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A model for history: Francis Patey recalls the history of the Grenfell School

Francis Patey of St. Anthony has built a model of the Grenfell School, which was open from 1909 to 1977. On the side of the building is a Bible quote that was inscribed by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell on the outside of the school.
Francis Patey of St. Anthony has built a model of the Grenfell School, which was open from 1909 to 1977. On the side of the building is a Bible quote that was inscribed by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell on the outside of the school. - Stephen Roberts
ST. ANTHONY, N.L. —

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Francis Patey is once again seated at his work station in his St. Anthony basement.

To the right of the 83-year-old, just barely fitting underneath the low ceiling with orange lights glaring from its windows, is a 26-inch tall model of the historic Grenfell School, carefully crafted by Patey’s own two hands.

Francis Patey’s model of the Grenfell School, with lights shining from the inside. If you look in through the second-storey windows, you can see tiny school desks he made. Alongside the model is the photo that Patey used for inspiration.
Francis Patey’s model of the Grenfell School, with lights shining from the inside. If you look in through the second-storey windows, you can see tiny school desks he made. Alongside the model is the photo that Patey used for inspiration.

The building is constructed of clapboard which Patey sawed and painted. Standing outside of the building is a group of schoolchildren, a scene Patey took directly from an old black-and-white photo from the school’s heyday.

And, yet, despite all the work Patey put into the project over the past five months, the local historian is more interested in stories about the school.

When it opened its doors in 1909, the Grenfell School, he says, was the very first inter-denominational school in Newfoundland and Labrador.

While there were schools run by the Salvation Army and Anglican Church in St. Anthony, this school was the first to open its doors to everyone.

But Patey says it was more than just the pillar of education for the area.

In the days of silent pictures, before Al Jolson crooned in “The Jazz Singer”, Patey says the Grenfell School was the site for St. Anthony’s first movie theatre.

For some, the spectacle of this new technology was startling.

Patey recalls an anecdote of a woman who actually fainted during one of the pictures and had to be carried outdoors in a handbarrow.

In the early 1900s, the school also had a part in the annual winter sports events founded by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell.

Every Easter Monday, athletes from across the province would flock to St. Anthony for dog team races and winter soccer matches.

The Grenfell School, he says, is where everybody went for their meals and for late-night activities including the “Newfoundland stomp” dance.

Today, there’s nothing left of the old school. It closed its doors on the west side of St. Anthony in 1977.

But by passing these stories along and, now, by building this model of the school, Patey is doing his part to keep the memories alive.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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