Personal Accounts and Memories of the Cornwall School
Personal Accounts and Memories of the Cornwall School
Born December 6, 1896, Frank H. MacArthur had this to say about the Cornwall school;
“It was in school No. 2 that this scribe learned his three R’s – often at the receiving end of the hickory stick.
I still can picture the old seats and desks, scarred by a couple of generations of wood carvers. And the kingsized blackboard that ran from wall to wall. Slates with a wooden frame to keep them from breaking were in vogue, as well as soapstone pencils that we taught to squeak and beep when put to use. The squeaking and the beeping was done to annoy the teacher.
The older boys – some of them were twenty years old, would round up large tin cans, puncture little holes in their bottoms, fill them with water and place them in the attic, right above the teacher’s desk. This prank was not discovered for some time and the teacher couldn’t understand why the roof leaked, even on sunny days.
A second room not then in use as a school room, was taken over by both boys and girls for a recreation center where dances and fiddling contests were featured almost daily.
Those that had to carry lunches (we drank water with our lunches in those days), kept them in our desks and nibbled at them when the teacher wasn’t looking. We gave the left-overs to the mice of which there was many clans and tribes. Watching the rodents dragging those tidbits into the holes they’d cut in the walls and floors was quite a diversion in itself.”56
Mr. MacArthur also submitted the following story to The Guardian in 1951.
“My third teacher was the late Neil MacCannell whose ashes now lie in the little cemetery at Canoe Cove. I was a boy of ten when Mr. MacCannell came to teach in the village school, and by this time had acquired many of the habits of the older scholars, as well as a few others I had picked up from experience.
MacCannell was a good teacher. But he did not believe in ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child.’ He once gave me a sound whipping but soon afterwards discovered that I was not guilty of the act for which I had been punished.
‘Never mind Frank,’ he said, ‘I will place this to your credit for future misconduct, and it won’t be long before the account will be balanced.’ The very next day I cancelled the account by putting sneezing powder in the stove.
When I consider the pranks we used to play on the teacher, as well as one another, I sometimes feel that we, the scholars of that day, are in a measure, responsible for his death at a comparatively early age.
During the noon hour our gang rolled huge snowballs, often weighing a hundred pounds and more. These we would place one on top of the other, in front of the door, until there was no getting in or out of the school. In this manner the girls were made our prisoners, and when the teacher arrived it took him the best part of half an hour to tear down the barricade. All the while we watched him in glee from behind the thick spruce hedge that grew on the south side of the school yard.
Nothing was said about the episode until school closed for the day. Now came the time of great tribulation. All the boys were commanded to form in line before the teachers huge desk and give an account of their doings during the noon hour, or ‘forever hold their piece.’
A few giggles punctuated the stillness of the scene, otherwise all was as silent as the grave.
Suddenly teacher thrust his hand into the one drawer that the desk contained and pronto out came the whittled down broomstick which he generally used when pointing out name places on the map, but which of late had been brought into services as a weapon of torture.
Then in turn each of us received five strokes on each hand, and there being fourteen of us involved in the crime the total number of strokes added up to 140. How teachers arm must have ached after all that exercise! I have often wondered if he ever gave more than a passing thought to the 14 boys who arrived at their homes with swollen and stinging hands. Not a few men who are prominent today had been pupils of ‘Master MacCannell,’ and had been subjected to his rigid discipline as a teacher.
The recess periods were occupied with warfare, during the winter months – that is, we actually fought fierce battles on school grounds, from behind our snow forts. And I can recall that awful day when Big Hugh Walker landed a snowball, in which he’d placed a small stone, smack on my left jaw. It hurt badly, and later my face swelled to about twice its natural size. That night a penitent Hugh came to our house and explained to my mother how the whole thing had been accidental and not intentional…
The old schoolhouse literally overflowed with mice, which thrived on cheese, bread crusts, and other odds and ends of discarded lunches. The corners of the large room contained a number of mouse holds, and each hole was manned by the captain of the mouse clan. At a given signal from the leaders, the tribe would emerge from behind the walls, seize upon whatever morsel of food they could come by and then scurry back to their place of hiding. What fun it was to watch them! Always there was something exciting going on in the old Cornwall school.
Where so many mice were mustered it was only natural that there should be an executioner among the boys. The boy who held this office was Purdy Scott, now a resident of Oregon.
During noon hours Purdy would station himself, in a corner, stove poker in hand, and when Mr. Mouse stuck his head out Purdy would let him have it. By moving from one corner of the school to another, Scott often bagged a dozen cheese-eaters in a single day. These he would roast on the top of the big-bellied stove. Then gathering them up he would chase after the girls declaring he’d make them eat them.
Despite all our pranks most of us managed to absorb a bit of learning in that dirty, weather-beaten school of sainted memories, and those who may chance to read this brief article will I am sure, agree with the description I have pictured and perhaps wish with the writer that time in its flight would turn backward to that once again we might build our snow forts, take our beatings from the old master and watch the mice trying to dodge the fatal poker wielded by the executioner, Purdy Scott.”
(To Be Continued…)”57
The following description was contributed by Barb Perry who attended the Cornwall school during the years leading up to its closure.
“When you walked in the porch door you went, at the very far right at the end of the porch was the boys and girls bathrooms. The big door to the big room was directly in front of you and to the left, the little door was like, on the wall in the corner and then there was another door at the end that went to the basement. That’s how it was. And when you walked into the big room the desks were all facing the door, in rows. They were all individual desks. But, when you went into the little room ah, the blackboard was on the wall between the big room and the little room so the desks were sideways”58
A Small Community
“I can walk down from my place to school and tell you every house that was on the way and who lived in it. That was the way in the 50s. It’s just so strange to how it is now. I knew where all the coldest spots were between here and there, I tell ya. When you walked, you froze your face once over the winter. It wasn’t that bad but, I always said I learned more walking back and forth from school than I ever learned in the classroom.”59 – Shared by Don Lowther (who lived near where St. Francis of Assisi is now)
The First Day of School
“The first morning heading off to the Cornwall school on the Ferry Road, I was living directly opposite the post office. And, that house is still there. It has been shifted around. So, I came out of the doorway and right next to Jimmy and Reta’s House was the small, rural store. It was owned by Bernice and Andrew Gass. So, between the two properties was the last fence. And, I walked up the driveway and when I walked out I was in a very short period of time felt as though I was the pied piper because these children, the majority of them or a lot of them were able to walk to school. And, here I am this new person. And, I believe there were probably 6 or 7 grade 1 children in that group. They must have been, I don’t know how they felt but, I know how I felt. So, I made my way down the country unpaved roads and it was mid-August, there was a fall vacation because of the children needed to help on the farms to potato picking and the cold crops. And, I remember there were no houses in that field until you came to the school. And, when I went in the driveway, I went to the door to open it and the latch was stuck I was not a good individual with latches and locks and that type of thing. And, it was only moments that one of the larger people helped me get in the door. So, it was quite an entrance for me.”60 – Contributed by Margaret MacPhail, who taught at the Cornwall for one year, 1950-51.
“Foundation wasn’t very good at the old school, it was just stone, so they’d get this fella to go underneath and close over the hole. One day the teacher was asking where ***** was, but nobody said anything, and then all of a sudden you’d hear this bang bang bang under the school”61 – Shared by Lance Lowther
“The boys liked to put chestnuts in the stove because they’d blow up when they got so hot”62 – Shared by Lance Lowther
“Well I can tell ya, we had a pretty good school, Cornwall considered itself quite a prosperous place and ah, they the school trustees there was 3 of them, well, I dunno I think all 3 were elected at the annual school meeting, they hired the teacher, paid the supplement and set the school taxes, they’d hired a school secretary to do the paper work for them and maintain the school and the and the supplement would probably ah, it could go as low as 100 dollars, but you know 250 or something, the teacher got, the government, paid them perhaps 2 or 3 but when she was teaching perhaps 200 a year would be the salary”63 – As told by Louis MacDonald