Cornwall School Continued

The day-to-day routine at the two-room Cornwall school house was in some ways quite different than the average school day now-a-days, but in other ways it was quite similar.  The children would begin school in the morning; have time for lunch and recess during which there was always a game or activity that took place, and then they would head home at the end of the day.  There were no school busses, the children walked to school and on the rare occasion rode their bike during the summer-time or were dropped off by horse and buggy in the winter.  Like today there was the odd trouble-maker.  During the later years when more children attended the school, there were two teachers, one to teach the lower grades and one to teach the higher grades.  Unlike today, however, there was one teacher to provide the lessons for all ten grades.  Normally the younger children would sit near the front of the classroom and the older students in the back, and from time to time the older students to help the younger ones.  It was also not uncommon for teachers from different communities to board with a family of the community they were teaching in.  Another major difference in school routines was the fall break.  As Cornwall was a farming community, many children would be taken out of school for several weeks near the end of September or the first of October to help with the family farm.  The potatoes needed to be harvested and every hand was needed for the chore.  Therefore the school was shut down for several weeks during the fall of each year.  Because of this school in Cornwall normally began the second last week in August.18

Indoor plumbing was not a luxury enjoyed by many who attended the Cornwall school.  Outhouses were used; there was one for the boys and one for the girls.  One story goes that the boys used to cut holes in the sides of the walls so they could peek through into the girl’s toilet, so a coal shed was placed in between them.19  Later on, chemical toilets were installed on the porch.  Students were also responsible for collecting water for the day.  One or a few of the older children would collect water from Frank Howard’s well and bring it back to the school.20  Frank Howard owned the property next to the school, and most children would walk through his property to get to school.  He was a man loved by all and was known to give the children some candy or nickel when they walked by.21  Water was collected each day and would be poured into a fountain, and cups were provided for the students by the Women’s Institute.22

The Cornwall school appears to have been a reputable one.  The 1882 annual School Visitors Report states that, “This school is placed on the list of advanced schools for the first time.  It has improved very much under the present teachers.”23  In 1913, the School Inspector had this to say about the Cornwall school, “It is always a pleasure to inspect Cornwall School and to meet its efficient teacher, Mr. Neil McCannell, and his intelligent pupils.  All the subjects of study are well taught.  Writing and Spelling particularly are good.”24  The next year, teacher Neil McCannell was awarded first prize from the School Inspector (a prize for best teacher perhaps?).25  In all his writings that reference the Cornwall school, former Cornwall resident, the late Frank MacArthur always expressed his fond memories of his time spent there.

1913 appears to have been a year of change for Prince Edward Island schools.  In his annual report, the School Inspector made note of some interesting changes.  The hours of operation for schools across the Island had been from 10am to 3pm during the winter and from 9am to 4pm during the summer.  It was decided that the winter hours were too short while the summer hours were too long, so at the beginning of the 1913-14 school year those hours were changed to 9:30am to 3:30 year round.26

The School Inspector also made the following note, “Home Report Cards recently adopted are another means of bringing school and home more closely into touch with each other.  In ordering the use of these Report Cards, the Board of Education assumed that parents have a right to know each month how their children stand on the school records in regard to attendance, punctuality, conduct and general progress in the various subjects of study.  Teachers are therefore now required to use these cards, fill them out carefully at the end of each month from the records in the school Register and send them to the parents for their inspection and signature.”27

Lastly, the School Inspector made special mention of the Women’s Institute that had just formed on Prince Edward Island.  He applauded their efforts to improve school conditions.  The Women’s Institute during their first year in operation had already “interested themselves in school improvements paying particular attention to the equipment, cleanliness and general sanitary conditions of the schoolhouse and the school surroundings, and extending their sympathy, encouragement and support to the teachers.”28  The most interesting part of the entry is the proceeding line; “In view of the helpful interest taken by the women in the work of the schools and as a means of still further utilizing that interest, I again recommend that the School Act be amended so as to give to all women who have children of school age the right to vote in their respective districts at all school meetings.”29  In the Annual Report for the prior school year, the School Inspector had made special reference and thanks to several branches of the Women’s Institute including New Haven, Clyde River, Meadow Bank, York, Cornwall and Marshfield.30

Throughout the history of the Cornwall school, various changes had been made to the building itself and the property surrounding it.  In 1914, a garden was created at the school and a request had been made to install a fence around the school grounds.31  A few short years later in 1919 the report indicated that a school fair took place at the Cornwall school and that the “walls (were) nicely papered and a new stove put in.  The teacher is doing very good work.”32  In 1924, seats were re-arranged and “windows changed to admit light from left and rear.”33  At some point the school was turned around and a foundation was laid.  The original two-room school house was finally retired around Christmas time, 1963.34

In Partnership with