The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 35 no 3, September 2023. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
By Mary Holmes
From Cantley’s very earliest days, schooling was considered important by its settlers. At various times in Cantley’s history, there were many one room elementary schools scattered throughout the territory. Early settlers, including Brown, Thompson, Holmes, Allan, Birt, Barrett, Morris, McClelland, donated land off their farmland for school building. There has never been a high school in Cantley.
In early Cantley, all denominations were taught in the same school, sometimes referred to as “common” schools, reflecting the makeup of the population living around the school, and the difficulties of travelling. Religious instruction was handled by the churches. Denominational schools were set up from the early 1870s when the Cantley Dissentient Protestant School Board was formed. Some students continued to attend the local common school well into the 1920s.
The teachers were mostly young women. Once married, they had to “retire” to raise their families. As attitudes evolved, married teachers became accepted. Some were home grown. Many others came from elsewhere in Canada and the United States in response to advertisements like these in the Ottawa Citizen: September 3, 1919, “Teacher Wanted at Once for Wilson’s Corners School, Township of East Wakefield, Que. Apply to P. McGlashan, Sec.-Treas., Wilson’s Corners, Que.” or August 15, 1944, “Qualified Protestant teacher, 10 pupils, 15 miles from Ottawa. State salary expected. Trevellyn S. McClelland, sec., Cantley, Que.”
Teachers from away boarded with local families who lived close to the schools. Sometimes room and board were included in their contract, sometimes they had to pay their way. The more modern St. Elizabeth School had a teacher’s residence attached to the west end of the building. From among the hundreds who came to teach in Cantley, these are a few teachers in recent memory: Iola Lafontaine, Lucille Lafontaine, Yvette Chenier, Fred Holmes, Eleanor Feeney, Mary Cleary, Monica Birt, Margaret McAndrew, Edna McAndrew, Ursula Wrinn, Catherine O’Connor, Elizabeth Dumais, Alice Power, Ann Moore, Betty Shouldice, Marilyn Shouldice, Melbourne Brown, Faye Radmore, Shirley Quinn.
The majority of early teachers did not have formal teacher training. If they had a high school diploma and were considered to be of good character, they were hired to teach all grades from one to seven in one room. A bilingual teacher was especially sought after. One old-timer recalled that the school boards did the best they could considering Cantley was well off the beaten track and did not have much money for teaching aids or competitive salaries.
Imagine the patience and organization skills required. Locals were often teaching their cousins, nieces and nephews, and sometimes younger siblings. Certain nephews remember that their aunt did not cut them any slack when it came to schoolwork. My grade one teacher, Lucille Lafontaine, taught grades one to three in English and in French in the same room. What a great learning opportunity for students!
All teachers had to survive the shenanigans. One young lad regularly called out “look at the deer outside” causing the whole class to rush to the windows. Two mischievous brothers once approached either side of the teacher’s desk to get “help”. It caused quite an uproar when everything on her desk went flying as the one brother ever so slowly nudged the corner of the teacher’s desk off its platform while his brother was getting “help”. Clearing the school of smoke from the wood furnace was a distraction welcomed by the students. One young fellow figured out that turning the key on the stove pipe and stuffing a rag into it when he was filling up the furnace would do the trick. Our young people were very creative from a young age!
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