Elaine Purchase Watton’s first thought when she walked into the new Amalgamated Regional High School in Corner Brook in 1957 was how big the school was.
It was a bit different from what the Corner Brook woman had been used to in her primary and elementary years.
Watton was in Grade 9 when Amalgamated Regional High opened in early 1957.
At the time it was a coming together of the public and denominational schools — excluding the Catholic ones — that existed around the city. The goal was to offer an amalgamated approach to high school, with the public, Anglican, United and Salvation Army schools, and one Seven Day Adventist school, acting as its feeder schools.
The school wasn’t ready to open at the start of the school year, so students had to attend the smaller Corner Brook Public School on Park Street, the current site of the Greenwood Inn and Suites.
Students took shifts until just after Christmas when Watton said they made the move to the new school.
The official opening took place on Feb. 6, 1957 and a pictorial souvenir book was printed to commemorate the event.
“I thought it was super great. You got to meet all these new people,” said Watton as she chatted on the phone about the then new school.
“I think it was just the overall camaraderie of all the kids coming together and making new friendships,” she said.
“It was all so modern,” she said of a school with big corridors and fully equipped chemistry and physics labs, something new to the students.
When the school first opened the cafeteria wasn’t completed, so students had to bring their lunches into the gymnasium and eat.
Watton didn’t live far enough from the school to get a bus.
“I had to hoof it or bum a ride,” she said with a laugh.
That continued for the remainder of Grade 9 when her family lived on West Street and on into Grade 10 and 11 after they moved to West Valley Road.
Later, as Watton flipped through the souvenir book and yearbooks from 1959 and 1960 more memories — like the Friday morning devotions — came back and she saw some familiar faces.
Looking at a picture of the school she remarked on how big it looked compared to the public school and was reminded of how the boys would use one entrance and the girls another.
The pictures of the students sitting at their desks also brought back a memory of how well behaved they were.
“We really did respect our teachers," she said.
Watton graduated in 1959 and the next year she returned to the high school and enrolled in the commercial program, a one-year secretarial course. After that she worked at Bowaters for 10 years before taking time off when she had children. She later returned to the workforce and worked as a secretary at Western Memorial Regional Hospital until her retirement.
The school would continue as Amalgamated Regional High until the mid-1960s when it became Herdman Collegiate. Herdman closed in 2006 when it merged with Regina High School and became known as Corner Brook Regional High.
Students were housed at Regina until renovations to Herdman were completed and it reopened in 2009.