If you visit the A B Ellis Public School in 2016, the playground looks more like a gravel parking lot than a recreation area for children. Gone is the playground climbing equipment and and a concrete and wooden barrier has been added bordering the building. This marks a step along the way towards the school leaving this building and setting up its new home in the high school across the street. The parking lot is presumably needed to replace parking spaces lost at the high school during the construction phase over there. The "back-lot" (seen below) looks much as it always did throughout the period from 1971 to the present.
Just as with the building, there is history out here in the school yard. The drawing below shows the configuration that has existed since the 1970s, with some modifications that I will go on to explain ....
In the early years of the school's history Grey Street ran through from Centre Street to Spruce Street. The paved area you can see in the photograph below shows the route of the former street as it passes through the school yard.
Until the 1990s there were still 2 houses on the south side of Grey Street at the Centre Street end. You can see them in the image below, taken during the construction of the 1971 extension.
I suspect that there were more houses at one time occupying the land that is the school's "back-lot" and that the trees that run along the edge of the paved area lined Grey Street in front of those houses.
This back-lot has had soccer goals for some time (see above), but it was a general play area usually for the Junior and Intermediate students. As you can see below, there was once a baseball/softball backstop. Bob Sproule is seen acting as the umpire.
On a number of occasions in the past Jack Tait, Bill Farnham and others created a large outdoor skating rink here with a snowplow forming the edging snowbanks. Bill and his son Robert would go to the school at night and flood the rink using fire hoses and a nearby fire hydrant.
A rubber conveyor belt was borrowed from the mill to form a mat at the back door to make it easier for skate wearers to move in and out of the school.
A second rink was created on the Park Street side for Primary children. Recesses were extended in order to allow the children time to go skating.
From the 1970s on, the schoolyard has featured at least 3 generations of climbing equipment on the Park and Centre Street sides.
The first of these was proposed and constructed by Berni Maguire with the help of Rock Taylor and grade 7 and 8 students. It involved a number of elements constructed of cedar logs and car tires intended for circuit training. It was a kind of outdoor gym with elements that included parallel bars, low balance beams, leap-frog posts and half buried tires. Years later concerns over safety saw these removed. You can see the parallel bars and the tires below.
The next step was the installation of a number of tubular steel climbing frames very much aimed at the Primary and Junior children. They came in a number of designs including that of a boat and an elephant.
These too finally fell foul of the concerns over student safety and they were removed in favour of the equipment shown below.
In the 1990s two areas of the schoolyard were fenced off to keep them separate from the general play area. At the corner of Spruce and Park Street a small area was fenced-off to create a safe play area for Junior Kindergarten children. This included suitable playground equipment. You can see the location of this area on the plan at the top of this page.
Then, following the demolition of the last two houses on Grey Street, the land they had occupied was segregated from the rest of the back-lot by a chain-link fence. It did however have a gate to provide access because the school had a plan for its use. That plan is outlined in the article below from the school newspaper, dated October 1991.
This also became the site of two memorial tree plantings. Two blue spruce trees were planted here to commemorate Berni Maguire and Arlene Oderkirk, teachers at the school both of whom died much too young from cancer. Another tree was planted for Donnie Wright, a much loved educational assistant. Unfortunately that tree didn't survive. The Environmental Area can be seen in the images below.
This is a Northern Ontario school and as such no stranger to inclement weather and lots of snow.
Below are a few more images of children at play in the yard.
The Centre Street playground was the preserve of older students. Here is Bernard Eng wishing he was taller.
More images of the school yard in the 2001 - 2002 school year.