Janet Crawford

Chilliwack Middle School celebrates its history

To celebrate CMS's 100th anniversary, the school invites residents to trek through the ages Tuesday night in a carefully staged open house.

During Chilliwack Middle School’s history, students have sung in glee club, have become cadets to support the war effort, and have enjoyed a gradual slackening of the dress code. Cars went up in price from their $650 tag in 1920, an acre of land by the school grounds is no longer $125, and the school’s name changed at least thrice.

CMS opened in 1913. To celebrate its one hundred year anniversary, the school invites residents to trek through the ages Tuesday night in a carefully staged open house.

With research help from the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, the school has also printed a full-colour, fifty-page commemorative booklet tracking the school and its students through the decades, in an effort to help modern students place themselves on the continuum of time.

“I wanted to engage the students in the past using their historical imagination so that they would connect, and it would have relevance with them,” said teacher Janet Crawford. “I want them to connect their identity, who they are now, with the Chilliwack of the Bonanza era, from about the 1910 to 1914 in particular.”

Crawford focused her research on the pre-1950 era, primarily using The Progress newspaper articles, but also old photographs and report cards.

She found that school life was profoundly different back then. Agriculture had a powerful role, and Grade 10 students would take as many as 10 ag courses. The extra-curricular potato club had students discussing how to best grow spuds.

Nearly everybody had a garden, either on school grounds or at private homes, and students grew all kinds of hearty vegetables, raised dairy cows and sows, and even youngsters had flower gardens. In one ancient photo, an endless row of tractors lines Wellington Avenue.

Chilliwack’s roots are in a strong sense of community. When an item was lost or found, it would be returned to the post office or the Royal Bank. The newspaper ran stories on whose flowers came in first, or where the school principal was spending the weekend.

“And it wasn’t seen as nosy. It was seen as pride in the community, and attachment. And everybody knew everybody’s business, not for the nosy factor, but for the building of a nation,” said Crawford.

During the war years, life was much tougher. Even CMS yearbooks were bare bones, as the school’s primary effort was to raise money for the Allies. Cadets became mandatory in 1941-42, and all students learned drills and morse code.

Digging into the city’s archives, Shannon Bettles, heritage records manage at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, found several CMS alumni who went on to do great things. Dorothy Kostrzewa was the first Chinese-Canadian woman elected to political office. Sharon Gaetz is the current city mayor. Homer Thompson was a world-renowned archeologist. And the architect of CMS, Thomas Hooper, is a great-great-great-great uncle of two current students.

“I wanted to generate conversation in families. We’re hoping to make inter-generational connections, because then you better understand your identity,” said Crawford.

On the eve of May 28, CMS will open its doors to guide visitors through the school’s history. All 100 yearbooks will be on display in one room. Another classroom will feature vintage team sport sweaters and cheerleading uniforms. Yet other rooms will demonstrate the most modern side of CMS’s history, its new educational technology, such as touchscreen Smart Boards, and the robotics program.

Finally, Chilliwack resident Hennie Drenton-Regoczi will perform snippets of her one-woman play, “Droning of Bombers,” about how she and her family sheltered people escaping the Second World War near the German border. The play ran last year at the UFV Theatre department.

The festivities at CMS are freely open to the public, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday night. Copies of the commemorative booklet will be on sale for a discounted $10.


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