Puslinch School Life in Fifties
Centred Around Old-Fashioned Log
(from the Guelph Mercury newspaper
for June 19th 1942.)
Methods of education in the “fifties”, 1850’s
that is, in Puslinch
Township, are recalled
in an interesting article today by Katharine Gilchrist Day from information
supplied by a resident in those years.
The light from the candle of learning in the
fifties, though dim and feeble, began to show itself in the appearance of the
log school house, which was erected on an acre of land cleared from the
primeval forest. This particular log
school became known as No. 7 of Puslinch, as it was the seventh to be erected
in that municipality.
The building had few of the requirements of
the modern school. A number of long
benches were arranged around the room.
On these, the children sat and held their slates and books. Later, a long double desk was provided for
writing, the boys using one of the slanting sides, the girls, the other. A map of the world, a map of Europe as it was then divided, a teacher’s desk and
chair, and a very large box stove comprised the equipment.
The department of public instruction in Toronto authorized
magistrates to grant certificates to teachers as they deemed fit. The teachers, thus qualified, were hired by
the trustees. Their remuneration was
raised by fees paid by the parents of each pupil at first, and later by a
general tax levy.
One of the first teachers was Mr. Neil
Currie, a native of the island
of Arran, who proved
himself to be a natural genius in the community. He was given his certificate by Squire
Heath who was a United Empire Loyalist and very particular that the teacher
be a loyal British subject and well acquainted with the names of the Royal
family. Mr. Currie was able to fill
these requirements and many more. He
was an expert conveyancer, inventor, carpenter, and tailor. He was known to write a complicated
property deed, correct to detail, and all the time be telling a thrilling
ghost story. He believed in the
superstitions common to the time, but regretted that personal contact with
the spirits that seemed so common could not be established. He would sleep in haunted houses but to his
disappointment the apparitions would not appear to him. Mr. Currie would make neat pens for the
pupils from goose quills, as well as manufacture the ink. This was made by boiling soft maple bark,
to which was added copperas and sugar.
He could write “The Lord’s Prayer” beautifully within the circle the
size of an English penny. His term of
service was cut short by his determination to obtain a deed for a farm direct
from the Queen herself for his services to her Majesty in the Rebellion of
Another teacher of this decade was Wm.
McGregor. He was well qualified to
teach the primary grades and music. He
was a precentor in the local Presbyterian Church and drilled the scholars
well in the best hymn tunes. To these
tunes, he would have the pupils sing the Psalms of David. Some of the pious parents in the area
objected to such common use of the sacred psalms, so this practice had to be
discontinued. However, not to be
outdone in the correlation of music and poetry, Mr. McGregor had his classes
sing other poems to these tunes.
Mr. Alexander McIntyre was the next
teacher. He was a scholar and well
qualified to teach the full school curriculum. When obtaining his certificate, one of the
magistrate’s oral questions was, “When was Scotland conquered?” He immediately replied, “Never!”, after
which he received his certificate. By
this time, the light of learning, though still a candle, was growing
brighter. The young pioneer graduate
from the common schools of the fifties, the grandparents and great
grandparents of the present generation, proved themselves well able to most
successfully carry on their share in the development of this county and have
earned for themselves an enviable reputation in advancing rural life in the
history of this part of Canada.
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