The History of the Thorold-Fonthill High School Time Capsule

The following article was written by Joseph Albanese and draws heavily from an article written by Marjorie Jenter on a calendar published by The Pelham Historical Society with the permission of Ms. Jenter.

Several years prior to 1954, the members of the Pelham High School Board were beginning to realize that the student population of Pelham was too excessive for their present building.

Accordingly, several parcels of land were viewed in the area of Fonthill. After much consultation it was decided to purchase 17.1 acres from Mr. J. Kunda. This property was located at the corner of Pelham Street South and Port Robinson Road (location of the present senior school) and was valued at $19,500.00.

The contract for the 10 classroom school was awarded to Moir Construction, St. Catharines and the architect was A.B. Scott, Associates of Welland.

Named the 'Thorold-Fonthill High School', it was opened officially November 18, 1958 by the Honourable W.J. Dunlop, Minister of Education. J.A. Noble, B.A., B.Ed. was its first and only principal, Mr. J.F. Guenther the inspector, while the Chairman of the Pelham Board was Mr. R.F. Barrick.

Only Grades 9, 10(approimately 275 pupils) were enrolled for the school year '58-'59; grade 11 was added in '59-'60; grade 12 in '60-'61 and in '62-'63 grade 13 completed the roster. At the time, there were approximately 426 pupils enrolled in the school.

Subjects available were - Latin, English, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, French, Physics, Geography, History, Chemistry, Botany and Zoology and at a later date, German. These were available through Grade 13.

Thorold-Fonthill was unique in several ways. For example, the cafeteria staff comprised of Mrs. H. Homenuck, Mrs. P. Ventresca and Mrs. K. Mogensen produced varied menus of a great variety of foods at a very nominal rate. Their extra special day was United Nations Day when these most capable chefs not only cooked all types of international 'goodies' but also decorated the main lobby and the cafeteria with items from the four corners of the globe. The students paid only 25 cents per plate for their lunch on this special occasion.

The Drama Club under the capable direction of Mr. Tom Barto won Regional and Provincial awards for its productions of 'The Masque of Aesop' and 'Antigone'.

The 'House System' introduced by Mr. John Warriner was a project not carried out by any other Secondary School in our area. Every pupil in Thorold-Fonthill was placed in one of the following groups -- Alpha, Beta, Gamma. Points were awarded for competition in Sports, Drama, Academics to see which 'House' was best at each. Much of the excellent 'esprit de corps' of this school should be credited to this concept.

The site of the school, perhaps, also contributed to its uniqueness. Situated in the residential area for several near-by-cities, at its closing in 1970, Thorold-Fonthill was regarded by the residents as their community school, graduating students of high academic calibre.

With the approach of the Centennial Year, 1967, individuals, groups, organizations, etc. began to plan their projects for the great occasion. Uniqueness, once more showed itself in the idea and construction of a time capsule. This was the 'brain child' of Mr. Paul McCormick, head of the Science Department and was constructed by Industrial Arts students under the direction of Department head, Mr. Bruce Slater.

The tomb containing the capsule, was made in the shape of the five-pointed Centennial Star. Each point -- (1)primary (2)elementary (3)secondary (4)university (5)post graduate -- represented a step in education with a slight elevation to show a gradual climb.

The capsule, on the school's front lawn on Pelham St. S., stands 3.5' above ground level. The inner portion is a 10" X 12" stainless alloy box, imbedded in a 10' wide concrete pedestal. Concrete, Niagara stone, and brick were the building materials, with labour supplied by the Thorold-Fonthill students.

Atlas Steels, Welland, supplied the capsule; Brock University scientists sealed it with argon gas to displace the oxygen in order to preserve its contents; the Kodak Co. helped devise methods to keep the film, pictures, slides contained in the capsule.

Senior elementary (both public and separate) pupils along with their teachers were invited to the ceremony on November 3, 1967. The public school pupils sang Bobby Gimby's 'Canada' and the 'Centennial Hymm'. Sister Mary Adrian of St. Alexander's Separate School gave the Invocation.

Following the scheduled programme, the capsule, containing Yearbooks, official programmes, Fonthill's history, medallions, coins, photos, films of school and home life, letters from the leaders of various levels of governments, the Toronto Globe and Mail Centennial edition, the Centennial Flag, etc., was carried from the platform to the monument by two Grade 12 students, Reginald Rocco and Douglas Townley who covered the vault with a cement plug. The seal was put on by platform guests plus Miss Marjorie Stirtzinger, Mr. A.K. Wigg, Mr. A.E. Bridgeman, the student council representatives from Pelham District and E.L. Crossley schools, and the board members Harley Young and Gerald Minor. The final part of the seal was put on by Mr. Paul McCormick and the official seal by Mr. Howard Henderson of the Regional Office, Department of Education, St. Catharines.

Trish Rybski, editor of several of the school's yearbooks told me that also included in the capsule was a letter she wrote to the teachers and students of the school in 2067. She remembers the last line as saying "I would like to be here with you today, but one can hardly live to be 116 years old". On a humourous note, Trish also mentioned that an edition of 'Playboy Magazine' was slipped into the capsule at the last minute. Further, Mr. Bruce Slater told me that workers for 'Pelino Contracting', the company who built the capsule for free, slipped a few of their business cards into it as well.

During the school year 1968-1969, due to larger vocational schools attracting many students, the attendance at Thorold-Fonthill dropped so low, that its operation was not financially practical. The school then became Fonthill Senior for pupils of Grades 7 & 8 from all the Town of Pelham.

At the writing of this short history, the Senior School will now house grades 5, 6, 7, and 8 for Fonthill, and a new name, Glynn A. Green, has been selected.

In the fall of 2011, a great deal of mystery surrounded the fact that the exterior of the capsule had since been altered from its original state. Nobody knew why the reconstruction took place, when it happened and if the capsule had been opened or not. School officials for the Glynn A Green Public School contacted me and asked for my help in finding answers to these questions. In particular, it seemed puzzling that there seemed to be no recorded documentation (newspaper articles etc.) detailing the event.

After numerous trips to local newspaper offices and after making many surprise phone calls to unsuspecting individuals, all of whom were supposed to the 'person to talk to', the mystery was solved. The reason why there was no recorded documentation about the event was because there really was nothing important to document; the entire situation had been rather uneventful.

Mr. Gary Stevenson, who was the Principal of the school from 1977-1984 told me by phone from his home in Welland that water had gotten into the cracks between the bricks and with the seasonal process of freezing and thawing, the bricks began to fall off the capsule and were laying loose on the ground. His biggest concern was that students would throw the loose bricks at passing cars or at other students causing injury. He decided to phone Mr. Bruce Slater to ask for his help in reconstructing the exterior of the time capsule.

I was able to contact Mr. Slater by phone from his winter home in Florida. Mr. Slater told me that as well as the issue regarding loose bricks, the School Board was also having a difficult time maintaining the star-shaped structure as the grass between the points of the stars had to be hand-cut. Therefore, the shape of the new and improved structure was to be more streamlined and as such, 'ride-on lawn mower friendly'. I found this to be quite humourous. When I first started researching this topic, I asked my friend Jon Jouppien, a highly regarded Archeologist, and a former Thorold-Fonthill High School student to come with me to examine the structure as if it was some sort of a Stonehenge-like structure, the shape of which seemingly having ancient religious connotations, when in reality, the new structure existed in its present form simply because the caretaker did not want to get down from his seat on the ride-on lawn mower to hand-cut the grass between the points.

Finally, I was able to speak by phone with the caretaker of the school at the time of the re-construction, Mr. Lloyd George, from his home in Fenwick. Again, Mr. George reiterated the fact that the capsule was never opened and it was done simply because of the fact that the original exterior was disintegrating.

The capsule is to remain sealed until 2067. A special document has been drawn up deeding the land on which the capsule stands to future school boards. Stipulation has been made in the deed that should the location ever be needed for other purposes - e.g. road widening or school expansion - the entire project should be relocated elsewhere.

In the year 2067, however, with the opening of the capsule, Thorold-Fonthill will once more be recognized. What will life be like then? More important -- what will those people think of us and our way, and how we contributed to their mode of living?