Snowballs, Christmas and the Ursulines



Saturday’s $500,000 gift from the Ursuline Sisters reminded me of a cold, snowy December day in my youth when the good sisters took time out from helping the community as a whole to focus on the immediate salvation of one small boy.

It was a snowy day shortly before Christmas and I was a student at Our Lady of Help School where Mother Mary Ethel was the principal.

Despite the best efforts of the sisters, we were engaged in our own version of sectarian violence against the Protestant kids of the neighbourhood.

Chatham Mazda from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.

Our preferred method of waging war was though noon snowball fights and since a number of Protestant kids had to walk past our school ground on their way to Central and W.T. Laing, there was always an opportunity.

As one of the younger kids, I was selected to fire snowballs at our adversaries in the hope of getting them to chase us.

It worked like a charm. I was chased around the Rectory and led my pursuers directly into the horde of Catholics hiding between there and the school.

We mounted a counter attack, chased them across the road and pinned them against the side of the church with a withering barrage. I even managed to blast a shot off of “Moose” Shedden, whose younger brother became an NHL’er.

It was over in minutes. I was in heaven. It was a military victory equal to the D-Day invasion and I was part of it.

Until that is, some Grade 6 students, apparently working undercover for the nuns, grabbed me for a trip to the office.

Being young and slippery, I managed to get away into the crowd and avoid capture until the bell rang.

I was feeling quite lucky and satisfied until shortly after class began and there was a knock at the classroom door and an order sending me to the principal’s office.

It was the longest trip of my short life.

What do I do?

You can’t lie to a nun, right?

Apparently, you “kind of” can if you’re scared enough.

The good mother looked down at me and asked “did you throw snowballs during noon recess?”

“One” I lied, hoping to get off with a light sentence.

Out came the strap.

Mother Mary Ethel was a tall, statuesque personage, made even taller by her full habit.

In my eyes, she was at least as tall as a major league pitcher. I’m not sure if she wound up or not but I honestly believe the strap broke the sound barrier on its way to my left hand. (She even knew I was left-handed.)

Time has obscured the number of times (probably three) that I got wacked, but not the meaning. I never threw snowballs at school again. Nor did I go undercover, but that’s another story.

Three years later, I was in Mother Mary Ethel’s class and I was one of her favourites. Knowing that I loved to read the encyclopedia, she used to call me her “walking dictionary.”

She followed my career for several years and helped encourage me to stick up for those who couldn’t stick up for themselves.

I attended her funeral at Villa Angela six years ago.

And those Protestants we threw snowballs at?

They were the same kids we played hockey with and against later that day when the real battles (Leafs versus Canadiens) would be played out on rinks and roadways.


  1. Good story. Really good. I, too, went to Our Lady of Help and Mother Mary Ethel was my principal. I've been trying to remember the name of the lay teacher for the grade two class. You wouldn't remember by chance, would you? Actually, any names would be helpful because I'm drawing a blank. Mothers Petronella and Ethel are it for me. Thanks in advances. Frances Sullivan


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