Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange at yesterday morning’s news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

According to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, it turns out “emerging evidence has made it clear that masks can play an important role limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”

Who knew?

Those were pretty much the first words out of Ms. LaGrange’s mouth as yesterday morning’s news conference on revisions to Alberta’s minimalist back-to-school scheme got under way.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at the same event (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

As a result — of intense public pressure, that is, not “emerging” evidence provided by Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw or the boffins at Alberta’s health ministry as Ms. LaGrange implied — teachers and students in Grades 4 and above will now be required to wear masks when school reopens in September.

Exemptions and exceptions to the latest pandemic rules, however, will be plentiful. Moreover, classrooms will continue to be packed and COVID-19 will remain highly infectious.

Teachers and staff will be required to wear masks — where two metres of physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Students will also be required to wear them — in all shared and common areas. So, in Dr. Hinshaw’s words, the rule will only apply “outside the classroom, or when activities inside the classroom involve close interactions. … Masks inside the classroom are not required when students are seated and the teacher is distanced from the students.”

Students in Grades 1 to 3 won’t have to wear masks, although they can if they want to. As all of us who have raised children understand, informed consent does not typically play a big role in the typical Grade 1 student’s perspective, but whatever.

Anyway, don’t worry about it. The province is sticking to its view small kids aren’t likely to transmit the coronavirus. “Current medical evidence indicates that children under 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19,” Ms. LaGrange recited, a view not necessarily universally shared by all experts.

SOS Alberta Communication Director Barbara Silva (Photo: EdCan Network).

Students in higher grades have to wear masks — but will have the option of taking their masks off when they’re seated in class.

And so on. Readers will get the picture.

Critics were quick to respond that the changes announced by Ms. LaGrange and Dr. Hinshaw yesterday seemed to be intended to look responsive to public pressure for a safe school reopening while doing as little as possible.

“In the absence of additional measures, mandating masks as a stand-alone initiative is an insufficient response which may in many cases add confusion for many students and staff,” said Support Our Students Alberta Communication Director Barbara Silva. Critically, she noted, “it fails to address the issue of overcrowding.”

But then, Ms. LaGrange went on, there will also be hand sanitizer, 466,000 litres of it, some face shields (thanks to a corporate donor, for heaven’s sake), two hand-held thermostats per school, and 1.6 million reusable masks, enough for two for every student and staff member, plus some extra disposables at the door in case a student forgets to pack a mask with lunch.

Bevan Daverne, president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents (Photo: Golden Hills School District).

And in case you thought the government was being cheap about this, the minister noted solemnly, the extra effort will cost an additional $10 million.

Indeed, you can expect to hear the government’s social media troll team screaming about how NDP Opposition leader Rachel Notley’s alternative school opening plan would cost an “unrealistic” $1 billion.

Never mind that this is government that just promised to give $7.5 billion away to a pipeline company for a pipe through Montana that stands a significant chance of being spiked soon after Joe Biden is sworn in as president of the United States. Priorities.

Remember as well that the United Conservative Party government just got finished giving away about 40 million non-medical masks at the drive-through windows of Alberta fast food restaurants — those well-known dispensers of dietary and other health information, McDonald’s, A&W and Tim Hortons.

How much did that cost, one wonders? Why didn’t they keep those masks to use in schools, where they might actually get worn? And why wasn’t that the government’s first instinct? There would have been enough to give each student, teacher and additional staff member nearly 50 masks!

Yesterday’s announcement establishes one thing, and that is that sustained public pressure can get even a government like the one run by Premier Jason Kenney’s party to budge — a little.

But the subtext of the message was don’t get any more big ideas.

“Today’s announcement,” the minister said, was the result of the government “continuing to listen to expert medical advice.” Dr. Hinshaw said much that same thing. It’s the government, though, that gets to pick the experts.

Bevan Daverne, superintendent of the Golden Hills School District in Strathmore and president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, who took part in the news conference via telephone, was quoted in the government’s news release saying: “This announcement clearly demonstrates Alberta Education’s willingness to take the necessary steps to support the safety of staff and students.”

Well, maybe. But there are many Albertans who are not yet persuaded by that assertion.

It’ll be interesting to see what they have to say in the next few days.

Join the Conversation


  1. Well perhaps the dam has finally burst and the climbdowns have begun. Or perhaps in its desperation, the UCP occasionally has brief moments of lucidity and appearing reasonable that will soon pass. I suppose we will see which it is.

    I don’t think as much as some might hope Kenney and crew will change their fundamental nature. They may bend a bit, but will soon snap back to the way they tend to be. A big clue here is the $10 million figure, which these days is not even a big lottery prize. They make it sound like a lot, but it still seems like they are trying to do iall this on the cheap.

    I suppose things might go a bit better with some masks. At least it gives the appearance of doing something, which politically is better than nothing and if appearances are what the current government really cares about.

  2. Watching UCP run is comical in the extreme.

    First, they present a united front, resist any effort to counter their better judgement, and will use any means available to demand unending obedience to their unassailable wisdom.

    And then they fall in like a rotten thatch roof.

    Dr. Hinshaw has no credibility at all at this point, as she is just another one of Kenney’s obedient lap dogs.

    I look forward to Shady Shandro stepping in to announce his surrender to the AMA and his immediate departure from Alberta, because B.C. is so much better.

    1. I wouldn’t be so hard on Dr Hinshaw. Her job is to provide advice to the Government of the day; the Government is then perfectly free to accept or ignore her advice. Alberta politics has a historical example of what happens when a medical officer of health goes too public about their disagreements with the Government: recall that when Dr David Swann was MOH of the then Palliser Regional Health Authority — Medicine Hat & area — but was fired in 2002 when he supported a motion passed by the Alberta Society of Public Health Officers critical of the government’s policies on the environment & climate change (sound familiar?). He then went on to become Liberal party leader and an MLA for a Calgary seat.

      I don’t want to speculate on how badly Dr Hinshaw needs her job, or whether she is free to risk losing it by publicly disagreeing with the UCP Government; she’s no Dr Fauci, who has a job in Italy waiting for him if The Donald gives him the boot. But political accountability is properly assigned to the elected officials, like the Ministers involved — Shandro & Lagrange — & the Premier, not on the CMOH.

  3. Well, this is serious stuff, so opinions of lay commentators are essentially useless, except on matters of pure common sense.

    With my brother being a retired MD, he subscribes to various newsletters. One investment newsletter is run by a US medical researcher, and he has laid out what I consider the best explainer of Covid-19 spread and control intelligible to intelligent laypersons, those who can actually stay the course and read what’s being said.

    Note particularly the criticism he makes of various vaccine developments so far and the reasons why.

    There is a link within the essay to a recent technical paper the person has published — it’s way beyond my skill level, but establishes his bona fides. Also note that he praises the Norwegian response to school re-opening, giving a further link to that. Perhaps that may help concerned parents to not worry so much about the younger children.

    Having gone through the wordy plan published for school opening in my province of Nova Scotia, and then taken a look at the Norwegian plan these last couple of days, it seems that a lot of the NS plan was lifted from the Norwegian model, down to using the same word “cohort”. This encourages me.

    I cannot really comment myself on the Alberta plan, as although the presentation was on CBC yesterday, I really find myself unable to watch in detail Dr Henshaw with the provincial health minister hovering over her like a commissar. The Q&A session afterwards was so brief as to be laughable. I guess you get what you’re given in Alberta and back chat is not allowed. I’m afraid that kind of approach will allow concerned citizens to continue to speculate as to whether the Alberta school re-opening plan is reasonable or not.

    One thing that is mentioned in the Nova Scotia plan, but not expanded upon, is that some consideration should be given in our Grade 9 to 12 classes to having teachers move to classrooms, rather than having students en masse changing classrooms at the end of periods. Well, Duh and D’oh. That was standard over 60 years ago when I was a kid in England. When at age twelve I came to Canada, the wholesale movement of students at the end of periods amazed me. I do not think it takes much deep thinking to realize that not having students milling about in hallways, where masking is mandatory, multiple times per day, is anywhere near as good as keeping students in place and swapping teachers instead.

  4. Extra funds to try and make schools safer: $10 million, a one time expense.
    Budget for Jason Kenney’s war room: $30 million, every year.

    I am starting to develop a mental image of a Far Side-like cartoon. I don’t know what the drawing would be, but the caption would be “Too late Albertans discovered the folly of having a premier obsessed with jobs in the middle of a pandemic.”

  5. ”“This UCP plan as it stands is essentially a large, human-scale experiment without safety nets to see what will happen to kids, their teachers and their respective families,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician, and an assistant professor in public health at the University of Alberta.”


    re: ‘human-scale experiment’ with COVID in the school system…

    so… IOW… Kenney Conservatives’ making students and teachers into ‘austerity’ lab-rats’ for testing the impacts of under-funding school budgets around coping with COVID?

  6. Having gotten a hold of a couple of the Kenney masks, which like their namesake don’t measure up, you probably wouldnt want to put these on your kids. Still not sure who called in favour to have these taken off their hands.
    If the Kenney mask is any indication of the quality of product procured we need to have a complete ingredient list for the Kenney hand sanitizer. Too many knock off hand sanitizers floating around out there to tempt the would be suppliers.

  7. Here’s the problem with these mentally deficient, slow-witted and criminally irresponsible conservatives, meaning all of them; covid does not respond to “most” or “just about” or “usually”!
    Because conservatives are so deficient in any intellectual capacity they are herd animals. Followers. Nose to bum. They go where ever everybody else goes. It’s a sin, too shocking to even consider going off in a different direction or going off with just a few.

    Covid, on the other hand, has no intellectual machinery. Just a process. That process relies on the difference between 99% and 100%; all or none. And time. It’s geometric and exponential.
    Covid only needs a number of hosts greater than zero to be successful. Any number.

    The duffasses on the conservative side can’t comprehend such a thing. They are followers; they are only concerned what ‘most’ are doing. It’s always been that way.
    They have no plan for, and no intention, or ability, to develop a plan for ALL. That is out of their reach.

    Things are about to get much, much worse.

    1. You mean processes like supply and demand, economics in general, interest on debt and fair dealing between existing and future tax payers that the NDP dont seem to understand?

      As to Covid, the mathematics of its spread are well understood. The consequences of spread in vulnerable populations has been on the news for the past 6 months.

      However, public health decisions are trade offs between bad consequences. Trading off some people being sick and worse from the virus versus children going to school are difficult decisions to make. For instance, say we had 40 billion dollars less debt than we currently do have because the NDP addressed their deficit spending in the first year of their mandate.

      We would be in a much better position to fight this pandemic if that were so.

      Good thing the NDP lost the last election so at least we have a chance at having the required resources in the future.

      1. Speaking of fair dealing between generations, how ethical is it to leave billions of tonnes of toxic waste and other abandoned fossil wells, pipelines etc. for future generations to clean up? This is something the UCP has tried to off-load onto Ottawa and future generations. How ethical is it to double down on producing more climate destroying carbon fuels?

        1. I agree, we should move quickly to resolve the oil sands spill in Northern Alberta.

          Kidding aside environmental stewardship is a very good idea to promote public health and quality of life. You know what also allows for environmental stewardship and public health?

          Having a job.

          Jurisdictions which work harder at environmental and social standards have a hard time selling commodities. Quebec buys foreign oil instead of oil from Alberta because its cheaper and they dont care about the environmental standards in its production.

          While youre at saving the world, maybe you should clean up rare earth production in China while youre at it.

          1. Dear Brett: Environmental stewardship and preservation depend on the type of job and the industry it is in. Thermal coal mining and carbon based fuels come to mind as impossible in the first and very difficult in the second.

            The Tar Sands tailings ponds are a gigantic liability which the UCP has chosen to ignore by ending monitoring of the health of fish and insects in the Athabaska River. Aside from opening up coal mining, you could not ask for a more destructive black eye to Alberta’s fossil industry. With friends like the UCP, the fossil carbon industry really does not need any enemies, and that ain’t no joke.

            You are also wrong about imported oil. With the reversal of the Enbridge line 9 in 2017, Quebec now imports most of its oil from Canada (44%) and the US (37%), Algeria (11%) and light sweet crude mostly from the middle east (8%).

            The drunken Klein Cons failed to look to the future when they approved more tar plants than the market can ever support. The various banks and investment funds withdrawing from the Tar Sands are a confirmation of this. Unfortunately the UCP seem to be doubling down on that policy. This will not end well.

            As with the intensive use of technology in agriculture which has taken place over the past 30 years, jobs in oil and gas will disappear as technology changes. Evolution and human caused climate instability are facts of life that all of the UCP’s obsolete talking points cannot change.

          2. Bret Larson: Quebec doesn’t buy oil from anywhere. The oil corporations do that, and they get it from out West, (Alberta and Saskatchewan), and the good old U.S of A, who are the bulk of their suppliers. Algeria makes up a small fraction of the rest.

      2. As I said, deficient in any intellectual capacity and in this case intellectually lazy.

        Economics is a science, or at least it purports to adhere to the scientific methodology of discovery. While some bright young bunny in the economics department may follow a ‘process’ to outline her attempts to prove her thesis, the field of Economics is not a process.
        So, supply & demand is also not a process. It’s a theory. Until the theory is disproven it is a set of laws. No process.

        You claim, Brett, that the mathematics of covid spread are well understood. Then you go on to demonstrate that you, at least, don’t understand. Not to worry though, most of your conservative peers also do not understand this disease. So you are with the herd. Long life the herd!

        Point of fact: there are no acceptable trade-offs. Until this virus is eradicated – completely – it will go on to infect, maim and kill human populations. Any and all human populations.
        As I said, any infected human population greater than zero will grow at an exponential rate.

        1. Well Mr Ranger, it must have been a very cold day in your universe when you figured out calling somebody stupid doesnt make it so.

          Judging from your comments, you may not have made it there yet. Avoid covid a little longer and you may get there.

          I suggest those with out any other proprieties besides avoiding covid, should hide underneath their beds until it goes away.

          Or until eat, whichever comes first.

  8. Jason “Do-Little” Kenney left his fingerprints all over this.

    How could two mothers have not a clue about how children’s minds work? Surely one of them could have figured out that a child under five years old, in kindergarten, does not understand life and death decisions like wearing a mask, or that older children, even in Grade Five, eat lunch together in common areas, where masks will be off, and all kinds of personal items (like masks) get left behind after lunch. Two masks each might get them through one day of school if they’re lucky. And without physical distancing, or physical barriers in the lunch rooms, or reducing bus seating plans to less than three per seat for the non-masked youngest, or alternative learning arrangements to reduce class size, none of this will work. This virus will take off like wildfire in the school system within the first two weeks of classes, and schools will be shut down. This non-plan, revised, guarantees it.

    Doug Ford is looking like a genius — a genius I tell you — next to Jason Kenney on his island of misfit MLAs. The Ford government is spending $309 million. There will be extra teachers, 500 new nurses in schools, and 900 new custodians, you name it! Alternate learning arrangements and formalized plans in place for online learning make classes of fifteen a reality!

    Here in Kenneyland, teachers will monitor student health. There will be no legion of nurses. There will be no revised entry times, so all 400+ students must line up at the door for temperature checks, by the teachers, I guess. The EAs were laid off in the spring, and haven’t been hired back.

    The teachers will teach and clean, too. Some school janitors were laid off in the spring and haven’t been hired back.

    If my mask protects you, and you aren’t wearing one, sickness spreads. Teachers will be wearing masks to protect students, but not the reverse.

    So Alberta is not spending one quarter of $309 million, which would be the Ontario equivalent. The war room gets its $30 million per year, a single corporation gets provincial sponsorship to the tune of $7. 5 billion, undisclosed millions are spent on NHL players, Kenney stays in expensive luxury hotels, and parents are supposed to grin and take the crumbs. This will not end well for Jason Do-Little. This is negligence.

    1. Your mask doesn’t protect me. There is no “emerging evidence” to support mask use in the prevention of transmission of respiratory disease. There is plenty of scientific evidence that demonstrates no discernable benefit to wearing masks. This is why all authorities were advising against mask use by the public until Covid turned out to be similar in lethality to seasonal influenza, and less transmissible. Can’t really walk back the closing down of the global economy just because a panic reveals itself to be mass hysteria.
      The Dutch have refused to mandate the mask ritual, and presented a figure of 1 in 200 000 transmissions prevented by mask use.
      Here’s the WHO list of reasons to wear a mask. One possible prophylactic benefit, and the rest is all psy-op:
      “The likely advantages of the use of masks by healthy people in the general public include:
      •reduced potential exposure risk from infected persons
      before they develop symptoms;
      • reduced potential stigmatization of individuals wearing masks to
      prevent infecting others …;
      • making people feel they can play a role in contributing to
      stopping spread of the virus;
      • reminding people to be compliant with other measures (e.g.,
      hand hygiene, not touching nose and mouth) …;
      • potential social and economic benefits. Amidst the global
      shortage of surgical masks and PPE, encouraging the public to
      create their own fabric masks may promote individual enterprise
      and community integration. Moreover, the production of nonmedical
      masks may offer a source of income for those able to
      manufacture masks within their communities. Fabric masks can
      also be a form of cultural expression, encouraging public
      acceptance of protection measures in general…”

      Here’s a simple question. Why do you feel that all the measures taken by Ford’s regime are necessary for Covid, when they are not used for seasonal influenza?

      The case fatality rate in Alberta for ages 30-39 and 40-49 went to zero in the last week. The 20-29 age group will go to zero by Friday. The only mortality spike occurred when the attack on seniors was launched, in the name of preserving the health system, and despite the total failure to prevent outbreaks in three hospitals, which of course produces a 100% hospitalization rate among people who are, you know, already hospitalized, we’re at 4% utilization of hospital resources for Covid. And yet every day we’re threatened with punishment if the “numbers” don’t make Deena Hinshaw happy.

      It’s all over folks. You gave away the store.

    2. “Jason “Do-Little” Kenney left his fingerprints all over this.”

      Pretty funny nick name. I agree though he needs to work harder at rolling back the NDP disease which had been inflicting Alberta for the past 4 years.

      “How could two mothers have not a clue about how children’s minds work?”

      I think parents can comment on how they think their children’s minds work. But if you ask the children, thats probably in doubt also. As to 5 years olds being able to understand life and death decisions, I remember our youngest commenting he would “be road kill” if he didnt watch crossing the road, when he was about 5. So I think there is some precedent in teaching children how t be safe.

      “Doug Ford is looking like a genius”

      If throwing money at a problem is genius, you must think Trudeau is up for the Nobel Prize. Course, in Alberta federal politics today, a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Liberals, so maybe there is something to that.

      As to hiring more people, I guess we will see. For the nonce, if more money needs to be spent. Maybe you can start considering the social programs we can do without to pay for it.

      1. You’re right. I can think of a social program that must go to pay for this. It’s an employment scheme for failed con-candidates, colloquially called “the War Room” by the guy who started it. Cutting it would save $30 million per year.

        There’s another social program, too. This one could save $7.5 billion. It’s called giving large amounts of public money to corporations, aka corporate welfare. $7.5 billion for that big company, but only $10 million for more than 741,000 children.

        “Doug Ford is looking like a genius — a genius I tell you — next to Jason Kenney on his island of misfit MLAs.”

        It’s all relative. You left out the most important part of that comparison.

    3. The differences between Doug Ford and Jason Kenney are laid bare in the perception of themselves…

      Ford may not even have the equivalent of Grade Nine completion and has a failed attempted to complete a post-secondary technical program. He acknowledges he was born into wealth and privilege, which by his own admission makes him a poor politician. Yet, in the end, he acknowledged that the first year of his government was a disaster, because he failed to consider that Ontario may not be on board with his party’s agenda; indeed, maybe violently opposed to it.

      Kenney, on the other hand, is convinced he is always right. A vote for the UCP was a vote for Jason Kenney, for the two cannot be separated in his mind. He is on a greater mission that requires the destruction of all his enemies, real and imagined. Paranoia rules the government and everyone must be forever obedient to Kenney’s will. Anger fills his mind and his actions.

      1. “Kenney, on the other hand, is convinced he is always right. A vote for the UCP was a vote for Jason Kenney, for the two cannot be separated in his mind. He is on a greater mission that requires the destruction of all his enemies, real and imagined. Paranoia rules the government and everyone must be forever obedient to Kenney’s will. Anger fills his mind and his actions.”

        You are mistaking what the NDP smear campaign wants you to believe and what Kenney actually thinks.

        You know, I always heard about smear campaigns, usually from a Canadian patting himself on the back that they don’t happen a lot in Canada.

        Funny that the Notley NDP is resorting to more and more smears. It looks good on them.

  9. Something tells me that the revised plan was only revised because the province was going to be forced into a mask policy for schools anyways later this week by the Canadian government.

    Plus, as we know, Edmonton public school policy was going to require masks anyways, with an announcement later that same day.

    It wouldn’t look good for Alberta to lead the nation in public health knuckle-dragging, and even worse to get those knuckles rapped with a ruling.

    Those NHL players should enjoy premiere access to Alberta’s doctors while they can. When fall comes, and doctors deliver on their promises to leave due to the Shandro siege against them, and if we continue to lead the nation in per capita Covid cases, and children go back to school without physical distancing, reduced class sizes and extra staff well, the education minister hints at what’s ahead with her “Children First” pin. You betcha. Children first. Someone has to go first, and children don’t vote. Might as well be them.

  10. P.S. to teachers and school staff: Costco is selling face shields ($20 for 10) and disposable face masks ($20 for 50) in case you run out. Also, brand-name hand sanitizer is in stock, the kind that doesn’t peel off your skin. Just don’t get any ideas about sending kids door-to-door to raise money for all this, because there’s a pandemic, goshdarnit, and no one wants to answer the door, ‘kay?

  11. Always look on the bright side. Despite the fact that the widespread acceptance of Covidmania kookery is a sad reflection of our society, some very amusing phenomena have arisen. The “progressives” have adopted the most reactionary form of right-wing propaganda: “Tailgunner Jay is soft on communism! No, soft on crime! No, soft on Covid!”
    The clamour for masks is likewise some heavy-duty gallows humour:
    “Systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials in health care settings have not demonstrated a significant
    reduction in acute respiratory infections, (ARIs), ILIs or laboratory confirmed viral infections with
    medical mask use although it is acknowledged there were methodological flaws and smaller
    underpowered studies in the data analyzed.
    There is a paucity of clinical evidence in favor of using medical masks in the community, with
    multiple randomized trials demonstrating mixed results which when pooled demonstrate no
    significant reduction in acute respiratory infections (ARIs), ILIs or laboratory confirmed viral
    However, while systematic reviews of randomized clinical trials fail to show significant benefit with medical mask use in community settings, more observational and case-control studies (both at higher risk of bias), have suggested that masks are protective.”

    Branch Covidians have turned the whole society into one big Simpsons gag. High-five!

    1. Emerging evidence reveals that children are going to get sick when they return to school in the fall without physical distancing. This is why testing capacity will be increased dramatically. So is it negligence when you intentionally mislead the public to believe one thing, knowing that what you’re saying is not true, and will cause harm? I guess they shouldn’t have left this trail of crumbs.

  12. When finished grade two in Hogtown, we moved forty miles northeast into the sticks, with a great view of Lake Ontario ten miles to the south. I attended a two-room, 101 year-old schoolhouse with a belfry, 20-foot ceilings and tall windows that once lit pre-electricity classes, and grades one through eight, with near-toddlers clutching pieces of apron-string in the junior room (with Miss Allen) and moustaches and missile-tit bras, both under crazy bouffants, in the grade four-to-eight senior room (with Mr Cawthorne, former RAF mechanic, self-taught teacher and principal—smartest man I ever met and knew for many years afterward). Long blackboards, the oldest still of real slate, wrapped around two of the walls in the senior room, some of the windows having been bricked-in when electricity and an oil furnace replaced lanterns and the wood stove. On a frieze above were Province of Ontario Agriculture Department illustrations of different breeds of farm animals, about 16 by twelve-inch water colour prints, and the young Queen’s portrait interrupting the arrays in both rooms above the teacher’s desk. As I recall, poultry and sheep dominated the junior room’s display while the senior room had breeds of cattle and pigs (the bodacious, modern-day Boudicca’s pics were identical in either class).

    Boys whose only lunch was steady ladles of opaque, fluorescent snot sliding down their upper lips, and others with woolen socks filled with liniment their moms pinned around their necks, still others with weepy rashes or 3-D impetigo would wrestle each other to the ground, chest or back, on the British Bulldog pitch while the girls looked on from their side of the schoolyard, sniffling and hacking as they took turns gripping the filthy handles of their skipping ropes as they doubled and sang rhymes. The big girls watched the big boys on the pitch. If anyone was too sick to weather recess and lunch hour, he or she had to lie on a cot in the girls’ entryway, beside the furnace, in the dark until the end of the day, then walk home, maybe a mile or two, with some uphill and downhill, long drifts flattening snow-fences. That might even go for broken bones, busted teeth, minor, staunchable gashes or mild concussions from the British Bulldog pitch.

    Polio was still popping up—almost everyone knew somebody who’d had it; there were compulsory vaccinations, but everyone also had to get measles and chickenpox and mumps. They checked students en masse for TB every year. The only exceptions I ever saw to anything was the Jehovah’s Witness girl who had to stand outside class for the Lord’s Prayer and “The Maple Leaf Forever”. My friend who fell through the ice skating almost died of pneumonia in hospital. We said ‘penicillin’, not ‘antibiotics’. My uncle used to inject it into a sick calf occasionally, looked like little glass milk-bottles—with a syringe that made our school vaccination rigs look pretty tame. It was the modern age. (Most people I tell are amazed that this was in the sixties, the Beatles were hip, John Glenn had been around the world in space-orbit—but that anachronism ended in ‘65).

    Needless to say, we were rural kids finishing off some end-of-shelf-life facilities and mores. Mass school vaccinations had been around for a decade and, polio being pretty devastating In the 50s, it wasn’t very controversial ten years later, not like nowadays. (I’m lucky I missed the DDT fad, at least direct application—but they still used it for floor-sweeping compound in many classrooms back then —perhaps while mixing up the finest, purest, high-quality asbestos for furnace-duct and pipe-lagging repairs.) You could get scolded for riding tandem if you had a lollipop in your mouth, but even more so if you bothered any adults with injuries less than blood-from-the-head (and, believe me, even then much iodine and mercurochrome—or whatever it was called—was assiduously avoided, as well; I have scars to prove it).

    I’m not sure if I only imagine we were tougher back then, nostalgically—I mean, people got sick, even died from stuff we barely shrug at today. Covid—the world—everything’s so different today; dope is legal, but nobody hitchhikes anymore, a heart transplant patient lived for a few weeks then, thousands survive for life with a double-lung transplant thrown in, nowadays.

    But I still remember what it was like as a schoolboy, and I think of all those kids going back to school with masks on, having to behave and warsh their hands, and those farm-animal pics in our two-room schoolhouse. And I wonder is it safe enough—like safe as a meat-packing plant?

    If I was an Albertan parent, I’d wonder if it was. But, knowing how many High Prairie Wild Rosers value their personal freedoms very much, I’m hoping they’ll exercise it by keeping their kids out of school if they think it’s unsafe. I’m pretty sure parents are more safety conscious than they were in my day. At least, I hope they are.

    Good luck kids—and some skill will come in handy, too!

      1. Education? Well, it might be qualified that way (the two-roomer predated “The Graduate”), but I’d hasten to add that, although we learned important life-lessons there (many of us being related, life-lessons often overlapped with school), there were three grades in one room and five in another, only two teachers, and when general pandemonium didn’t reign, the leather strap was frequently —almost daily—applied (nobody ever thought it was abuse, rather a coveted badge of courage) and of course everybody, regardless grade, acquired a kind of average literacy of the classroom—that is, such that one could read a verse from the Bible as one of us took our turn doing every morning. To settle things down in the afternoon (the junior room was let out at second recess), Mr Cawthorne would simply read us stories from his huge stash of British Old Chum hardcover magazines, or regale us with his experiences in the Wars (yes, plural—he was indeterminably old with handwriting near illegible from Parkinson’s disease). By the time we were bussed to a flat, tar-and-gravel roofed school on the next Concession Road north, the kids there (a lot of cousins) laughed at our rather homogeneous, substandard literacy.

        But I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything, not then, not now. We were taught to think for ourselves, keep an open mind and go see the odd movie at the cinema-theatre (yes, we did sound like hillbillies and sometimes people still ask me, when they detect a presumed affectation, how that could be when we came from forty miles from Toronto, not West Texas). By the time I saw “The Graduate”, those pointy bras were long gone. But that’s another story.

    1. Theo: good points, BUT one important spelling error which matters to Nordic types. Brett LarsOn is the correct spelling and is usually associated with people of Swedish origin. LarsEn is usually associated with people of Danish ancestry. By in large the Danes are pretty easy going about such things, but you don’t want to get the Swedes mad at you by mixing them up with the Danes.

      The Norwegians are so rich they are beyond caring, but I doubt even they could afford to remove Mr. LarsOn’s head from where he apparently has stored it for the past 15 years. But they did know what to do with leaders who worked for a foreign power.
      As did the Danes.

      During that time the Swedes had a cheek on both sides of the fence: supplying Hitler with precision industrial supplies and raw materials while giving sanctuary to those who managed to get there.

      1. I didn’t know that about the difference between Danish Larsens and Swedish Larsons. Like the difference between Scottish Thomsons and English Thompsons, it could turn out to be useful. The Swedes, I was once told by the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in a nearby Nordic country, are the most sanctimonious people on earth, “worse even than us Canadians.” Then and now, I found that hard to believe. DJC

      2. I was born in Alberta and I never heard the story about whether my paternal grand father changed his name when he homesteaded in 1913 in Saskatchewan, after leaving Norway(back side of the mountain they had the Olympics at).

        In retrospect I guess my name is Americanized. But a rose, or your choice of fragrant item, would smell the same no matter the name. IMO.

        1. I’m told mine was originally Kleimenhagen. So don’t worry about it. It could be worse! As Gertrude Stein famously said, “a rose is a rose is a rose.” And, as Sigmund Freud no doubt would have observed if anyone had popped the question, or even if it came up in a dream, “Sometimes a rose is just a rose.” DJC

  13. The Calgary Herald reported today that the CBE has extended its own mask policy to all grades and classrooms, hallways and common spaces, regardless of physical distancing. Parents were notified by email.

    No word on what other measures will be taken to protect students when they must take masks off for lunch or drinking water.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.