T.W. Paterson: Christmas concert at Bench School, part 2

The late Bob Dougan of the pioneering Cobble Hill family completes his tale of a Christmas concert in a one-room schoolhouse in the 1920s.

The late Bob Dougan of the pioneering Cobble Hill family completes his tale of a Christmas concert in a one-room schoolhouse in the 1920s.

“There would be reciting of poetry and singing of Christmas carols, sung in solo and by chorus. There were also plays, taken from Charles Dickens’s novels, such as the famous A Christmas Carol. After which there was always some [comic] relief but in spite of the best of directing and arranging, and some of our young teacher’s attempts at regaining control, a comedy of errors would inevitably occur, initiating quiet giggling, which soon turned into the biggest outburst of good healthy laughter of the evening.

The show would last about one and one-half hours, followed by much hand clapping and smiles of encouragement from the parents. When the show was over, it was time for Santa Claus, who was played by Mr. Fred Bomford. A recent arrival in the district, Mr. Bomford had a 50-acre block of land on the east side of Telegraph Road, just across the road from our farm…

Mr. and Mrs. Bomford had a son, Wilfred, and they soon became at home in the area and active in school affairs. Fred Bomford became our Santa Claus, and a very good one.

When all the children were in place, he would make his entrance, coming in the back door carrying a big gunny sack of toys. His arrival would be preceded by the ringing of sleigh bells and the brushing of snow off his Santa Claus suit. Walking up to Miss Williams, he would give her a hearty handshake, ask her where all the children were, and tell her that he had to hurry as he had other schools to visit this night.

Our teacher and Santa would get close to the tree and start whispering as he pulled toys out of the bag and she put them on the tree.

He would ask in a voice that we could hear, ‘Now, Miss Williams, you will have to tell me about the ones that have been bad, I need to know.’

Santa Claus, after being assured by our teacher that the children had been well-behaved, at least most of the time, would pick a gift from a well-arranged pile of parcels under the Christmas tree. With just the right amount of clowning, he would call out the girl’s or boy’s name (written on the wrapper) and, as the child approached him, he would be looking around and asking, ‘Where has that child got to?’ Then, ‘Oh, there you are. Oh, my, my, I almost gave it to another little girl.’

Fred Bomford had a different story for each child and he always tried to fool his own son, Wilfred, who would stand, with his red hair and freckled face, looking up at his father in a questioning manner.

His job as Santa Claus completed, Fred Bomford would depart with a ‘Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!’ accompanied by ringing sleigh bells.

The night’s entertainment was not yet over, for on one of the iron heaters was a copper boiler filled with water, and suspended within this bubbling cauldron was a small flour bag containing a rather large amount of coffee. The old heater, well-stoked with rather pitchy looking firewood, kept the well water bubbling and gurgling through the bag of coffee for some time, until the brew became rich indeed. No one seemed to complain as they consumed this rather potent beverage, and partook of the other refreshments. These consisted of sandwiches, filled with quite a varied assortment of meat[s], and home-made cakes, which were as varied as the sandwiches.

When the repast was over, still more excitement was heralded by the redistribution of chairs and benches to the side of the room by some of the males in attendance, and the sweeping of the sand carried onto the floor from the earth outside. Then talcum powder was sprinkled over the floor, making it slippery for the dancers who would glide and circle about the room. Violin music was supplied by Charley and Dick Ryan along with Billy Mearns and, on at least one occasion, Miss Williams helping out on the piano.

Soon, one could hear the fiddlers tuning up their violins. When all was ready, someone would call out, “Take your partners for the waltz,” and the old school house floor would be covered with gliding couples moving smoothly around the room.

First was a dance number, quite new to the district, called the Fox Trot (somewhat similar to the two-step). The fiddlers moved into a faster tempo with the music for the schottiche and the old school house floor rose and fell slightly with the rhythm of the dancers. The pace quickened again as the men with the fiddles started playing music for a square dance. Harry Parker, one of the local residents, was the caller, and in a voice that seemed garbled to my young ears, I could hear him calling out, “Ladies to the right, gents to the left and ladies do-si-do.” The violins whined in time with the piano and the fiddlers kept time with their feet while the locals had their night out. Along with the occasional yell from one of the more exuberant dancers, upon the completion of each dance there would be much hand clapping and cries of, “More, more!”

This would continue until about 2 o’clock in the morning, when the tired dancers would be ready for the home waltz. This would be to the tune of ‘Home Sweet Home,’ played in three-quarter time, and would be followed by the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’ The participants formed a circle while holding hands across their breasts as they sang the lyrics of this beautiful old song. Robert Browne, one of the local loggers, usually led the singers as they gave their all in the true spirit of Christmas.

When the singing had come to the end, the owners of automobiles went out into the night to warm up their Model T Fords, Chevs, Overlands, Maxwells, or whatever. In the days before anti-freeze, this had to be done often during the entertainment in order to keep the block from freezing (a major disaster).

It was quite customary to see cars with their radiators covered by old blankets or overcoats in an effort to keep out the frost.

Our family was a long way from owning a car and I can remember walking to the concert with our parents on a very cold night, well bundled up against the cold. After the concert, we would get a ride home with family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Churchill, in their Model T. What a thrill it was as we chugged down Telegraph Road, the cold winter wind blowing around our ears and the car lights, which drew energy from the magneto, growing dim as the car slowed…”

Such, according to Bob Dougan, was a Christmas concert at Bench School, Cobble Hill in the 1920s.


Just Posted

A new laundromat is opening in the Peters Centre in Lake Cowichan. (file photo)
Peters Centre getting all cleaned up

Laundromat being developed at the Neva Road site

Robert's column
Robert Barron column: Skyrocketing house prices a tragedy

North Cowichan councillor Rosalie Sawrie brought an interesting perspective to a discussion… Continue reading

Soaker hoses laid down over corn seedlings, soon to be covered with mulch, will see to the watering needs of the bed through any summer drought. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Investing in soaker hoses is money well-spent

No-till gardening has a distinct advantage during drought

Karl McPherson, left, and Mary Morrice are the new head coach and general manager, respectively, at the Duncan Dynamics Gymnastics Club. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Manager charts a new course for Duncan Dynamics

More recreational programs to join competitive teams

Cute but fierce! Timber moonlights as an attack kitty. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Sarah Simpson Column: Beware of Mr. Bite, the midnight attacker

Last week, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by… Continue reading

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read