Upper Stewiacke school day memories
|By Rhoda Graham and Elma Dickie
With the exception of the Upper Stewiacke School, which had two rooms, all the schools in the valley were one-room schools until the Middle Stewiacke Consolidated School was built in 1962. This school has four classrooms and an auditorium/gymnasium. A few years later, in 1969, the Upper Stewiacke School was built, consisting of four classrooms and an auditorium/gymnasium.School consolidation in the valley meant the closing of all the one-room schools, and consequently brought many changes to rural living. Instead of ten schools in the valley, there were now only two.
Previous to consolidation it was the custom for the children to walk to school. It was not unusual for children to walk two, three or even four miles to school. It was a common sight to see the boys and girls, ages six to eighteen, perhaps several from one family, their faces scrubbed and shiny , walking along the road carrying their books and their red Domestic Shortning lunch pails; and to hear their voices , some in deep conversation, others in light, perhaps taunting chatter as they wended their way to school.
Contrary to the Little Red Schoolhouse myth, all the schools in the valley were white. The front door opened into an entry or lobby which sometimes was divided into two parts – one for boys, the other for girls. This served as a place to hang coats, with a shelf to hold mittens, caps and lunch pails. On rainy or stormy days games were played there – Blind Man’s Bluff was a favorite.
The teacher’s desk
The teacher’s desk stood on a platform at the front of the room and faced rows of double-seated desks which were shared by two pupils. A shelf under the top was used for storing books, and the seat turned up vertically to make sweeping the floor easier. At the top center of the desk was an inkwell to hold the ink for pens. The famous ball-point pen had not yet been invented!
On the wall was a picture of the ruling king or queen, and often one of Queen Victoria as well. The Union Jack flew proudly in the breeze outside.
The stove was located at the back of the room, or sometimes in the center of the room. Usually the stove pipe ran the length of the schoolroom. The pipe occasionally fell down – not always by accident! Great excitement and commotion ensued.
The janitor was usually an older boy who arrived early to make the fire and have the room warm for the other students. It was his duty too, to sweep the floor after school and to carry water from a nearby brook or well to be put into the water-cooler. For these duties he was paid a small annual fee.
At nine o’clock each morning, the teacher would go to the door and ring the bell to summon the children from the playground to the classroom. Opening exercises usually began with the flag salute followed by singing O Canada, God Save the King or The Maple Leaf. The Lord’s Prayer was then repeated in unison, and sometimes the teacher read a passage from scripture.
Roll call was a twice daily ritual – in the morning, and again in the afternoon. Each pupil would reply ‘present’ on hearing their name called, the teacher marked the attendance, and the register was put into the middle drawer of the desk.
The school day was quite routine with emphasis on the Three R’s, with spelling, geography, history and with drawing on Friday afternoons. Sometimes Junior Red Cross was organized and meetings were held on Friday afternoons, or there would be A Spelling Match.
There were all grades from Primary to Grade 11 and as the lessons were heard, the younger children learned from their older classmates. The teacher boarded at a nearby home and walked the short distance for dinner at noon. In her absence, the older pupils were left in charge. There were few incidents – occasionally a window would be broken accidentally by a stray snowball or baseball.
Generally speaking discipline was not a problem. Children were well-behaved at home and at school. Most of the children lived on farms and had regular chores to do, both before and after school. Wood and water had to be carried, hens fed and eggs gathered. Occasionally at school the older boys would sneak off into the woods at noon hour, and smoke cigarettes made from dried ferns.
The highlight of the year was the Christmas Concert following weeks of preparation. Recitations, drills, dialogues and choruses were learned, and often the Nativity Scene was enacted. The school or hall was decorated with hemlock boughs. The boys were sent to the nearby woods to look for a tree, and amidst great excitement it was decorated. Finally the night of the concert arrived!
The children were dressed in their best, and sleighs complete with bells, delivered them to the concert. Each boy and girl although nervous, did their best. The concert was always well-received by the proud parents. The highlight of the evening was the arrival of Santa Claus to distribute candy and oranges form the tree.
After the Upper Stewiacke Consolidated School was opened in 1969, the little one-room schools in each section were no longer needed and were sold. The Upper Stewiacke School was sold to the Volunteer Fire Department, who renovated it to house the Fire Trucks, and use as place for fund-raising activities as well as meetings. The Cross Roads School was sold to the Whebby family, and the Newton Mills School to the Berry family. The Pembroke School was sold to the Girl Guides of Truro, as a place for camp-outs etc. The Burnside School and the Eastville School were bought by the local communities and are used for various social functions.
The South Branch school was sold to John Clark, and the Meadowvale School was sold to Leon Mason who bought it for the lumber that was in it. William Johnson from Texas bought the Birch Hill School. The Otterbrook School was purchased by Peter Dunn. The Middle Stewiacke School was situated where Aubrey Kennedy now lives, and was torn down by Ernest Colburne.
The following bit of history ( regarding the first school in Eastville) was written by S.T. Ellis and read by Martha Dickie at Springside Church on the first Empire Day, 1899:
Note: This account is included in Stories of the Stewiacke Valley, which were collected and printed during the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980.