It was an era when emotions ran high, in the 1940s, right after the Second World War, when a longtime Nelson Elementary teacher lost it during show and tell.
As retired teacher Janet White tells the tale, a little boy had brought a German flag to school to show his classmates. The boy told the class how his dad had obtained the flag in the war, and the kids were supposed to pass it around. But when the first student took the flag, the teacher lost it.
"Her face went red, she suddenly yelled at the kid, 'Spit on it! Spit on it!'" White says. "That was the era. Every kid in the room spat on the flag. And then that little boy had to take home a soaking wet flag."
That's the kind of story you won't hear these days, but it's very much reflective of the culture then, White says.
That story is one of several White plans to include in a book chronicling the history of Burnaby's schools.
White, 70, is president of the Burnaby branch of the B.C. Retired Teachers' Association, and she's been working on History of Burnaby Schools, 1893 to 2013 for several years with the help of a volunteer committee of mostly retired teachers, the school district and the City of Burnaby.
Each of Burnaby's 69 schools will have about three or four pages of pictures, history of the buildings and any related stories. (Burnaby now has 49 schools, but many have opened and closed over the years.)
White recalls another tale, told by a former student of David Gray, who was a teacher and principal at Nelson Elementary and an excellent baseball player who employed his superior aim while disciplining students.
"He could be writing on the board, and if he heard a student misbehaving behind him, he could wing around and flick his chalk at the kid he knew had done the dastardly deed, and he would get 'em every single time," White says.
But some things haven't changed. White talks about how children would come to school without food, especially in the 1930s, and one mother would cook for the students at lunch. At Douglas Road Elementary, which opened in 1908, children would lather their feet with oil to keep them warm for the walk to school. Douglas Road students had to hitch hike to get to home economics class, which was at a different location.
There are juicier stories, but they will be left out of the book and off the record, because White wants to keep things upbeat and positive.
"Of course there were some bad times and hard times, not-so-good teachers and good teachers, but we want to keep the book on an upbeat positive note, because Burnaby was really an excellent district and an excellent district to teach in," she says.
White should know. She attended local schools and went on to teach in Burnaby for close to four decades before retiring in 2002.
"I sort of know the history," she says. "I've been to many of the schools as a student, as a teacher, as a parent."
White is hoping the book will be out this fall or early next year.
The school district and the city partnered to create a printing fund for the project, so when the book is finished, there will be money to publish it. The B.C. Retired Teachers' Association also donated $1,500.
White says the book will likely be available through the heritage commission, or it may be sold at high school reunions.
"We're going to try to give a book to every school library, that was our original aim," she says.
Jim Wolf, the city's heritage planner, has supported the project from Day 1.
"It's not just a book, it's capturing history while it's still with us," he says.
Wolf says it's fascinating to look at how society's changes are reflected in our schools.
"There used to be gun ranges in the schools, so the kids could be prepared for war. It's crazy, and when you start looking at the way there were boys' entrances and girls' entrances, and the boys took manual training, and the girls took domestic science, and they were taught to be good little housekeepers and be there for their man when he returned home from a long day of work. It really reflects the changes in our society," he says. "The smart kids were shuffled off to academic programs while the other kids were shuffled off to manual training courses. Could you afford to go through high school, or did you have to quit to support your family? There are a lot of stories there. They really tell the story of us, who we were and what we've become."
If anyone has more school stories to share, email burnabyheritageschools@ gmail.com.