Teaching School Once Hazardous Occupation
The Carleton Place Canadian, January 9, 1958
By Howard M. Brown
Among public school inspectors in Lanark County a record of long service was made by F. S. Michell who continued in that capacity from 1880 to 1921. Near the beginning of his forty years of duty he reported his views and findings on teachers’ prevailing salaries:
“The headmasters of the Public Schools in Carleton Place and Pakenham received the highest salaries paid teachers in this County – $550. Male teachers salaries of 1884 ranged from $300 to $550, averaging $337.50. Female teachers received from $150 to $350, the average for 1884 being $193. Even the princely sum of $550 is but poor inducement for a man to undertake the ordeal of preparation in High, Model and Normal Schools and the harass and responsibility of a large graded school. While the false economy of cheap teachers is the rule, the work must remain largely in the hands of students and school girls who intend to teach until something better presents itself.”
Twenty-five years later Carleton Place appointed a new public school principal to teach the senior class and supervise the operation of two schools and the work of thirteen other teachers. The opening salary was $800. Teachers were: Misses McCallum, Shaw, Burke, Anderson, O’Donnell, Caswell, Sturgeon, Sinclair, McLaren, Fife, Flegg, Morris, Cornell, and Mr. R. J. Robertson, principal.
Public school teachers of 1917 as listed by R. J. Robertson, principal, were Misses V. Leach, H. Cram, Laura Anderson, A. L. Anderson, I. H. Caswell, M. E. Sturgeon, Lizzie McLaren, Kate McNab, S. P. May, M. I. Mullett, C. Mallinson, M. M. McCallum and Mary Cornell.
An item of juvenile training of this period was the Carleton Place curfew bylaw passed to protect youth or public order from the post-war perils of 1919. It provided for ringing of a curfew bell at 9 p.m. standard time. After this hour children under 16 years unless accompanied by a parent or guardian were required by law to remain indoors.
An earlier list of Carleton Place public school teachers available is that of 1890 : Misses Munro, Nellie Garland, Shaw, Cram, Flegg, Garland, Smitherman, Lowe, Suter, Ferguson, McCallum, Mr. Neil McDonald (who transferred to the high school in 1890), and T. B. Caswell, principal. Public school principal preceding Mr. Caswell was John A. Goth. The local school board in 1890 comprised of Robert Bell, chairman; board members, McDonald, Struthers, Taylor, Donald, Begley, Kelly, Wylie, Breckenridge and, until his death in 1890, David Findlay, Sr. In the same period J. R. Johnston, M.A. (Queens) was high school principal, with D. E. Sheppard, barrister, as assistant.
A selection of the local university students of the 1890’s are named in a note by Editor W. H. Allen reporting their return from college in the spring of 1896:
“Among those who have arrived are : R. W. Suter from McGill, W. H. Cram, J. S. McEwen, Herb Sinclair, D. L. Gordon, and W. McCarthy from Queen’s. Among those who have passed we note with pleasure the name of C. H. Brown who tied for first place in the honor class in anatomy at McGill, W. J. Cram who also passed with honors in the same class and Holden Love who passed his first exam. In Queen’s W. H. Cram captured his B.A., W. B. Munro of Almonte took his M.A. with honors and J. B. McDougall a B.A. J.R. Conn of Prospect took his M.A. with honors and the medal in political science. In Trinity, J. D. McCallum, B.A. passed his second year divinity with honors.”
A little log school house traditionally has been the first school of many prominent persons in the professions, agriculture and business. Like others of the province and nation, Lanark county’s humble early schools, despite their disadvantages, and aided by the family backgrounds of their students and teachers, filled this role well. For a typical early list of eastern Ontario rural and village teachers, Beckwith township’s teachers of 1855 may be taken. In order of school sections they were:
1U (Gillies) Alex McKay; 2 (Franktown) John Sinclair; 3 (Coocoo’s Nest) Wm. Kidd; 4 (Prospect) Donald McDiarmid; 5U (Tennyson) Donald Cameron; 5 (7th Line E.) Alex Armstrong; 6 (The Derry) Duncan McDiarmid; 7 (9th Line W.) Elizabeth James; 8 (9th Line E.) Elizabeth Murdock; 9 (11th Line E.) Fleming May; 10 (Scotch Corners) Helen Johnston; 11 (Carleton Place) Margaret Bell; 12U (with S.S.11 Goulbourn) Wm. McEwen.
A glimpse of rural schools of about fifty years ago may be gained in extracts from Lanark school inspector F. L. Michell’s reports of 1905 on Beckwith township schools:
“No 2 (Franktown) – The school suffers greatly from that evil so prevalent in our schools, irregularity of attendance. School work is well done in the junior grades but unsatisfactory in senior grades. The grounds are rough and not fenced along the road.
No. 3 (Cuckoo’s Nest) – The school house is small and worn out. Doing excellent work under disadvantages.
No. 4 (Prospect) – An excellent school property. Attendance is very large. The old useless well should be filled in.
No. 5 (7th Line East) – Always kept in first class condition. The school work is excellent. The attendance is small, but few schools in the county have to their credit a larger number of graduates who have taken prominent positions in our land.
No. 5U (7th Line West) – This is also one of our banner schools.
No. 6 (The Derry) – This is also an excellent section, and like No. 5 it has sent out numerous young people to lives of usefulness. Attendance is very small. The school work is excellent.
No. 7 (9th Line West) – A good site and in fine condition. The school work was not up to average.
No. 8 (9th Line East) – An excellent new school house, and work well done.
No. 9 (11th Line East) – One of the richest sections of the county. There is no library. The school ranks excellent.
No. 14 (11th Line West) – Some small repairs are needed. The school work is generally good.”
School sections in Beckwith township which had their first teachers in the 1820’s about the same time as Carleton Place were those of the Derry and Franktown.
Early stages of local high school cadet training are found in a July 1913 Carleton Place press report:
“High school principal E. J. Wethey with a squad of nine high and public school pupils spent a week at Barriefield Camp, being attached to the Prescott company of cadets. Between 1,200 and 1,300 boys were in the camp. All went through the regulation drill and exercises and athletic contests. In the athletic events all our boys qualified for at least one bar and the Y.M.C.A. medal, Thorold Kellough and Horace Brown doing exceptionally well. It is the intention to organize a cadet company here next season in connection with the high school.”
High School Opening
Closing at the years following the World War of 1914-18 these local school notes of the period which opened after the world war of a century earlier, the latest local school landmark was the building of the present High School. It was completed in 1923. In its corner stone, laid by Dr. Milo H. Steele, Board of Education chairman, was placed a local and school history record read at the ceremony by J. Morton Brown, chairman of the building committee. John A. Houston, inspector of Ontario High Schools, was present at the opening ceremony. He added to local school records by recalling his own youth in Carleton Place. Between 1865 and 1871 he had attended school here in four locations, first in the old school on the present Central School grounds, next at Hurd’s Hall, the frame building at the southwest corner of Bell and James streets, then in the former Baptist Church building on Bridge Street, and finally at the newly erected Central School. School teachers in 1923 in Lanark County numbered 224, including those of public schools and 33 high school teachers. These and their successors have been part of the army of classroom heirs to the first government-supported school in the old Lanark, Carleton, and Renfrew Counties district, opened in Perth in 1817 by the Rev. William Bell.