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History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia
Chapter VI - Some Old Schools, and Old Teachers

Next to religion and the family influence, the school is the most powerful force in the training and development of mankind. Three things are necessary to constitute a school, namely, organization, financial support and teachers. None of these things existed here when our ancestors began to settle on our shores. Those brave colonizers had to spend long and toilsome years in the wilderness before their scattered communities were ready for schools. And even then, teachers were about as scarce and precious as is radium. The few there were came upon a wave of reluctant emigration from Ireland and Scotland. Some of these had been well educated in the homelands, but their labors here were performed under circumstances of inconceivable hardship.

They had to teach in a new country utterly devoid of literature. They had to teach in a language which most of their pupils never heard, and the most of their pupils' parents never spoke. There was neither chart nor compass. The teacher "boarded round." School books were hard to procure. The geese supplied the pens, and the old women manufactured the ink. The first school house was a squatty log building, caulked with moss,- the teacher's desk and platform at one end, and a large fire-place made of stone and clay at the other. The seats consisted of a long rustic bench on each side of the room, with a long improvised writing desk behind each bench.

Despite all the hard conditions of the time these schools did useful work. The old settlers were eager to give their children some schooling. Their eyes were opened to the need of it. They made willing efforts and sacrifices to pay the teachers; they visited the schools frequently; they saw that their children attended regularly; they co-operated conscientiously with the teacher in matters of discipline; and they showed that teacher the decent respect which every man devoted to a noble service has a right to expect and receive.

We should be the last to depreciate the general work of our present day schools, but we think the old schools were more conspicuous in the formation of character. The children of those dark days had, on an average, distinctly better manners than are usually found now among the children of the light. There were reasons for this. At home and in school, the children of the olden times were subjected to careful authority that was feared and respected. The effect was visible in their conduct and conversations.

There was another thing which received more attention in the old schools than it does now. That was the art of penmanship. This, would seem to be a lost art in our time; but it was strictly attended to in the early schools. The worst beating we ever got at school was for sitting in an awkward posture and holding our pen improperly at our writing exercises. In the distant past people who wrote at all wrote a good hand; today the most of people would appear to be writing with their feet. The school Returns of some of the old-time teachers were marvels of artistic neatness.

We think the older teachers exercised more care and took greater pains to teach all they knew in English, Reading and Mathematics. We happen to know personally that in some of the schools of today a lesson in reading is not taught, it is simply heard. The same statement would be almost correct with regard to mathematics. Of course we• speak of the rural common schools. The teachers of by-gone times had more initiative. They gave themselves to the pupils, instead of the dry bones of little text-books.


There is none alive now who can give many particulars of the grand old pioneers in this line who did such excellent work in this county. Amongst them, however, there are a few in respect of whom some traditions survive, namely:- A Mr. Ayer, Nicholas Loftus,. William McQuarrie, John McLellan (Red), Malcolm McLellan, James McG. McKay, Alexander Cameron, John McEachern (Big), Robert Hill, John MacDougall, and others of a later day. From what has been gleaned, Mr. Ayer was an old-Country man, probably an Englishman, though he may have been a Scotsman. Nicholas Loftus was an Irishman, John McLellan was a Scotsman, McKay, McQuarrie and Cameron were native Nova Scotians of Highland descent. Mr: McQuarrie's mother was a near relative of the late Bishop Cameron. McKay and Cameron became Presbyterian ministers, McQuarrie became a Catholic in his early life, and John McDougall became a Catholic Priest.

Tradition, and there is nothing else left to us, reports that both Ayer and Loftus were good scholars, and capable, practical teachers. As a very general rule, teachers in those early days, especially those who came from the Old Country, were highly educated, particularly in mathematics and classics. Mr. Ayer finally went to Halifax, but nothing is known now of his later days. Mr. Loftus, also, moved to Halifax where he died some forty odd years ago.

Mr. MacQuarrie taught throughout near his old home at Brook Village, and was probably a pupil of both Ayer and Loftus. It can be said of him with entire truthfulness that, to the extent of his knowledge, which in comparison with some of the teachers mentioned, was not at all wide, but so far as it went, was thorough, a more efficient teacher never taught in the country. If his pupils failed to learn and completely understand their studies, the fault was theirs, not his. He spared no pains to impart knowledge, and to see that his pupils grasped it fully; he was well equipped to convey it, and was extremely patient withal, especially with the duller class of pupils. His method of teaching the subjects then most generally taught, namely, writing, spelling, reading, grammar, geography, arithmetic-mental and otherwise,-including some elementary subjects in science, was excellent and left nothing to be desired. The present writer was one of his pupils and bears cheerful and most cordial testimony to .the foregoing; he is able to say, too, what perhaps few are now left to say, that he was a pupil in Mr. McQuarrie's school when it was inspected by J. W. Dawson, Superintendent of Education, afterwards Sir James, the famous head of McGill.

John McLellan comes next in the order of time. He was a highly . educated Scotsman, who taught in many districts of Antigonish and Inverness County. He too was a splendid teacher, but not over patient with dull or slow pupils. He was inclined too much to force knowledge into his pupils through the agency of "The Birch." Apart from this he did his work well, and laid the foundations of after success for a fair proportion of those whom he taught. He was never married. in the afternoon of his life he went from here to Minnesota whither several men from Inverness had previously gone. He did not like Minnesota, and after a few months he came back again to Inverness. While travelling from Mabou to Broad Cove he took sick on the road and died at the house of the late Duncan Boyle of Strathlorne early in October 1874, after a week's illness.

Mr. McKay taught for some time at Hillsborough, and was a most lovable and cultured man, a teacher of excellent quality, and : enjoyed a high reputation as such, and later as an expounder of the ..gospel. He died at New Glasgow not many years ago, honored and revered.

Alexander Cameron taught at the same place some years later. He resided at Lower Stewiacke for many years towards the end of his life. It is doubtful if the county ever had the advantage of a more patient, painstaking teacher, who devoted himself heart and soul to the advancement of his pupils, or one who attained a greater measure of success with them. The late Governor MacKeen whom everybody knew, Robert Frizzle, a very successful business man, Neil Gunn, M.D.,. Lewis Murray, M.D., his brother Isaac, a prominent business man in Halifax some years ago, and Mr. Justice Meagher, now retired, and the only survivor of those named, were amongst Mr. Cameron's pupils. To these may be added a number of successful farmers, Walter MacDonald and his brothers who carried on a large manufacturing enterprise for years at Glendyer, and a Mr.Fraser. TheArchibishop of Toronto, Daniel McNeil late Judge of the County Court and his brother, Alexander MacNeil, brothers of the Archbishop of Toronto, were products and teachers of the Hillsborough School, and proved in full measure their capacity as well-equipped, industrious teachers.

Malcolm McLellan was a brother of John McLellan, above described. Their father had been a Captain in the Army, a circumstance which enabled the two sons to receive a very liberal education. Malcolm taught a large number of the old Catholic clergy of the Diocese of Arichat. He was not so impatient in the school room as his brother John. Both were exceedingly interesting men. Malcolm was married, but his wife died young, leaving one child-a little girl. After the death of his wife he taught for the most part around Broad Cove, South West Margaree, Black River and Mabou Coal Mines. When his daughter had grown up she married John Beaton (Sandy Ban), a good farmer of Coal Mines, Mabou. At the home of that married daughter the father died some thirty years ago. The splendid education of these two brothers, whatever it may or may not have achieved for themselves, did powerful service for the Catholic counties of Inverness and Antigonish, at a time of intense need.

John MacEachen taught for the greater part of his life in the County of Inverness. He was the son of John McEachen of Rear Long Point (lain Mhic lain Gobha). He was one of the very earliest products of the Judique Schools. He showed in his youth a special streak of talent, and a will as strong as a stone wall. He was probably a pupil of Mr. Ayer, possibly of some other old Country teachers. He may also have attended the Arichat Academy shortly after its establishment by Bishop McKinnon. He was a practical, conscientious, teacher who did telling work in different sections of the County. He had a notable turn for mathematics. Orangedale, Whycocomagh, Broad Cove Marsh and other sections had the benefit of his solid services to our schools. He was the first teacher appointed by the Dominion Government for the neglected Indians of the Whycocomagh Reserve. He was up in years when he got this position, and retained his place there till failing health and old age obliged him to retire from the teaching profession His permanent home was at Orangedale where he owned a large lot of land. He was married twice and had children by each marriage. A. J. G. MacEachen now of Regina, but formerly a practising Barrister of Sydney and a Pofessor of English in St. F. X. College, is one of his clever sons. As to family, see Whycocomagh sketch.

John McDougall was also raised at the Rear of Long Point. See Judique sketch. He was a contemporary of Mr. John McEachen with whom we have done. He received his preliminary education in the home schools and at the Arichat Academy. He taught for several years at Broad Cove Banks and other places, but merely as a stepping stone unto the church for which he intended to study. He was a careful man, a deep thinker and a tireless worker. He was a very loyal and successful teacher, and was among the first residents of Inverness to be raised to the Catholic priesthood. After his ordination he was placed in charge of the Parish of Red Islands in the County of Richmond, where he remained continuously for the rest of his life. He never made any notable noise, but performed a great deal of quiet, useful, and lasting work.

John Vincent McDonnell was another sturdy teacher of the olden times in Inverness. He was a son of Farquhar MacDonnell, one of the first settlers of Rear Judique Banks. Judique, it may be here mentioned, was one of the earliest settlements on these shores. This John Vincent MacDonnell was one of the first young men of Inverness to strike out for mental, moral and spiritual equipment. His quest was difficult. For years he was obliged to teach and attend school, alternately, in different places. His high school training was received at the Arichat Academy, in the fresh young years of that once vigorous institution. He was a forceful teacher, and an excellent disciplinarian. He afterwards studied for the Church, and spent the latter part of his life in charge of the important parish of St. Andrews in the county of Antigonish. He was a sturdy Gael, a worthy priest, a teacher to be respected, and a man of faith and fine ideals.

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