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New book weaves study of County’s one-room school houses

The-Educational-Tapestry-Book-Cover-(Front)By Margaret Haylock Capon

In their latest book, The Educational Tapestry of Athol, North and South Marysburgh Townships, brother and sister Dan Rainey and Helen Tompkins weave a fascinating study of Prince Edward County’s one-room school houses.

“Many threads create the fabric of a tapestry. In an effort to fulfill the mission of Quinte Educational Museum and Archives (QEMA), to tell the story of the development of the dynamic legacy of public education, using Prince Edward County during the period of 1800 to 1966 as an example, we have written this book,” says Rainey.

Both he and his sister attended a one-room schoolhouse in Innisfil Township in Simcoe County and later pursued careers in the education field. Rainey taught in a one-room schoolhouse and was principal of a village school, before coming to Prince Edward County in 1966. Here he became the principal of Bloomfield’s Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School. Now retired, he has served as a board director and historian of QEMA since 2003.

Tompkins has enjoyed a long and varied career in education. In addition to being a classroom teacher and teacher-librarian, she served as a regional educational consultant for the Ministry of Education’s Kingston office in the mid-1960’s. Always devoted to meeting the needs of “the whole child”, much of her career has been focused on students’ individual needs. For the past 50 years, she has regarded Prince Edward County as her second home and is an active supporter of QEMA.

The Educational Tapestry of Athol, North and South Marysburgh Townships contains an in-depth history of the one-room schoolhouses that once dotted these rural communities. Vintage class photographs, some dating to the late 1800’s liberally illustrate the pages of this 322-page book, most of them complete with pupils’ names. Detailed historical notes accompany the stories of the individual school houses and the history of early education in Prince Edward County is carefully documented.

Colourful recollections of former pupils of these early schoolhouses make the book highly readable and offer a glimpse of how rural youngsters of the past studied their three R’s.

Vernon Powers, a student at SS# 1, North Marysburgh in the 1950’s, recalled that one day his teacher, Mrs. Powers, was late for school. “It was 9 o’clock when she came roaring up the road in her husband’s old blue Ford truck. Unfortunately, the truck had no brakes! The truck jumped the ditch, like the Dukes of Hazzard were driving. The pupils scattered, many of them dashing for the school step. Her son, Roland, jumped out of the truck as it continued all the way around the school before it finally shuddered to a stop. Mrs. Powers stomped into the school, followed by two dozen laughing children.”

Frank Wright, who attended SS# 6, North Marysburgh, in the 1960’s, remembered that Hallowe’en night was always a time for playing a prank, especially around the schoolhouse. “One year a group of boys managed to climb on the school roof and into the bell tower. They tied a strand of binder twine to the clapper of the bell. The twine was then tossed over the telephone wires and the twine attached to the bell led off into the orchard next to the school. The boys pulled the twine, making the bell ring with enough noise to wake the whole neighbourhood. People came running to see what was going on, but by the time they figured out how the bell was being rung, the boys were long gone,” he recalled.

Teacher Dorothy Brooks submitted an amusing anecdote from her early days in a one-room schoolhouse, in the 1940’s. “School opening day at SS# 15 South Marysburgh was interrupted by a knock on the door. An eager swain stood with hat in hand, introducing himself as a local boy, and asked me if I would like to go out with him. On being told that I was married, he promptly left for greener pastures down the road. Up at SS# 14 he became acquainted with a young first-year teacher who became his wife, not too long after his proposal.”

The Educational Tapestry of Athol, North and South Marysburgh Townships: Prince Edward County 1800-1966 is published by Tapestry Enterprises in co-operation with QEMA. The book will be available at Books and Company in Picton and Green Gables in Bloomfield.

“To quote the African proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” says Rainey. He and Tompkins credit a team which includes Dr. Helen Snider, Carol Branscombe, Herb Cooper, Kornelis De Jong, Margaret (Peggy) Ritchie, Kathryn Reed, and Louise Hamill Sallans with helping them to make their latest literary venture a success.

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