The Dundas Boy: Showing Appreciation In The Usual Manner


Some boys might have considered Sunday School a drag. But not for this boy and not for our Sunday School. We had to go, of course; there was no discussion about it, but we had fun. Whether we learned much about Jesus is open to question but the memories are good. At St. Paul’s, at 2.45 on a Sunday afternoon, between 250 and 300 kids would assemble in various departments from beginners right up to the adult Bible Class. Sometimes a special visitor would come to speak to us. We would then have “open session.” Except for the littlest kids all the classes joined together to hear a missionary home on furlough tell of far away places; or perhaps it was a visiting minister or some other dignitary who would be invited to speak to us.

Now Dr. Arthur N. Hill was our Superintendent. He was a local dentist who was involved in many things but I think he enjoyed Sunday School the most. When an important person came to visit us, Dr. Hill would invite him or her to speak to us. The visitor would usually hold forth for about twenty minutes. After he or she had finished speaking, Dr, Hill would say to all of us, “We will now show our appreciation in the usual manner.” Clapping was forbidden in Sunday School so, would you believe this? The “usual manner” was taking our handkerchiefs out of our pockets and waving them vigorously above our heads. This was our form of showing appreciation for the speech.

Well, Dr. Hill may have had a nice clean white handkerchief to take out of his breast-coat pocket to wave, but for many of us, especially those of us who had colds, and our handkerchiefs had not lately been turned over to mother for washing, it was different. Some would be damp and as we waved them in the air unseen germs would fly. Some, which had bits of dried and hardened “you know what” on them, would act like sling shots, firing flecks of ammunition about with abandon. It was like a Rice Crispies event, you know, “Snap, Crackle and Pop.” Then we would return our now slightly lighter and drier handkerchiefs to our pockets. I have no idea where Dr. Hill got this idea from. I have never seen it done anywhere else. It was probably the most unsanitary way of showing appreciation ever known to man. My father Burleigh Warren took over as Sunday School Superintendent after Dr. Hill but he never asked us to express our thanks in, what was for Dr. Hill, the “usual manner.”

The issue of the curse of beverage alcohol was raised once a month in Sunday School. We had in our midst a faithful temperance warrior and evangelist named Willie Forbes. Every month he delivered a blistering attack on the evils of booze, upon brewers, distillers, and the beer parlours in town. He had us repeat the “pledge” which was a promise to abstain from drinking. He made a deep impression on me and, all these years later, if somebody offers me a glass of wine I usually demur. One day, as an object lesson, Mr. Forbes produced two bottles filled with clear fluids. One contained alcohol, the other held water.

He then dropped a live earthworm into each bottle. The one in alcohol very quickly died while the one in the water continued to wriggle. We were to draw our own conclusions. Because Willie Forbes was a regular every month, he didn’t get a handkerchief wave.

Our Sunday School was divided by age and sex. There were absolutely no mixed classes once we got close to the teens. I recall a succession of teachers who tried to instill some religion and morality into our less than attentive heads. I remember Lorne Lidstone, Albert Hill, Bert Hood, Harold Jewitt and Charlie Cockburn. Charlie Cockburn was a sixty-year old bachelor who taught us when we were in our early teens. I remember the day he warned us, “Next week I am going to talk about sex.” We certainly were all there that Sunday. He spoke mostly in vague generalities except he did burst forth at one point and actually used the most naughty word in his comments about prostitutes. After the class some of my worldly-wise thirteen-year-old buddies muttered, “Old stuff.” But I felt that, in those late thirties, for a Sunday School teacher to dare talk about this subject to his Sunday School class was quite revolutionary.

It must have been frustrating for our various teachers to try to achieve their weekly goal which was to “get through the lesson.” We would rather discuss the previous night’s hockey game, recalling the skating skills of the great Maple Leaf Syl Apps and the stellar goal-keeping of Turk Broada. As a concession to our secular interests we would be allowed the first ten minutes of the lesson period to discuss things of our choosing. Afterwards we were required to listen. Some years later I taught Sunday School myself and lived with the difficulties of keeping the interest of my little crew, some of whom I remember. I recall David Bates, Ted Wakeling, Stew Brown and Bill Wylie who, along with others suffered under my ignorance concerning the things of faith. Looking back I don’t blame them for their restlessness. Over fifty years later I located Ted Wakeling playing double bass in the Kitchener-Waterloo Community orchestra that my son Dan conducts and Stew Brown has wrapped up his career in writing with the Hamilton Spectator. He has written a book on the history of the Brant Inn.

In our Sunday School there were special classes. One was the Amica Class. They had their own special room in the balcony. This was a group of women who, because of the depression, gathered together to study the scriptures but also share how hamburger could be made to go farther and clothes to last longer. Mrs, Baker was their leader and their class stayed together for years. They sometimes catered for events to raise money for the Sunday School.

When Dorla and I were planning our wedding we asked the Amica Class if they would cater for the reception. They agreed. The Rev. Callum Thompson conducted the ceremony which was on a warm September evening. Mamie Finlayson’s Intermediate Choir
sang .and David Ouchterlony, Organist and Choirmaster from Timothy Eaton Memorial Church in Toronto, where Dorla had been a chorister, played the organ. Doug Laing was my best man. Doug McQueen and Roy McLean from our Dundas Legion Pipe Band,

piped us out of the church which was followed by a ride around town on a tractor-driven hay wagon. The reception was in the church basement afterwards. Jimmy Donnelly, my friend from the Hamilton Spectator, took the official pictures. We had about 150 guests. They sat at tables around the decorated basement and the Amica class served fancy sandwiches, cakes, squares, tarts and beverage. They even provided a special pumpkin pie for me presented by my older sister Margaret because I said I wanted pie at our reception. The cost of it all was one dollar per head. Chew on that, Hyatt-Regency.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There was another interesting class in our Sunday School- the Adult Bible Class. Mr. Gray, whom I thought must be a hundred years old, led this class. They had a special place to meet too. It was under the balcony where they could shut themselves off from the rest of us. I was told that they studied the Old Testament prophets and wrestled with obscure passages from the book of Revelation. It was rumoured that some of them even prayed out loud during their meetings. That was quite unusual because I thought that only ministers prayed out loud, or perhaps Dr. Hill.

There were times during the year when the Sunday School had special events. Every year at the beginning of summer we would have the Sunday School picnic. Most often we would hire a couple of busses from Jim Grightmire’s Canada Coach Lines and go to Galt or Guelph or Hidden Valley park. They were fun. I remember Al Calder, who was studying for the ministry, got a summer job driving one of the busses. In jockeying around to face the right way to load us kids, he backed into a hydro pole. We kids all thought that was a great joke. Another special event in the Sunday School year was the annual concert. Each department would put on a little skit or musical number. It was a very amateur production. We were expected to sell tickets- twenty-five cents for adults, ten cents for kids. I recall the agony of going around our neighbourhood, knocking on doors with my pitch, “We’re putting on our Sunday School Concert at St. Paul’s. You wouldn’t wanna buy a ticket, would you?” I made it very easy for them to say, “No thank you.” Any good salesman would have asked, “How many tickets would you like?” I never learned how to do that.

I guess the most fun I had in Sunday School was playing in the orchestra. We were not overly skilled but we were enthusiastic. Over the years the personnel changed but I remember some of those who gave of their best on a Sunday afternoon. There was Bill Allcroft, a local barber whose hair-cuts, like the Sunday School Concert tickets, were twenty five cents for adults, ten cents for kids. His daughter Marion was in my class at school. When he played his double bass the whole floor of the stage vibrated with a buzz. Tommy Mabb played his “E-flat” alto horn. Tommy had been hit with mustard-gas in World War I and his lungs had been damaged but he had enough wind to play a good horn. Dr. Maxwell Morrow’s two daughters sometimes came and played violins. A sharply- dressed fellow by the name of Whetstone joined the orchestra for a few Sundays. He played a hot saxophone but didn’t stay long. I think he wanted to take over the orchestra and jazz up the hymns.

Alex Drury came from time to time and played clarinet in the Sunday School orchestra as he did in the Dundas Citizen’s band. When Percy Hawkes came to the church, he and his two sons Keith and Brian brought their trumpets with them. You might say they were professional. Theirs was a Salvation Army background. The “Army” is a great place to learn to play a brass instrument. They were just arriving as I was leaving. Later, Keith Hawkes, as a student for the ministry, was the first minister for the newly organized St. Mark’s Church in town. His brother Brian played trumpet for years in the R.C.M.P. band. Don Luke played a very acceptable trumpet as well. Just so you won’t think that this was a massive orchestra, many of these players were there in different eras. My sister Margaret played the hymns on the piano for years. Sometimes, I think, she would rather have been somewhere else. Nevertheless she played with gusto.

As a special musical treat, once in awhile, a man by the name of Dickerson came to give us a few solos on the musical saw. If you have never experienced this phenomenon it went like this. He took an ordinary hand-saw and, squeezing the handle between his knees and grasping the other end of the saw, he bent the blade into the shape of a shallow “S.” Then he would draw a regular violin bow across the back of the saw blade to produce a kind of quavering, haunting sound. By adjusting the shape of the “S” he could change the notes and play some beautiful hymns. It is a fine art and we were all mightily impressed.

But when it came right down to it, for several years Doug Laing and I were the backbone of the orchestra. Doug played his father’s cornet. I played my uncle’s clarinet. We were often the total wind and brass of the band. During the singing of a hymn with a large number of verses, one of us might get out of wind. The other would shout over to the other. “Sounds like you’re fading, but don’t worry, I’ll take the solo.” Solo, my foot! Neither of us was really solo talent. Certainly I wasn’t. We sank or swam together. As Doug played his face would get as red as his hair. My face got red because of the embarrassing number of squeaks I produced on the clarinet.

Although we thought we did pretty well, I think the singing was good because they wanted to drown out the orchestra. After we had finished the final hymn we waited but never heard Dr. Hill say, “The orchestra was wonderful. We will now show our appreciation in the usual manner.”