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Trent University is one of a few popular post-secondary choices for local graduates.

Back To School: Post-Secondary pursuits, past and present

in Education/Just in Time by
Trent University is one of a few popular post-secondary choices for local graduates.

A familiar ritual plays out across Kawartha Lakes on the first Tuesday of September. It’s a ritual that most of us have participated in – sometimes grudgingly, often anxiously. For those living in the countryside, this ritual involves waiting at the end of a long laneway for a yellow bus.

For those in town, it involves making a five, 10, 15, or 20-minute journey by foot, or occasionally by car. Parents reassure their children that they will do well on their first day of Kindergarten, while down the street their teen-aged counterparts are gaily exchanging pleasantries about their summer break, and comparing notes about who is taking what classes this semester.

Columnist Ian McKechnie.

It’s the first day of school, a day when the 41 elementary schools and 7 secondary schools overseen by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board become populated with students and teachers once again.  For those in primary and junior grades, and for those in Grades 9, 10, and 11, the answer to the question “what’s next?” is obvious. They will be attending classes, participating in various extracurricular activities, and socializing with friends over lunch.

For those who graduated the previous June, the answer to the question “what’s next?” will differ from student to student. Having “gone up with a triumphant shout” to receive their Ontario Secondary School Diplomas, have their picture taken, and receive the accolades any newly-minted high school graduate so richly deserves, they now find themselves in any number of universities, colleges, or apprenticeships – learning new skills and trying to navigate the shoals of post-secondary life.

Looking back through the annals of high school history in Lindsay reveals some interesting trends about the post-secondary options being pursued by graduates. How these trends have changed – or, in many cases, remained the same – should make us pause to consider the challenges faced by those in the post-secondary world four or five generations later.

Take the 1923-24 issue of the Tatler, the beloved yearbook issued annually by Lindsay Collegiate Institute (now LCVI). “The members of last year’s Fifth Form are widely scattered,” we read in the report about Alumni. “A number have been attracted by the examples of some of our pedagogues, and have resolved to ‘go and do likewise.’ Quite a quota of our graduates are now attending universities, attracted by the seeming gay and carefree life of the ‘undergrad’ of U. of T. or Queen’s.”

That only two major post-secondary institutions are mentioned reminds us that the smorgasbord of options for universities and community colleges great and small, which we take for granted today, were still many decades in the future. Most who went to university 95 years ago went to study one of these professions: engineering, law, medicine, or ministry. Aspiring schoolteachers were trained in “Normal Schools,” such as those in Peterborough and Toronto. Others became store clerks, junior bank employees, or salespeople. Many remained on the family farm or, as is often the case now, took some time off to consider their prospects.

Fifteen years later, with nearly a decade of economic depression drawing to a close, the numbers of those attending university were less than 10 – about the same as in 1923. The 1938 issue of the L.C.I. Tatler reports that four of the preceding year’s graduates were enrolled at the University of Toronto, while one was listed at Queen’s University in Kingston. One young man went on to pursue veterinary medicine, while another went to the Chicago College of Osteopathy. Six graduates found themselves at Baker’s Business College in Lindsay  (one of whom, Mrs. Phyllis Pitts, née Thurston, still lives in Lindsay). Two enrolled in Peterborough’s Normal School, where they would undertake training to become schoolteachers. Several found work in Lindsay’s many downtown businesses, including the Lindsay Daily Post, Fulton Stewart’s Studio, and Zeller’s. Those who had taken courses through Lindsay Collegiate Institute’s Commercial Department found themselves in the offices of once-prosperous companies, some of which no longer exist – The Warder newspaper in Lindsay, and Woolworth’s store in Peterborough, for instance.

So what has changed and what hasn’t in the intervening 80 years?

The teaching profession is still popular, with many a Lindsay-area graduate trooping off to places like Queen’s University or Lakehead University to pursue a two-year program in teacher’s college. Nursing is an obviously lucrative career choice, particularly in a region like ours, with a significant (and growing) number of seniors in need of care. The skilled trades remain in demand, while our thriving downtown and expanding retail facilities on Kent Street West will continue to require clerks and salespeople.

What has changed? The plethora of new colleges and universities (such as Trent University, pictured) during the postwar years is one such change. Many of these schools have developed notable programs in the fields of Canadian Studies, Environmental Science, and Indigenous Studies – all of which prepare young scholars to better understand Canada and the world. Also in focus now are the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – which will be necessary as advancements in technology continue unabated.

Admittedly, some changes have only served to remind us that Lindsay is no longer the great commercial and industrial centre it was during the first half of the 20th Century. No longer do newly-minted LCVI, Fenelon Falls, and I.E. Weldon alumni have the option of taking classes at Alex Paton’s School of Telegraphy in the upper floor of the Academy Theatre. No longer have they the option of being classed in Lindsay as locomotive engineers on the Grand Trunk Railway. Nurses are no longer trained at the Ross Memorial Hospital, and Baker’s Business College is long gone.

Said Lindsay’s Industrial Commissioner, Dan McQuarrie (1887-1970), after the Second World War: “We need employment for the boys returning.” Three quarters of a century later, it is incumbent upon our governments at all levels to invest in opportunities for those returning to Kawartha Lakes from post-secondary institutions elsewhere, particularly opportunities in the growing culture and tourism industry, which has long since succeeded the factories and railways of yore.

Ian McKechnie is a graduate of Trent University and a lifelong resident of Lindsay. He presently works as a freelance writer and researcher, undertaking projects both for the museum in Lindsay and other organizations. Ian writes regularly on issues of cultural and historical significance.

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