70-year Oakwood High Class reunion

The first time they would reunite since 1949 and it happened in Oak Lake on fair day

The graduating class of 1949 reunited in Oak Lake on July 20. Most of them hadn’t seen each other for 70 years, ever since graduation day at Oakwood High.

This reunion came about because one of the nine graduates, Keith Smith, was re-reading a copy of his memoirs.

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“I looked at the chapter on high school and realized that in 2019 it would be 70 years since a group of us had graduated from Oakwood High School. 70 years!”

When he thought of a get-together, Smith wondered who would be alive and well enough to gather for a reunion in Oak Lake. He first conferred with a classmate living in Winnipeg, Gordon Newton, before he decided to contact others.

Back in 1949, at Oakwood High School, nine students graduated from Grade 12. “Five girls and four boys, fresh faced and eager to take on the world, had their picture taken at the school that June day,” writes Smith.

The classmates were willing and, most of them, able to return to Oak Lake.

Joyce Lewis (McKinnon) lives in a B.C. care home and couldn’t come.

Two classmates, Marguerite Berger (Goodwin) and Jean Farley (Cross) had passed away.

“But six out of nine isn’t bad and remember - all are close to 90 years of age,” said Smith. “It’s amazing most are still around and able to come back to the old school and community, be in the Oak Lake Fair parade, have lunch and pose for a 70-years-later photo.”

Two of the ‘49ers live nearby. Ada Brennan of Elkhorn is an Oak Lake Beach resident during the summers. Gerald Heapy retired to Hamiota where he and his wife Charlotte live.

“Oh, it was lovely,” said Brennan of their reunion.

She treasures a collection of biographies of the each returning classmate, compiled by Smith.

Brennan remarked that she only had contact with one of her former classmates over the years. “The others, I have never seen since we left school. I wouldn’t have known them.”

Heapy, is the son of the former principal, C.E. Heapy. “Ironically it was my father who was school principal there. He was kind of a legendary figure, in that he taught there for 33 years, from 1933 – 66.”

He recalls that his grandfather arrived in Griswold “with $2.50 in his pocket.” Heapy was enthusiastic about the 70-year reunion in Oak Lake and said, “I met quite a few people that day.”

For some, the reunion meant a journey.

“I really never expected to hear from Gary (Garfield) McMahon, especially when I found out he lived in rural Nova Scotia,” said Smith. McMahon combined his time in Oak Lake with a visit to Manitoba relatives.

“I was surprised to find that, in spite of statistics that have women outliving men, that only two girls were able to come.” Inez Baraba from Edmonton, although not in the original photo and may not have graduated with the class, but she was part of their class and joined the group that day.

Smith has preserved his own memoirs: Those Were the Days, Memoirs of a Manitoba farm boy from the 1930s, found at http://www.gwenmar.com

Smith’s grandfather was one of a number of farmers recruited by Victor Sifton, Canada’s Minister of Immigration at the turn of the 20th century, to bring British farmers to the prairies.

“By way of interest, my grandfather kept a daily diary from the mid 1880’s until he died in 1931. Mostly it is about the weather and the crops but… his daily experiences when actually doing the recruiting in England are detailed and really interesting. All his diaries are in the Manitoba Archives in Winnipeg.”

The class reunion was a satisfying moment for Smith, “I was thrilled to be able to bring this group, or at least part of the original nine, back together again.”

As a memoir, the ‘49ers will have the yellow t-shirt they wore in the parade and the compiled biographies.  

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© Virden Empire-Advance

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