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As summer in Chilliwack draws to an end, Labour Day is just around the corner and that means, as it seemingly has forever, school will soon be back in session.

Over the years, this annual ritual has been faced by returning students with both angst and anticipation. On the one hand, the end of their carefree summer holidays was upon them, but there would also be new people, experiences, opportunities, and adventures that awaited.

Generally the countdown for the return to school would start in mid-August, once the annual Fall Fair was over. At first, the time remaining would be measured in weeks, and then it became a question of how many days until “summer’s over”?

This image, from a sunny September day in 1961, was played out by multiple generations of Chilliwack Senior Secondary School students over the years - leaving school during the first month of a new school year, with their homework, walking the long sidewalk up to Yale Road East. (Image Credit: Beautiful BC Magazine Archives)

Selecting one’s new wardrobe for the coming year, and in particular the all-important first-day ensemble, was a critical step for many. It often meant an August visit to Eaton’s, Gord-Ray’s, Skelton’s, Saan’s, Stedman’s, Sweet 16, etc.

This image presents an advertisement placed by Gord-Ray Men’s Wear that ran in the August 31, 1966, edition of the Chilliwack Progress appealing for boys to visit the store for their back-to-school clothing needs. (Image Credit: Chilliwack Progress Archives)

Up to the early 1960s, the Chilliwack Progress, prior to Labour Day, would publish the names of students and the classes/teachers to whom they had been assigned. Otherwise students would learn who their new teachers and classmates were upon their arrival Tuesday morning.

This image presents such a listing that ran in the August 28, 1957, edition of the paper. (Image Credit: Chilliwack Progress Archives)

The first day would generally be short, with students heading downtown with their list of necessary school supplies, often to stores such as Eaton’s, Hipwell Drugs, etc.

On that first day students would also be assigned their textbooks, and if in high school, a locker (which included a lock, the combination of which had to be memorized). They would also sign up for various school clubs, sports teams, etc.

This image presents a typical Hipwell’s Drug Store back-to-school advertisement that ran in the August 31, 1955, edition of the Chilliwack Progress. It appeals to parents (and perhaps older kids) to make Hipwell Drugs their source for all students’ needs for the upcoming school year. (Image Credit: Chilliwack Progress Archives)

The first day after Labour Day would often be a sunny September morning, as Chilliwack generally had Indian summers in the early fall. Thus, the first month of school could be as warm as summer had been, with some classes being held on the school’s lawn, the faint sound of favourite summer songs still filling the air.

After two months of sleeping in, students would have to adjust to being awoken at an “early” hour to get to school by 8:30 or 9:00 a.m., often carrying the bag lunch their mother had packed for them.

However, by October students were mostly over the shock of their new structured life (including increased levels of homework), and with the inevitable wetter, colder Chilliwack weather upon them, memories of hot summer days playing sports, swimming at Cultus Lake and Dayton’s Pool, hanging out with friends, etc. soon subsided.

This image presents a summary of the weather in Chilliwack for the eight days ended September 5, 1962. The first week of school that year was warm and dry, and on the actual first day of school, September 4, 1962, the temperature rose to 82F (28C). (Image Credit: Chilliwack Progress Archives)

For many students, the nine-week summer vacation had gone by too quickly, and now it was September, the start of a long upcoming school year. Nevertheless, there would be an audible buzz of energy in the air the first day after Labour Day, both at school and around Chilliwack, as everyone was busy embarking on something new.

And over the years, long after graduation, most would look back fondly on their school daze and in particular, what was the exciting first day of a new school year.


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