Puslinch School Life in Fifties

Centred Around Old-Fashioned Log Building


(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.




First Teachers


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 ’37.




Taught Music


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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