill Road. The school was probably
erected in the late 1800’s but I attended in the
1950’s. The teacher for the entire eight years of my
elementary education was Maxine Johnston and, if
you haven’t guessed already, she was the store keeper’s wife. Mrs. Johnston, originally from Morrisburg,
taught in Ruscom, (near Leamington) before coming
to S.S. No. 9 Sombra, where she taught for most of
During my eight years at S.S. No. 9, starting in
1952, children from the following families attended
the school: Bray, Brouwer, Brown, Buckingham, Daniels, Dykema, Grant, Hart, Hay, Heatherington,
McGee, McKnight, McMaster, McRae, Shepley, Sterling, Strangway, and Tulloch. My apologies to families
who also had relatives at the school during that
I recall many noteworthy events during these formative years of education, but two really stand out.
Coincidentally, both took place while I was in the junior grades 4, 5, and 6. I’ll start with the incident that
was most academic in nature.
Each week on Friday, it was customary for each
grade to have a spelling dictation test of 20 words. A
Grade 5 girl I happened to have a crush on sat at the
desk in front of me and we were quite competitive
with each other. As a result of this rivalry, we both
had a perfect score week after week. However, one
of the boys in our class never prepared and usually
had a large number of spelling errors after each dictation.
Mrs. Johnston, in order to inspire this lad, decided
to raise the stakes a little by declaring that, for the
next week’s dictation, any misspelled words would
necessitate the use of strap. In other words, for each
mistake, the strap would come down forcefully on the
palm of one’s hand.
The results weren’t quite what we or our teacher
expected. The boy who usually had many errors improved slightly but the girl and I made two mistakes
each. It was really embarrassing to have to go up on
stage in front of the rest of the school to receive our
The second event that will always stand out in my
mind happened when I was in Grade 6 and it was what
you would call educational, but in a different sort of
It was about mid-February on a bright but very
cold winter school day. We were all hard at work
and, at about 10 o’clock in the morning, we heard a
faint but persistent call for help coming from the
boys’ washroom. Mrs. Johnston asked me, along with
another boy, to see what the problem was.
Duthil, Scotland in days gone by. Continued on page 13
The Beacon of St. Clair Township May 2021 Page 13
The Sombra Museum is collecting pandemic stories, photos,
videos, art work, etc. (family friendly) from St. Clair Township
residents to help record and preserve
memories of the COVID experience for future generations.; day-to
-day memories of life in Sombra, Wilkesport, Port Lambton,
Mooretown, Lambton County, Canada, and elsewhere in the
Information we hope you will share includes:
* Shopping conditions and how they changed over time.
* Adapting to working at home, and any challenges or
creative solutions that were needed.
* Financial challenges.
* Feelings caused by the outbreak and thoughts about social
* Keeping children/adults occupied during self-isolation.
* New or newly rediscovered hobbies or crafts you did
* Stories from workers on the front lines/staffing essential
* Struggles of family/friends infected with the virus.
* Stories of everyday heroes, i.e. people helping neighbours/
inconveniences for the greater good.
* How daily life and routines have changed.
* For those who lived through the Depression, World War II,
etc., are there
similarities to those experiences?
• How social media and technology is impacting life in
social isolation (using technology for the first time,
using it differently).
Submissions can be sent by email to:
firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “COVID19 History Snapshot”.
Please share this request for community life memories with as
many people as possible. We encourage everyone to document
this time, if not to share publicly, then for yourself and your family
to look back and reflect on in years to come.
Take care and be well. ~Kailyn Shepley
Sombra Museum seeks information/photos of COVID era
Moore Museum is still accepting information for a virtual exhibit for the museum’s website. It will feature brief
histories and photos of the schools in the former Moore Township prior to centralization in 1963. There were 19
school sections in Moore, four of which were union schools – two shared with Sombra Township and two with Sarnia
Township. To see the map that indicates where the schools’ locations, see the April 2021 Beacon. It can be accessed, along with further information, by going online the St. Clair Township website home page. Click on The
Beacon, top right of the page. ~Laurie Mason, curator, Moore Museum
Because the bathroom door had been locked from
inside, we had to push hard enough to pop the hook.
Once inside we could hardly believe our eyes.
But first, a bit more background would be useful
for readers unfamiliar with rural school houses. Both
the girls’ and boys’ washrooms were inside the school
just as one entered from outside. A coat rack was on
one wall while the other side housed an enclosed toilet. This was no flush toilet; it was only a seat attached above an open septic tank and because there
were no heat ducts into the tiny room, the temperature in these washrooms was nearly as cold as it was
Here’s what happened. A boy in Grade 5 was given
permission to use the washroom and because it was so
cold, he wore his coat and rubber boots into the stall
area. He also had with him a new pair of mitts his
mother had recently knit for him.
Unfortunately, while he was seated, one of the
mitts fell into the septic tank. Fearing that his mother would be upset with him for losing his mitt, the
boy took off his coat and tried to reach down with his
fingers to retrieve it but with no success.
At this point he devised a new plan to reach the
mitt. He lowered himself down into the tank and tried
to pinch the mitt between his boots. The longer he
tried the more tired he became until he finally let go
and fell in.
My classmate and I managed to pull him out but
with a great deal of difficulty as he was up to his
waist in purification. His boots were also chuck full.
I don’t know what I had eaten for breakfast that
morning but I lost it right there. We steered him outside onto the cement steps for by this time the rest
of the school had dismissed for the morning recess. I
have to say that I’ve never seen such an awful sight!
From the waist down he was different shades of
black, grey, yellow, and brown and his boots squished
every time he took a step in the snow. It took me a
long time to stop gagging!
Two years later brought me to my graduation year
and my exit from S.S. No. 9 Sombra. Those who followed in the grades behind me would soon start attending the new East Sombra Central School where
my teacher, Maxine Johnston, would complete her
teaching career. My old, one-room school house
would eventually be torn down by the mid 1960’s.
In the fall of 2019 my wife and I, along with
my brother Eldon, tried to find the site of the old
school. It was a challenge since the area had been
densely overgrown with brush and thorn trees. You
would never have guessed that a school sitting in the
middle of a large playground had existed in that spot.
However, with a little persistence and numerous
thorn pricks, we were rewarded by finding two cement front steps and the school’s foundation. That
was proof that I had indeed spent eight years of my
Memory of an unhole-y mess
From page 12
Moore Museum seeks information about history of old Moore Township schools
St. Clair Parkway Golf
Planning & Zoning
St. Clair Community Services
Preauthorized Utility Billing Form
Preauthorized Tax Change Form
Preauthorized Tax Form
Dog Tag Form
St. Clair River Trail
Heritage St. Clair
Open Burn Permit
Development Charges By-Law
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